By Mark Watson
My daughter Bailey is 12 years old and has gone on family hunting trips since she was a year old. She started hunting when she was 7 years old after several years of going to the blind with her older sisters and Dad just to watch. She took her first buck when she was 8 years old and became a trophy hunter after taking her second buck in 2009. She kept telling me, “I want to take a nice trophy like some that you have on the study wall.”
On a trip to Kansas for the youth hunt in 2010 she passed on a 130-class eight-point after listening to the rancher talk about the deer’s age being the determining factor for it being a trophy. Even though the rancher said she could shoot anything she wanted, she would not shoot the deer, as he was only a young buck. I began to think I had turned her onto my standards a little early as we made the 7½-hour drive home empty handed. I wanted her to shoot the young deer; it would have been twice as big as anything she had ever killed. When I was her age hunting with my father, I considered a good season being out of buck and doe tags. Size was nice, but just shooting deer was what I wanted to do.
The 2011 youth weekend found us at our Brownwood lease with only small bucks that she decided not to shoot. Busy with her extracurricular activities, it was Thanksgiving weekend before we made it up to our Cottle County lease. The first morning it was 31 degrees with a 20 mph north wind and light rain. We hunted in the Ranger high seat for as long as we could stand it and decided to move to an area that was more protected from the wind.
As we headed down a small brush covered hill, we spotted a deer up wind eating some winter grass in the bottom of a mesquite cover creek bottom. We had the wind in our favor as far as scent and noise detection goes, and the deer had not noticed us. We turned off the Ranger and got the binoculars on the deer trying to determine if it was a buck or a doe. We could see he was a beautiful 140-class mature 4x4 with a kicker off his right G2.
I thought for sure he would move out of the mesquites far enough for Bailey to get a shot. The deer was only 80 yards away for 15 minutes, but we watched him walk away through the brush. As we drove home that Sunday—empty handed again—I began to question my guiding abilities.
December 17 found us at our lease again with high hopes of getting another chance at the big eight-point we had let slip away on our last trip. Saturday morning we had a mature eight-point pass within 70 yards of the blind, but it was too early to get a clean sportsman like shot. We watched him walk into the brush and disappear like a ghost into the grey morning light. That evening we had several immature bucks and five does come by the stand, but no mature deer.
Just as we packed up to leave, a very large hog appeared from the creek and Bailey perked up with anticipation. She had always wanted to shoot a hog, but had never had the opportunity. She eased the .270 caliber rifle out the blind window and squeezed off a shot. The hog ran back towards the creek (so I thought), so we waited 15 minutes to give him a chance to expire.
Daylight disappeared and darkness settled in before we made it to where the hog stood when she took the shot. We found no sign of blood so we headed north, the way her father’s old eyes thought the hog ran. We looked for 30 minutes with no sign of the hog being hit. On the way back to camp I told her we would find him in the morning. She was very disappointed that we could not find any sign and she could not understand what had happened. We didn’t know it at the time, but dad’s old eyes had tricked us both.
Sunday morning we sneaked into the blind an hour before first light. It was 36 degrees and not a breath of wind. About 7:15 we spotted a large deer moving out of the mesquites along the creek. As the daylight increased we could tell it was a nice mature buck, but before she could get a good shot the buck had disappeared back into the mesquites. A sense of disappointment hit us both as we sat there thinking we had missed our chance again. It was a horrible helpless feeling. Then about 15 minutes later he appeared and Bailey wasted no time getting on him and making a killing shot. After waiting 30 minutes we headed to the direction the deer had run and found her trophy not more than 75 yards from the blind. He was a beautiful 5x4 with a 17 6/8-inch inside spread and 30 5/8 inches of mass. After many hugs, high fives and knuckle bumps I said we should get the truck. She said, “Can you go get the truck so I can look for my hog?” I agreed and headed for the truck but before I made it I received a phone call from my very excited girl saying she had found her hog. She was almost more excited about finding her hog than the trophy she had just taken. When I drove up to her standing with her, I could see her smile from over 100 yards away. I will never forget how proud she looked standing there smiling like the happiest girl in the world!