Monday, November 28, 2011

Eli's First Deer

Some may think that 8 years old is too young for a child to become a deer hunter. Most who live in the rural Ozarks would argue that 8 years old is getting a late start. Either way, this year Eli finally talked me into letting him pursue his quarry armed with more than just a BB gun. Being somewhat skittish of loud noises from a young age I had my doubts about Eli actually enjoying the firing of a high powered rifle. Being rather frugal I decided to borrow a rifle from a friend this year to make sure Eli would take to the sport. Friend and fellow campground owner Craig Pettit offered up his .221 fireball (which his son had used the previous 2 years) for Eli to use this year. A week before youth season Eli and I met Craig in his campground for a little target practice, and to see how Eli took to the shooting. After getting set up with a rest and using several cushions and a block of wood to get him up to the proper height the young prospective hunter was ready for his first shot. Ear muffs secured upon his tiny head, crosshairs were centered on the target. "Gently squeeze the trigger when you are right on the red dot" we instructed. The shot rang out along the river valley, and Eli was up quickly. Turning away from us, Craig and I feared he was going to take to the hills running after his first shot. As he turned toward us we were relieved to see and smile on his face as he was ready to examine the target. Half and inch to the right of the bulls eye at 50 yards was his reward, and the groundwork was now set for what would turn out to be the demise of a careless doe. Throughout the week leading up to youth season we spent time target practicing and talking about shot placement. A ground blind was placed in the woods for our hunt, and Eli was even able to watch several deer in his scope one evening on the shooting range.

Finally opening day was upon us, and we met the morning with much anticipation. I had moved the ground blind the previous day to a place we had seen deer crossing on the previous two mornings. They had crossed about 30 minutes after sunrise so we decided to get to the blind 15 minutes before it began to get light. After watching the woods come to life as light filtered through the oaks we were startled by the warning wheeze of several deer back behind us. With the wind at our favor, and no windows on the back side of the blind, the deer must have noticed the blind and recognized it as being something out of place. I was afraid of this, but knowing the deer traveled this route I couldn't resist the temptation to try this spot. Unable to find a good spot to conceal ourselves in this area we relocated the blind to a new spot for the following hunts. Walking to the blind that evening we quietly watched as a lone doe passed in front of us unaware of our presence. Too far for a shot from the small caliber rifle, but a good sign. That evening was uneventful with the typical sightings of squirrels, and a chipmunk that nearly came in the blind with us, but no deer. Day 2 was met with renewed hope due to our new blind placement. Just as the day before we again heard the blowing of several cautious deer behind the blind, but no deer were seen. Fearing Eli was beginning to get discouraged I was happy to see the evening hunt was still a high priority, although I was starting to wonder if success would elude us. After getting settled in the blind once again, we sat quietly for a while and I could see Eli's thoughts were beginning to wander. Armed with the Ipod touch for a distraction, I encouraged Eli to play a few games while we waited. Another hour passed and then I spotted it. Coming slowly toward the opening in the woods where we were set up a doe grazed slowly along the path. I pointed out the doe to Eli and we readied the gun in case we were awarded a shot. I had placed a bench and some blocks in the blind so Eli would have a solid rest from which to shoot. As the doe slowly came into range the gun was steadied on the blocks and Eli firmly pressed it to his shoulder. At 30 yards Eli easily got the deer in his scope and I instructed him on relaxing and making a good shot. As he slipped the gun off safety I urged him to put it behind her shoulder for the shot. "What's a shoulder" he replied. My heart sank, what had our week of training done, the time spent aiming at my archery deer target, watching live deer through his scope, had he learned nothing? Slowly I talked him through this and felt he understood, I then told him to put it on her shoulder and when he was steady he could shoot. No sooner had I finished my sentence than BANG he had taken the shot and the deer was gone. I had seen the deer buckle at the shot and knew he had made a good hit, but being unfamiliar with the small caliber rifle I decided we would give the deer some extra time, just in case. We walked back to my in-laws cabin told the story to the family and watched the video I had taken. After 30 minutes we were back in the woods and while finding no blood we found the deer down not 30 yards from where it was shot. After field dressing and hanging the deer in the barn youth season had come to a successful end.

The next week was spent eating backstraps cooked on the grill (twice) as well as deer tacos, deer chili, and deer meatloaf. With each meal of venison that Amy served you could see the pride Eli took in providing for the family. I could not have been more proud, and was probably more excited than Eli when he finally achieved his goal. I spent the regular firearms season "hunting horns" with Eli in a buddy tree stand, and while we could have shot many does only a few bucks presented themselves. One decent 8 point came in behind us not offering a shot, and the bucks that did offer a shot Eli decided he would let walk since I told him they weren't big enough to put on the wall. We will have one more chance with a late youth season in January, but even if we don't get out during that time we have had a successful year in which Eli learned to become a responsible deer hunter.