Missouri youth hunters checked 18,676 deer during their special season Nov. 2-3. Emily Flinn, the resource scientist in charge of deer management for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said two factors - weather and increasing participation - contributed to the strong harvest.
"We had great weather for this year's early youth hunt," Flinn said. "The temperatures were cool but not cold, and it didn't rain. Hunters tend to stay in the woods longer under those conditions."
My oldest daughter, Bailee, 8, participated in her first youth deer season in Missouri and ended up with an unfilled tag. It's my fault she didn't take a buck, and that's tough for me to swallow. In searching for a positive, she learned some valuable lessons. Here's the story.
A month ago, Bailee and I set up a ground blind in a high-traffic funnel along a creek on the property I hunt most often. I had been monitoring the area with trail cameras and had discovered a number of younger bucks were regularly passing through. Any of them would have made a perfect first deer for any youth.
On opening morning, Bailee sprung from bed with a level of excitement rarely seen before dawn. She had her clothes all laid out and ready, and excitedly slid on her new camouflage coveralls and boots that we'd just bought a few days prior during a special daddy-daughter shopping trip to Bass Pro.
We rolled slow down gravel roads on our way to the farm, which is only a few miles from our house. Soaking up the realization I was actually taking my own child on her first deer hunt was a special, special moment for me. Hunting, deer hunting specifically, has been a huge part of my life since I was just a little bit older than she is now. To be able to pass our passions on to our children is one of life's great gifts. This day was a long time coming and I wanted to soak in every moment.
When we pulled up to the ranch gate, Bailee said she'd open it. She looked so little climbing up the rails of the gate, illuminated by the headlights of my truck. She tried hard to open it, but I had to get out and help her. I lifted her down off the gate, showed her again how to open the latch and we laughed.
As we made our way down through the pasture, it quickly became apparent the cattle were missing. Unfortunately, we found them milling around the alfalfa field in front of the woods we were going to be hunting. It's never good to have cattle where you hope to find deer.
We found our blind right where we'd left it, still tightly tethered to the ground. As we got comfortable inside, Bailee was glowing with excitement. Every noise was a deer headed our way. She heard something over there and saw something over there. She was so excited. And then the buck showed up.
It was still pretty dark in the woods. It was legal shooting time, but the sun wasn't up yet. The buck was gliding through the woods like a ghost. He was on us before we were aware of his approach and stopped broadside in front of us at 17 yards. I pulled Bailee up behind the gun, which was resting in a DeadShot FieldPod. I told her to shoot him. She said she couldn't find him in the scope. I pulled her away and pointed to him right in front of us. She saw him and went back to searching in the scope. She cried, "I can't find him. I can't find him." Then he was gone.
I looked at the gun and my heart sank. The scope was at full power. At that close of a range, it needed to be dialed all the way down. She couldn't find him because the magnification was too powerful. With that small detail, I'd blown it. When we got home, she cried as she told my wife and younger daughter what happened.
We hunted that night and the next morning before I had to leave Sunday afternoon for a trip. We never saw another deer. I've spent the time since explaining to Bailee how hard it is to take a deer and why we need to be so respectful of the animals and process.
Bailee killed her first turkey in the first hour of her first hunt, so a little humble pie was probably in order for her to learn to value the hunt. But man, oh man, those tear-filled eyes were a heartbreaker. She is ready for rifle season, and I'm dedicated to spending all my time helping my daughter tag her first deer.
See you down the trail ...
Brandon Butler is an outdoors columnist for the News Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.