A daddy/daughter fun day turns into an emotion-filled adventure with plenty of ups and downs.
By Dan Self
The Missouri archery deer season began like many others. I had seen several deer, but the best part was just spending quality time outdoors.
Things took an interesting turn at the end of September when my daughter Allison asked me to take her bowhunting for our next fun day together.
Allison is 8 years old, but her age isn’t an issue. She has been going two or three times each year during the firearms season since she was 3. While I have always seen plenty of deer, I hadn’t elected to harvest a whitetail with her until a couple of years ago when I shot a nice doe.
I wanted to teach her there is more to hunting than shooting a deer at the first opportunity, so I told her I was holding out for a nice buck, which was true.
She has done remarkably well for her age and has learned to sit quite still, even though it often results in her taking a nap. She is quick to spy a deer moving through the woods or entering a field and, she’s learned to treat the animals with respect.
Last year, she successfully tracked a doe I shot, and she did it with no assistance from me. She’ll share the story with anyone who will listen, willingly or unwillingly.
When she brought up the bowhunting fun day, Allison asked if I could set up a treestand so she could sit next to me. My enthusiasm for helping her join me in the bow woods was tempered by the difficulty of her request. She is afraid of heights, and there was no way I was going to do anything that wasn’t 100 percent safe for my daughter.
I decided the best option would be a 15-foot ladder stand. I picked an area where I see quite a few deer and put one of my lock-ons adjacent to the ladder stand in the same tree.
That tree is one of those old faithful locations. It’s back in the timber where an old fence line runs through a stand of oaks. On one side of the fence are saplings and heavy undergrowth, complete with blowdowns and thick briars that provide great bedding cover. On the other side of the fence, the open oak timber is an irresistible feed zone that serves as a staging area where the deer pause before heading into the fields below.
It seemed like the perfect setup for Allison to have a safe, comfortable evening and see a few deer.
The day of our hunt finally arrived. Allison couldn’t contain her excitement when she got off the school bus that afternoon.
I wanted to get going right away since the deer move relatively early in that location, but Allison insisted we play a few board games before we went.
I’ve learned to keep any hunting experience fun and interesting for her, so I didn’t force the issue.
After getting whipped handily at My Little Pony Memory Match, I put up a better fight in a game of Bed Bugs. Then she was ready to go.
She put on her camo and grabbed a snack of Animal Crackers – another important ingredient for keeping a child occupied.
We arrived and got in our stands without spooking any deer, and she seemed excited about being in the ladder stand. She mentioned a couple of times about being up so high, but the security of the full-body harness must have eased her fears.
As the evening progressed, she asked lots of questions and was fascinated by the chattering of the squirrels and the various sounds of the birds and woodpeckers.
We hadn’t seen any deer, and it was getting closer to that time – the last 15 or so minutes before dark when deer materialize out of nowhere.
Allison whispered that she wanted to go to the field to finish our hunt. I told her we only had about 15 minutes left and we needed to stick it out.
That’s when I noticed movement about 70 yards out. I pointed and said, “Allison, deer.” Then, “Allison, buck,” which was followed by, “Big buck, and he’s heading this way!”
As he got closer, I knew I was going to get a shot opportunity. Then, within 15 yards, he stopped and looked directly at us.
Watching Allison out of the corner of my eye, I knew neither of us had moved.
Time seemed to drag on forever as the buck stared at us. I took the time to glance around and look for potential shot openings.
There was one good window through the limbs the buck would have to pass through. If he didn’t head that way, I wouldn’t be able to draw without being seen.
As if scripted, he broke eye contact and walked right to the opening. I drew my bow and put the top pin where it needed to be.
As soon as the pin rested over his vitals, I let the arrow go.
There was an immediate audible Thump! The buck made a mule kick and raced off.
“Daddy, I want to go get him!” Allison said, followed by, “Daddy, I want to track him!”
I explained how we needed to stay in the stand and wait, but she wasn’t having any of it. Finally, I said we could get down, but only to look for the arrow.
After 10 minutes of careful searching, all we found were a few tufts of hair.
We drove back to the house to give the deer time, to get some better light and a little tracking help.
I called my buddy, Scott, and we headed back out. Scott found a spot of blood 15 yards from where the buck had been standing when I shot, and he found the arrow a few seconds later.
There was very little blood on the arrow, and my stomach lurched. I replayed the shot in my mind, and my mental recording told me I hit back a little, but not far enough to be a problem.
I couldn’t argue with the evidence, though, so I prepared for a long tracking job.
We continued along the trail, finding drops of blood here and there, and occasionally a good splatter, but nothing that indicated the buck would be close by.
It was well after midnight, and Allison was long past the tired and cranky stage. She didn’t have school the next day, but I realized it would be best for my sanity, as well as the mental health of everyone else in the county, if I gave up for the night and took my exhausted daughter home.
I got as much sleep as you might expect, but I was ready to go first thing in the morning. I had little hope, but told Allison how important it is to make every possible effort to recover an animal.
Upon resuming the trail, we found a few more spots of blood but didn’t gain more than 20 yards. I used the back trail to determine the direction the deer had gone and followed that.
Still coming up empty, I walked in ever bigger loops in hope of stumbling upon its body. When I got to the fenceline, I found the most obvious deer crossing and looked for sign. I reasoned there should have been something evident where he made the jump. Nothing.
I was ready to give up. I had circled all the way back to a dry creek bed at the base of the hills. I followed it to where I could make my way back to the truck, feeling sick and horrible the whole time.
Finally, I stopped and prayed to find the buck, this beautiful creation of God. Sure, I wanted to find it, but I was more concerned about Allison and how the experience could affect her.
Not 15 steps after finishing my prayer, I spotted a brown blob with antler sticking up.
The feelings were overwhelming, and like nothing I had ever experienced. God had heard me and answered my prayer.
The beautiful 11-pointer meant more to me than any deer I had taken before. Not only did it cap off an amazing hunt, but I got to experience the whole thing with my daughter.