by Tom Cannon
I grew up with a serious passion for hunting and fishing. My dad only hunted upland birds, but that was enough to light the wick and get me started. Later in life when I had my own vehicle, I began to broaden my horizons. By trial and error I learned to hunt big game and waterfowl. Several decades, and hundreds of mistakes later; I have progressed to the next stage… That of coach and instructor.
The last few years have been spent introducing my daughter Kylee, to the great outdoors. Sure she grew up exposed to the tools, animals, and gear; I never really knew if she would have a desire to spent much time afield. We progressed down the path with baby steps. First at six or seven years old, she began to shoot a miniature .22 rifle. That lead to a slightly larger framed .22 rifle and then a toy bow and arrow. When she reached the age of nine, she was getting more mature and mentioned she would like to try deer hunting.
Thus we purchased a youth model .243 rifle and set it up for her. I introduced her to it with reduced power, hand loads. Once she got comfortable with the very light loads, I progressively worked her way up to full power Fiocchi hunting ammo.
Our first year, age nine was fun but a bit challenging. It was difficult for her to sit still and then be comfortable. Kylee did manage to fill her first deer tag with a nice doe which she shot all on her own.
Her sophomore year had its share of hurdles. Lack of deer movement at times, lead to restlessness and lack of desire to go out. A bit of encouragement and sweet talking was needed to keep the girl on track. Once more she hit her mark and brought home another doe.
Last year, she inquired if she could shoot a buck, since I had relegated her to does only previously. Since she was getting more of a desire to hunt, I purchased her two tags; one of which was a youth buck tag. We labored through some cold weather, and Kylee gained some insight into deer behaviors. Her rifle range extended to seventy yards, where she could effectively shoot on her own (although I was always next to her supervising). Although we saw a few bucks, none of them was reckless enough to set foot inside her restricted shooting range. Once more she tagged another nice doe and was really starting to mature and enjoy herself in the hunting blind.
Fall began to approach this year and we brought out the .22 rimfire rifle for more extensive practices. Since she was getting proficient with the .22, I began to extend her rifle range. Now she was going to be allowed to shoot to one hundred yards or just beyond. We once more discussed and viewed the vital sections of a deer ‘s body. Repeatedly she inquired about the possibility of shooting a buck. With a buck and a doe tag in her possession, we happily left the license counter. Her conversation on the way to the car was all about her desire for a big buck this year.
Youth weekend brought consistent deer movement, yet none of it within Kylee’s shooting range. Having discussed the fact that she would take the first good opportunity at a mature deer, either buck or doe, we were ready. Late on the last evening, movement had been slow. So much that she wanted to leave early much to my dismay. Since her mind was made up, I packed up the gear while she unloaded her rifle. As any hunter knows- that is the sound animals cherish. Seconds later a trio of does stroll by, well within easy shooting range. Kylee learned a valuable lesson that evening about staying put until shooting time is over!
Since she prefers to sleep late, morning hunts are rarely an option! Thus afternoons are when we have to get after it. Since youth weekend was complete, we now had two weekends to fill her tags. Luckily the first weekend, she observed a mature doe at eighty yards. One shot with her trusty rifle and it was down! A quick check of my watch, revealed we still had an hour left to hunt. I asked her if she wanted to stay in hopes that a buck might walk out? When she relied, “no Dad, I don’t want my deer season to end yet…” ; I knew I had the making of a real hunter in my mist.
The following weekend, warmer weather and high winds resulted in tough hunting. Still, my lessons about persistence were beginning to take hold. Upon reaching the box blind and stowing our gear, she loaded her rifle but after a few minutes got restless. Her electronic game began to draw all of her attention, until I nudged her. I pointed to a doe that was being followed by a nice buck. Quietly the game was placed in a bag while her rifle began to ease up to the shooting rail. Due to the hard right angle, Kylee was going to have to sit on my lap to make the shot.
At the crack, he staggered… I had enlightened her previously that bucks can be tougher to drop than does, and had tutored her to always fire a second shot if the animal doesn’t go right down. Quickly she worked the bolt and sent another Fiocchi round downrange. This time the beast was down for good! As we glassed him with our binoculars to ensure there was no movement, she began to assess the situation. I don’t recall the exact words she spoke but the excitement she had was nothing to the invigoration I felt! I have been fortunate to take some trophy class animals in my lifetime yet Kylee’s achievement on that night was the highlight of my hunting career!
It seemed she was walking on air, as we approached the downed buck. She had been taught to focus on the vitals and shot placement, and had never realized the size of this buck until we laid hands on him. A moment of overwhelming excitement over took her for a second or two. Then we thanked God for our successful hunt and put her tag on her first buck. Fortunately we had a few minutes of daylight left in which to snap a few photos that would last a lifetime.
Then as we walked hand in hand back to the truck, she asked me about Elk hunting and I knew I had just encountered the next generation’s hunter!