On a crisp clear November morning, I set out to the north woods with my daughter on her first hunt ever. She has watched as our family hunted over the years and eagerly awaited her turn. She was up early for a change, which is not like her at all. My little princess who likes to dress up was garbed in blaze orange, with a stocking hat pulled down tightly over her ears. The truck was cold and we only ran enough heat to keep the windows from fogging up. She looked at me and said, “ Daddy I hope I get the first big buck “. I said, “I hope so too ”.
We parked the truck on our land and walked to our stand. This year was the first year my son could hunt alone. He walked with his Grandpa out to his stand. My deer hunting perch looked quite different this year. Instead of just a platform with no walls or windows, which left me to brave the cold winds, we had a small fortress with windows, a door and a heater. You can’t take your princess hunting without a castle, right? So we climbed up the steps to the top of the tower and crawled in. I started the heater and handed her a blanket. Even in the dark I could see her bright smile as she looked at me. “Clunk”, she banged the wall with her foot. “Oops, sorry Daddy”, was her reply. Normally, any sound from the deer stand was unacceptable but this year, sacrifices had to be made.
As the sun rose and pushed the cold air across the field, we could see her brother shivering in his stand. He was sitting still, almost frozen waiting for his big buck. Suddenly, I spotted a deer. It was a long way off and it was a doe but we had action. My daughter got ready in case the buck came out but after some time there was nothing. She set her gun back down and got comfortable. From our stand we could see all the hunters in our group. The air was filled with far off pops of opening morning shots. None from our group yet, but the deer were moving. Brittany and I waited and soon another doe appeared. This one had company. Two fawns played in our shooting lane as if they had no cares in the world. Had this been a lone doe, I would have let her shoot one, as we are in an overpopulated area, but instead we sat tight.
About an hour and a half after daylight, I saw my brother in his tower scoping an animal. I could tell by the direction he was looking that the deer had to be closer to our end of the woods and walking our way. I told Brittany to get ready. “Clunk, bang” “Oh my god Daddy is it a buck”? I had to hold in the urge to sternly tell her to be quiet and the urge to laugh at the same time. Like I could tell what the unseen animal was coming through the woods. So like any good father who does not want to get his daughters hopes up would do . . . I said, “Yes honey, a great big one”. You’d have thought the world was coming to an end as she tried not to make noise and get ready at the same time. By now I could hear the deer coming through the brush. Obviously, this animal was hearing impaired, as it seemed not to notice the clunking and banging amidst the heavy breathing and loud whispering of the eager young hunter.
Trying to hold my laugh back, I helped her get ready and talked her through the possible shot as the deer approached. She was ready.
Then the deer stepped into the clearing and stopped. It was about 100 yards out, broadside, a perfect shot. Instantly, I felt her body tense up in my arms and start to shake. “Oh my god, it’s a buck”, she said. She had the scope right on the animal, so I had to take her word for it. As it sure looked like a doe to me. Calmly talking to her to keep her from jumping the trigger I asked, “Are you sure?”
“Yeah, it’s a big buck,” she said. Sure enough, as it turned its head and flicked its ears I could see the enormous 5-inch spikes on its head. “Can I shoot?” she asked franticly. I told her, “Sure you can” and talked her through the shot again, just as I did when we were target practicing.
The shot rang through the quiet air in our woods like the sound of lightning striking a nearby tree. The deer never moved. Her shot hit the ground two feet in front of the deer and it just stood there, dumbfounded. Before I could say a word, she worked the bolt on her new Ruger .243 youth rifle and had another round in the chamber. “Crack”, a second shot. This one struck home. The deer jumped up and kicked as it ran into the woods.
For a moment, she never moved. Then the explosion came. Her screams were load enough that they were heard on the other end of the 80 acres woods. “I got him, I got him”, she screamed. “Nice shot honey”, I said, not knowing really, how nice it was. I now had a dilemma. I wanted to take her to track the animal but what if it was only wounded? What if it was not hit? In Wisconsin, a youth cannot hunt alone at age 12, so I told her to unload her gun and sit tight. I said, “Let me go see how much blood there is and I‘ll come back for you. “
I crawled down from the stand and walked toward where the deer had been. There was fur and blood from a clean pass. I stepped into the woods to see that the trail was good. It was now safe to call her down. I really did not have to say anything because, as soon as I looked toward the stand, the door came flying open. Leaving her gun behind as she was told, she came running toward me. I am not sure she even used the ladder. I said, “Now you walk right next to me, in case it jumps and I have to shoot”. In Wisconsin it is legal to party hunt as long as the hunter with the tag is in visual or vocal distance. This works well for fathers hunting with children. We stalked through the woods slowly following the blood. Not far ahead, I could see the animal lying and could tell it was dead. We kept sneaking as if I had not seen it. Just as quickly as she saw the deer, my daughter yelled, “There it is.” We went through the motions of making sure it was dead so she could learn to be safe when approaching down game. Her shot was clean, right through the lungs. She had in fact harvested the first buck of the group.
She helped me tag the animal and even got her hands in and helped me dress it out. Of course I did not let her hold a knife, as in all her excitement she would surely have amputated something of mine. We then drug it out to the field for photos and loaded it to take to town and register it. I pretty much wrote the rest of the day off, but I had my trophy. I got to be with my daughter and help her take her first whitetail. She got her trophy too, and it is now memorialized by a horn plaque, mount on the wall right next to my Elk. To be honest, that hunt had more excitement than many of my own. The trophy is just as important to her and has more of a story than many record book animals. My daughter now hunts with us every year. Everything from rabbits to whitetail and she will help clean the game too.
So many times in our hunting adventures you hear the word trophy. So many times it is used to describe large record book animals. I have even heard hunters tell another hunter that their animal was or was not a trophy. The fact is, according to our dictionaries a trophy is a memorial given for victory or something given in victory or conquest, especially when preserved or mounted as a memorial. Any successful hunt is a victory.
As I have said before, the homes and dens of the American sportsmen and women are decorated with TROPHIES that would not make a record and/or have never been scored. It is important to stress quality management to our young hunters, but not to the point that we take the fun out of it. We never worried about the size of the bucks we shot when we were young and the herds continue to grow. In fact, they are out of control in some areas. Many hunters cloud the effective management of the herd with their QDM signs when in fact they are raising Inferior animals. QDM is not quality when the buck to doe ratio is out of whack.
Even that doe is a trophy to someone. So if it does not make you feel good to harvest a doe, take someone hunting who would. We also often think of the doe or cow elk harvest, as the ones that children or women should hunt. There is no shame whatsoever in harvesting a doe. In fact, if it were not necessary, the tags would not be available. In some areas there are unlimited tags for antlerless animals available. There is a reason for this. Pick up those tags and do your part or take a new person hunting.
Over the years I have taken many new hunters out into the woods. I took a couple of fine Chicago Police Officers out who had never in their lives harvested a whitetail. Sure the Whitetail buck was our main goal, but they ended up harvesting a doe each. I watched these guys in all their glory with their trophies. Yes, that’s right, I said trophies. The harvest meant something to them. They were happy, in fact ecstatic. That is a trophy animal. Their trophy will be in the form of a photo not a head mount, but they bagged trophies and were victorious. In addition, they put some good food on the table that day and were grateful for it.
The opportunities created by these quota hunts allow us to share the enjoyment and thrill of a successful hunt more often. How many of us know people, whether it is women or not, who lose interest in the sport because they have not seen or harvested a deer in years. To them a whitetail doe would be a trophy.
While the above hunt was going on, a hunter on a neighboring piece of land was having real luck seeing bucks. Again, recall that group hunting is legal within the parameters of the Wisconsin Law. This hunter was hunting with his wife, sister and other relatives. His stand happened to be along the same corridor that my son was sitting on waiting for a buck he could get a head mount on. This hunter shot three bucks on opening day. The last buck was a nice perfect 8-point buck with an 18” spread and perfectly symmetrical tines. When we asked him if he was going to mount it he said, “No, I have bigger ones on the wall”. By the practices of 90% of the so-called QDM hunters, these bucks were all shooters. One was a cull, the others shooters. If this hunter was hunting to put meat in the freezer, he could have taken any number of doe that walked by, but he shot the bucks. Was that 8 pointer a trophy for him? No way! Taken by the right hunter, any of the three bucks he took would have been trophies. But to him, none were. This goes to show that the size of those antlers has nothing to do with the trophy in the heart.
My daughter’s trophy was a spike whitetail. That hunt was filled with adrenaline and excitement. That is the kind of thrill our kids should be experiencing. Take someone new out and try not to be so critical in judging trophies. They are all trophies, if the hunter is proud.
Pure Adrenaline Host