By George Cayer
-- I once read: “Few things can bring you more joy than to pursue two of your passions at the same time.”
For me, that means hunting and fishing in Maine with my daughters Larissa and Hillary – just as I did with my father.
I have found some ways to make the hunt more enjoyable for my children. I can honestly say that since my daughters have been accompanying me, they have not had a bad experience in the woods.
First, I make sure they are warm and comfortable. I probably spoil them a bit, but I want them to cherish the outdoors as much as I do.
Both my daughters use green cold-weather sleeping bags whenever we’re watching a food plot. Hillary has harvested four deer and Larissa has harvested two in this manor.
I am very fortunate to have landowner permission to take my daughters in a prime deer hunting area. The best way to keep children interested is to be someplace where they can see game.
I had often wondered if my daughters were hunting because they simply wanted to make me happy. I can tell you that after the first year of hunting with my children and for the past several seasons, they are hooked on the sport. They often talk about hunting together and how big the buck is going to be. The look on their faces when they harvest a deer is a memory that will stay etched in my mind forever.
Both my daughters are avid shooters. My oldest, Larissa, outshot me and one of my colleagues, a recent graduate from Marine boot camp. We were getting ready for bird hunting, and Larissa wanted to do some duck hunting.
She outshot both of us on the skeet field.
Hillary would shoot me out of ammo if I let her. She has made some unbelievable shots in our green field with a .243. Her shortest distance on deer so far is 165 yards – her longest shot was this year in gusting winds at an amazing 325 yards. This deer never made it out of the field.
Hillary’s deer last year dropped in its tracks at 285 yards. Some hunters that you tell this story to look at you like you have horns growing out of your head until I show them the video.
Hillary was adamant that she was going to shoot ONLY a buck. I tried to explain to her that if a nice doe stepped out that she only had one more youth-day hunt after this year and that she should fill her tag if the opportunity arose. Then one night I got the facts from my wife. She told me that Hillary doesn’t want to shoot a doe this year; so I shouldn’t pressure her into shooting one.
I promised I wouldn’t.
This youth day was Oct. 21. The previous day saw torrential rains and wind that we only experience once or twice a year. Wind advisories were up in the state and power outages were happening everywhere.
That morning, the wind was still gusting to 30 mph.
Legal shooting time was 6:28 a.m., and we arrived at 6:00. I expected to see deer because of the bad storm that night. The girls were in their sleeping bags when, at 6:10, I spotted a nice deer feeding about 200 yards distant. I told Hillary to try and find the deer in the scope.
She did and told me, “Dad, it has a nice rack!”
The excitement of that day’s hunt ratcheted up from a 3 to a 10! I watched the deer feed as the minutes ticked past. At 6:28, Hillary loaded up, but it was still very dark. The deer continued to feed, and then, at around 6:30, it vanished to the right side of the field. I suspected that it was a mature buck that wasn’t going to stick around when the sun came up. My Dad often told me, “They don’t get that big for being stupid, you know.”
At 6:45, I thought I saw another deer coming onto the field. The light was changing, and something stood out. I looked with the binoculars and told Hillary, “Get ready. It’s a buck coming out on the left.”
She looked and couldn’t see anything. I continued to watch with the binoculars and nothing moved. I told her “Oh, sorry, I thought it was a deer. But it’s not moving. It must be a bush.”
Doing this to a child is like pulling on their fishing line when they are not looking. I looked again at the “bush” and, all of a sudden, it turned its head and I could see that it was, in fact, a buck! I told Hillary, and she found him in the scope.
Anyone who knows me can tell you that I get a little worked up when it comes to hunting. For the past several years, I have told myself to stay calm and not to stress my children out when it’s time to shoot.
I was doing fine for the first five minutes. After 10 minutes, I was a wreck. I was telling Hillary that the buck was not going to feed all day. I told her numerous times, “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Larissa told me to be quiet once because I was stressing Hillary out. Not to mention that the deer was feeding away from us and was more than 300 yards away.
Larissa commented, “Dad, she can’t shoot that far.” I told Larissa to be quiet and reminded her that Hillary had already shot a deer at 312 yards in the same field two years earlier.
I can always tell when my daughters are about to shoot because they get real quiet and hold their breath for the shot. I quickly looked down and could see Hillary’s finger touching the trigger. I immediately went back to watching through binoculars. The buck was broadside, and I had to say it one more time: “Hillary, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Almost 15 minutes had passed when the shot finally came. I watched as the deer fell on his chest and wheel-barrowed forward maybe 20 yards. I felt good about the shot, and I asked Hillary how she felt. Good, she said.
She added that she’d held on the spine right behind the shoulder. My only worry was the gusting wind and knowing what that can do to a 100-grain bullet. Aiming at the spine was to compensate for the slight drop in the bullet at 300 yards.
After congratulations and a laugh about how stressed Dad gets, Hillary shrugged back into boots (remember, she was nice and warm in her sleeping bag), and we packed up our stuff to head for the truck. I was confident and so was Hillary that she’d done her part.
After Hillary retrieved the Thompson Contender, we headed to the spot in the field. I was confident we’d find the deer not too far from where she shot it, but in an effort to teach them the proper recovery methods, I told both girls to look for where the deer was hit and that we would follow the trail.
I was running the camera and telling them to look for blood or hair. I tried not to be obvious, but my eyes were scanning the woods line where the deer had run. Just as they found the sign in the field, Larissa spoke up and said, “Dad, there he is!”
The deer was down on the far end of the field, maybe 30 yards from where he had been standing. I still told the girls to do a proper follow-up and to follow the trail to the deer – part of their training, I guess.
After a couple minutes of celebration, it was picture and video time. Afterward, we loaded the deer and drove to a good location to field-dress it. The girls helped and learned. I am confident they both could dress a deer with no problem.
Then it was time to head for the tagging station in Rumford, where Hillary’s buck was weighed at 141 pounds. Hillary had a funny expression on her face, and I asked, “What did Larissa’s big doe weigh?”
Hillary looked at me and said “141 pounds.”
That made for a good laugh. We arrived home shortly thereafter and showed the deer to her mother, who was as proud as I was.