As always, when I went in to wake Rylee up, she popped right up out of bed and was quick to get ready. Not even quite fully dressed, she was sure to start filling the snack bag, while I made a thermos of hot chocolate for us. Of course, she only grabbed the healthiest of snacks and no candy for this outing. With the mornings snacks ready to go, we loaded up and hit the road to “The Field” for the mornings hunt. Antoine would hunt the bottom tree stand and Rylee and I would hunt from the Banks Blind on the field edge.
Morning walks in the dark have always been my favorite with both girls. The stars and moon are still shining bright and there is a sense of wonder and lots of questions, such as look at those stars, what was the noise, while walking in the pitch black. Once we arrived at the blind, I got Rylee settled in, while I pulled the decoy from the blind and went and got it set up in front of us. As normal the time waiting for daylight is spent in conversation, wonder and of course generally the snacks start getting devoured.
Now a quick back story on what deer we are hunting. I have been hunting this property for 5 years and it is really only a property I like to hunt for does. For no other reason than I never see bucks, at least any older than 2.5, both in person and on trail camera. Now in 2021 a buck grabbed my attention off the trail camera. He was coming to the water tank every few days, but always in the middle of the night. He was a heavy tall framed 8 point that was obviously mature. With no prior history, I figured he was 5.5 or older.
Come 2022 I was hoping we would again see this deer showing up, and he was the first deer on the trail camera this fall, after I set it out in early November. Now I had not been giving this property too much attention because even the does were not coming around like normal. The field did not grow and produce a crop due to the extreme drought, which is what I equate the reduced sightings to. When Antoine got here, we weren’t seeing deer at our primary spot like I had hoped, so I started running cameras just in case I was missing something. Turned out the day after I hung the cameras, Antoine was able to harvest a great buck out of my favorite tree in the area, and ultimately his favorite too, as this was his third buck from the same tree.
After Antoine tagged that buck, we headed west to Belle Fourche for the opening of Rifle season. As we got back, Antoine had a week of hunting left and still had a doe tag in his pocket. By law, we only had one place he could hunt for that doe and it was this field. Immediately he began seeing this buck. Now, this year he lost a tine and was now a 7 point we dubbed the “Big 7.” He would see the buck about every other time he went out and twice he was in bow range and twice in rifle range. Once I even grabbed the rifle and tried to make a play on him after the kids were off to school. That attempt did not work out.
Well at this I said I will give it a few more minutes and then I will go to the truck to get napkins to clean up the hot chocolate mess, after all we were on a time crunch and had to be leaving at 8:30 am so we could get Antoine to the airport on time. Rylee and I observed our surroundings without seeing any deer for about another 5 minutes. I told her I was going to grab those napkins and I would be right back so we could clean up the hot chocolate and sit just a little longer.
I looked one more time and did not see a deer around. I grabbed my rifle and opened the blind door to head to the truck. As I looked out the open door, off to our side stood a wide heavy 8-point buck that I had never seen before! I slowly got back into the blind and as I shut the door, I told Rylee to get the window open on that side of the blind. She did so as I chambered a round into the .223. As Rylee opened the window the buck was still standing there, 30 yards away looking at us. He began to work off to the south as I got the rifle ready and eventually got behind a small rise in the field. I could see his antlers just above the rise.
Once the buck cleared the rise and was on the field edge, I did two loud grunts at him to gain his attention to hopefully get a shot. He turned and stopped as he then saw the decoy between us and him. At that moment I told Rylee to be ready and asked if she could see him. Her response was “Shoot the deer Daddy!” As I had the deer in the scope the wide, heavy frame stuck out and there were no questions. I settled the crosshairs just behind his shoulder going for a double lung shot and squeezed the trigger! The shot went off and felt good, however I did not hear a report back that sounded like a hit, yet I felt there was no way I could have missed.
Antione immediately texted asking what I had shot. I asked if he heard anything sounding like a hit and he said no he only heard the sound of the rifle firing. I told Rylee we were going to wait a few minutes, so I was going to run grab those darn napkins to clean up the blind, then we would go look, by that time Antoine would be back to us to help go look as well.
Once we began to look it did not take long to find the first blood, and from there it led us right to the buck laying 30 yards away in the cedars! Rylee and I had gotten it done with her first experience on a deer harvest! There was a lot of excitement with high fives and hugs all around! However, we were now really on a time crunch to get photos, gutted, loaded, home and the deer hung so we could get Antoine to the airport! We quickly drug the deer up and Antoine took some amazing photos!
After photos Rylee began to get rather emotional and I was not sure why. I equated it to all the excitement and emotions along with us being slightly rushed, I did not take it slow enough for her to process everything. Moments later as I tagged the buck and began gutting him, she began asking lots of anatomy questions as I field dressed him. This was more like her normal self.
Now this was not Rylee’s first-time out deer hunting, in fact she has been out many times and a few times we had deer right out the blind, we just couldn’t get a shot. She had been on successful turkey and antelope hunts, but this was her first time on a deer hunt with a harvest. At 3 years old, I know it is likely she will not remember this hunt, but I will never forget it. Having this written story and photos will be great for her to read back and remember the day.
I can’t be thankful enough to have the career I have and live the life we do. Being able to go spend times in the outdoors with my family, there really is nothing better for me.