By Patrick D. Harmeyer
-- My 9-year-old son Cameron was already an old pro at hunting when we made our annual hunting trip to Pushmataha Plantation in Butler, Ala. He started hunting with me at age 6 and began carrying and shooting a .410 shotgun at 7 years old. Cameron has seen many nice deer taken by hunters in our hunting club and during two previous trips to Alabama.
For his 9th birthday, he requested a deer rifle that would let him "reach out and touch" something at a little longer distance than his .410 shotgun. We bought him a single-shot .223 with a 4x scope. I zeroed the rifle in at 75 yards and told Cameron we might go a little longer if it was a clean shot.
On his first hunt this year at our club's lease, he made his first kill -- a fat cottontail at 25 yards. We celebrated that rabbit just like it was a trophy buck. He was now ready to shoot his deer. When I say he was ready, I'm telling you, he would not let me go hunting without him. He was determined to shoot his first deer this year. We made several early season hunts without seeing any deer, but he knew that the Pushmataha trip during Thanksgiving week would be better.
Cameron enjoys being in the woods and seeing all the different critters. But like any 9-year-old, he needs some help being quiet and sitting still. We bring a portable DVD player and headphones with us to the stand, and he can stay entertained while waiting for some action.
The stands at Pushmataha are 2-man shooting houses and work out well for us. Cameron knows to wait until the sun is high enough that the glow from the DVD player doesn't light up the inside of the stand. This way, he can hunt as long as he wants and then watch a movie to pass the time.
On this particular trip, we were traveling with my hunting buddy, Danny, and his son Daniel. We were meeting another friend, Scott from Georgia, and his son C.J. This father and son hunt has turned into an annual tradition and usually means meat in the freezer. Upon our arrival in Butler, we unloaded our gear, ate lunch and were ready for the evening hunt.
The weather was cool and clear, and we knew that by the time the sun set that we were going to need our jackets. Cameron doesn't mind the cold; he bundles up with some Hot Hands and keeps on going.
When we got to the stand and settled in, we knew that it would probably be some time before we would see anything, so we got comfortable and cranked up the movie player. Meanwhile, I pulled out my rangefinder and started scanning the distances at different spots in the food plot.
I pointed out landmarks to Cameron and told him that if a deer came out past those marks then I would shoot it with my .30-06. He agreed with that plan and went back to his movie.
At about 4:45 p.m., a yearling doe emerged from the woods and started feeding in the plot. It was past the landmarks that we agreed upon, but Cameron wanted to shoot anyway. I told him to wait; the deer might come closer to us.
A few moments later, the yearling was joined by a mature doe. Cameron was now getting really antsy. Still, I told him to wait. "Get your gun ready and just scope them out," I instructed. "They are not going anywhere soon, so let's wait a little longer." After about 5 minutes, the two does moved around a little but didn't get any closer.
Cameron was giving me the anxious eyes of any hunter looking for his first deer. So I ranged the older doe at 150 yards and told him to take his time and make a good shot. He clicked off the safety, gripped the rifle well and took a deep breath. I was ready with my rifle to assist, if needed. He fired and the doe fell straight down.
"You Got Her!" I exclaimed as we were hugging and giving high-fives. I asked Cameron how he felt, and he said he was still shaking. When we went down to get his deer, I could see Cameron's shot was a bit high but still good enough to kill the doe.
I was proud of Cameron's shot and the patience and discipline he showed by waiting for a good, clean shot. Additionally, I let him know that even though I had killed six deer in my life, I had never killed one that far out. As we dragged the doe back to the stand, we laughed and cut up about how heavy that doe was. As it turned out, when we got it back to the lodge, it weighed 125 pounds, which was bigger than any doe I had ever taken.
This was an occasion none of us will ever forget. We bloodied his face, took a bunch of pictures and called Mom to tell her about his accomplishment. She told him how proud she was and to be sure to take a shower to get all the blood off before he went to bed.
Part of our celebration included Cameron receiving a Buckmasters' pocketknife from Dad as a symbol of him becoming a real deer hunter.
Patrick D. Harmeyer