Eleven-year-old Caitlin Hartigan of Mercer took to the woods for the youth hunt Sunday, Oct. 7 and scored on a beautiful buck as time was running out.
“It was the last night and about the last hour of the two-day youth hunt and the eight-pointer came in,” she said.
“It was very exciting.”
Indeed. The 172-1⁄2-pound eight-pointer she took would get many veteran hunters excited — and it was Caitlin’s first deer.
“I got it Sunday night at about 6:10,” Caitlin recalled. She was hunting that night with her mother, Christa Reinert.
“We sat down at the stand and waited for about two hours,” Caitlin said.
At that point, things began to get interesting.
“We were sitting in the stand and we heard some turkeys ... we could hear the turkeys right behind us,” Caitlin said. “Then we could hear some bigger sticks cracking and my mom said it was a bigger animal.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Christa soon spotted the nose of a deer, but couldn’t be sure what it was at first. Christa whispered to her daughter.
“She said it might be a doe — then she said it was a buck and my whole body, like, stiffened,” Caitlin said. “I couldn’t see it walking in. I had to stay still ... then my mom put a glove up on the bar [on the front of the stand] so I could set the gun up.”
The stand was designed for someone a bit taller than an 11-year-old girl, and Caitlin had some trouble seeing through the scope on her rifle. Caitlin would have to overcome these issues as the buck approached.
“I had to stand up in the stand and put my leg under me, because I was too short to aim the gun on the bar,” she said.
Once positioned, Caitlin awaited her chance for a shot. Excruciating moments passed. Of course, in the excitement such times, the simplest stuff can cause things to go awry.
“The deer was walking in and it stopped, and we had to stay as still as we could,” Caitlin said. “Then it kept walking and it bent down to start eating, and then it stood up and turned in a different direction, so I had the perfect shot on it. I was aiming, and I pulled the trigger, and the safety was on.”
The minor setback only spared the buck for a moment, though. As it stood about 85 yards out, Caitlin once again readied the .308 she had borrowed from her Uncle Kevin Hartigan.
“Once we figured it out, I aimed the cross-hairs behind the left front shoulder and I pulled the trigger and we knew I shot it because it started bucking — the back feet bucked up in the air, and then it ran about 20 yards and fell down on the ground on the trail,” Caitlin said.
A large tree blocked Caitlin’s view of the buck as it went down, but her mother could see.
“I was very, very excited. And I was very overwhelmed ... my mom hasn’t even shot that big of a deer before,” Caitlin said. “She was talking to me about how I had to be very quiet — so she could hear it rustling around on the ground ... I couldn’t hear anything because my ears were still [ringing] from the shot.”
It was soon time for Caitlin to get a close-up look at her deer.
“We waited for about two minutes ... then we climbed down quietly ... my mom started walking toward it. We followed the trail of blood,” she said.
Christa had seen the buck go down, but saw a chance to have her daughter work on her tracking skills.
“She had me look for blood and try and find everything,” Caitlin said. “And we saw little blood drops, and then I saw [the buck] and my mom had me stay behind her in case it wasn’t dead.”
Closer examination revealed that the buck was down for good.
“I hit him right through the heart,” Caitlin said. “It was a perfect shot.”
At that point, she could really see how big the buck was.
“He looked a lot smaller when we were sitting up in the stand then when we got up close to him,” Caitlin said.
Of course, the deer had to be field-dressed. It was another chance to begin learning a valuable skill.
“I helped my mom,” Caitlin said. “I was watching her, how she was doing it. I helped her gut it — I didn’t do all of it.”
Mom might have been the primary field-dresser, but she relied on the youth of Caitlin and Caitlin’s twin brother, Colin, to move the sizeable animal.
“My brother and I dragged it out of the woods by ourselves,” Caitlin said. “My mom said that was probably the best part at the end ... that my brother and I had to drag it out of the woods.”
They had to wait a while for Colin’s help, because he was hunting with their father, Jerry Hartigan, at the time.
“My Uncle Kevin was the first one we told — before I even told my dad and my brother — because they were still out hunting and my Uncle Kevin was at his cabin,” Caitlin said.
She needed to thank her uncle, anyway. In addition to being granted the use of his rifle, she had also been using one of his stands.
Caitlin said the eight-pointer was the only deer she saw over the weekend, and that it had been about 12 years since a deer was taken on that property.
Christa said the buck came as a surprise to everyone. It was an unfamiliar deer.
“We never even saw it on the cameras ... and it came out of the woods and walked across a giant pothole,” she said.
Christa recalled making her daughter wait for the buck to come to a complete stop before allowing her to shoot. All in all, Christa was quite pleased with her daughter’s hunt.
“She never shot anything before this. She’s never even shot a squirrel that I know of,” she said.
In addition to venison meals, Caitlin has other plans for the buck.
“I’m going to get a shoulder mount of it. My uncle is going to ... buy it for me,” she said.
Caitlin enjoyed the hunt and even enjoyed shooting the .308. She plans to keep chasing whitetails.
The eight-point rack on Caitlin’s buck has a 16-1⁄4-inch inside spread.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.