Hard work gets rewarded
By David Camilleri
On the first Sunday morning in December 2017, I leaned over to let Erin know we would wait 10 more minutes before we wrapped up her first ever deer hunt weekend. Seconds later she leaned back to me and said, “Check this guy out.” But this story really started in the summer when Erin Casey, and my best friend’s youngest son, Austin Wood, came to our deer lease in Mason, Texas, to “help out with the chores.” Austin brought his fiancée Erin along so she could experience the Texas Hill Country and deer lease life.
I can honestly and proudly say Erin was 100 percent all in all weekend, which included a late night hog hunt. After a long weekend of fence repairs, feeder filling, rifle sighting, card playing and barbecuing, I pulled Austin and Erin aside to invite them back for Erin’s first deer hunt. After all the sweat equity she put in that weekend, it was the least I could do, and Erin was excited beyond belief to get the chance. Plus, after seeing how great a shot she was at the range, I had all the confidence in the world she was ready.
Reviewing the trail cams
Recalling that weekend in December, my hunting lease partner, Barney Barnett, and I arrived that Friday to do some hunting and scouting. A quick review of the trail cams showed a nice 10-point in a 50-acre section strolling between two blinds named, “The Cowboy Church” and “The Ponderosa.” Barney had seen this same deer earlier in the season, but passed, hoping the buck would make it through the rut and pass on his nice genetics.
We were hunting in the post rut, so Barney and I decided that any of us, given the chance, should take the big 10 if the opportunity presented itself. That afternoon Barney hunted from The Ponderosa, but the big 10 was a no-show. I went to another section to scout some other deer we saw on the trail cams, hoping to find other good bucks—just in case—for Austin and Erin when the time came. They finally arrived late Friday night after a long drive from the DFW metroplex.
At the ranch
With the excitement of the pending hunt, we stayed up way too late visiting, but we still managed to get out of our bunks at 5 a.m. for their first hunt of the weekend on Saturday morning. We decided the night before that Austin would go to The Ponderosa blind and watch for the big 10, and Erin would hunt with me at “Big Tex,” a box blind that had been visited by several deer all week, leading up to this hunt. While the morning deer traffic was plentiful, Erin sat just “taking it all in,” asking tons of questions, learning and processing, which impressed me very much. My truest passion in hunting is introducing the sport to people who have never hunted, and Erin has been, by far, my best student.
Before our hunt ended that morning, I pointed out two does that would be OK to take. She replied, “OK? Nope. I will pass and wait for better than OK.” She truly understood that hunting isn’t just shooting deer. It’s properly managing the herd to its fullest potential.
While no deer were taken that morning, we returned to the cabin with some great stories and memories. Due to the late night we had on Friday, everyone agreed to take a nap before going out for the afternoon hunt. We moved to new blinds that afternoon, and Barney even had a glimpse of the big 10. But shooting light had faded and the timing for a shot would have been considered borderline in the eyes of a game warden, so he did the right thing and passed.
After dinner we decided to put a 10 p.m. timer on our visit to ensure a good night’s rest before the Sunday morning hunt. Austin and Erin would finally hunt together on Sunday morning. I was confident she was now familiar with the ranch rules and the end goal. But when Sunday morning came, only Austin arrived for coffee.
A bit more sleep
I asked where Erin was. He said she decided to sleep in, so we quickly adjusted our plan, and reset for who would hunt from which blinds. Just as we finished doing that and prepared to head out, guess who showed up and decided to hunt after all? Since we had reset the blind selection, and Austin would go to a one-man blind where he really wanted to hunt, we decided Erin would tag along with me one last time.
So there we were, at the blind, with 10 minutes left before we needed to wrap up Erin’s first ever weekend of deer hunting when she told me to “check this guy out.” It took me half a glance to know it was the big 10. While I had her get the gun in position and slow down her breathing, I glassed the buck one last time, and then gave her the green light. Just then, he turned and headed back across the sendero to our left.
I told her to be quiet and move the gun into the left window. Thankfully, she forgot the part about gently taking the gun off safety. If it wasn’t for that faint click, the big 10 may not have stopped exactly broadside at 40 yards. I whispered something to her, but the gun went off and then the big 10 ran straight down the sendero.
After the shot
Before I could say anything else, I heard a loud “CRUD!” come from Erin. I asked her what was wrong. She looked at me on the verge of bursting into tears and said, “I missed!”
“No you didn’t, kiddo. You made a great shot. And because he was so close, the bullet pretty much just passed through on a double lung shot.”
After calming her down, discussing the importance of respecting the deer’s time to expire without being pushed, filling out her tag, properly securing the rifle, and getting down from the blind, we went to the next level of her education—tracking the deer. Five short minutes later, we got down from the blind, and with Erin on point the whole way, she turned and had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.
The buck lay a mere 60 yards away. Austin shot a nice eight-point buck that same morning, but will forever have to live down the fact that on her first deer hunting weekend ever, his bride-to-be got a big 10.
This article originally appears at Texas Trophy Hunters