The rifle and ammo I chose for Terrel's first big game hunt was a Marlin XS7 in .243 Winchester, topped with a Bushnell Elite 2X7 power scope. It is a light outfit and shoots just inside an inch at a hundred yards. I had to shim the recoil lug and hog out the barrel channel to get it to shoot that way, but it works well now.
My reasoning for taking a twelve-year-old boy hunting his first deer with a .243, was that every kid, and woman, blessed with a .243, shoots a bigger deer than the genius that directed them to carry that caliber. These days, the argument goes, it’s the ammo choice and shot placement, more than the caliber, that is important - based on the size of the game, of course.
Terrel’s tag was for a doe, so I wasn't so concerned about failure to penetrate issues with a huge bodied buck, but my choice of ammo still included 100 grain Nosler Partitions.
On our drive to the woods I was wracked with uncertainty about how to handle someone who still doesn't connect his head with his feet. How will I get him to walk quietly, recognize and seek cover, move slowly without any jerky movements, and focus on the animal I’m directing him to with a minimum of motion and noise on my part.
“Don’t slam the car door,” I said on my way out of our carefully concealed vehicle.
“Walk on the track to reduce noise.”
“Move your feet slower and don’t stomp.”
“Watch that flat over by the river. Sometimes there’re deer sleeping there. They’ll stand up if they hear us, and we’ll have a second or two to shoot before they run.”
I reached over and pinched the shoulder of his t-shirt and started to direct him where I wanted him to walk. This way I could also regulate his speed. Because he demonstrated a respect for my knowledge, this worked. His responses were exactly what I wanted.
When his footfalls got too noisy I whispered where to put his feet. He did.
I was amazed at the lowering of the decibel level as we crept toward where I thought the best chance was to fill his tag. My hopes of his being successful began to rise as Terrel began to mirror what I demonstrated to him, and asked him to do. In fact, halfway down the tree line we were walking, I actually began to concentrate on hunting, instead of on the fears I had brought to the field.
Peeking over a small knoll on the western edge of the trees, with a soybean field to our left, I spotted a number of deer well into the field to the north of us. Immediately, but slowly, I had Terrel get down, out of sight. I could see the deer run for cover into the trees to our right, but because we disappeared so quickly, they didn’t seem extremely alarmed. They’d be back. Time to get set up for when they start filtering back out of the trees.
I got Terrel sitting, with only his head and shoulders above the crest of the knoll. From this position he could cover most of the land below us. I stayed on my knees behind him, with the brim of my hat touching the back of his head, so I could whisper instructions, but still see.
Less than ten minutes later deer were scattered over about a twenty-acre area in front of us. Then one saw the tops of our heads, and got curious. It was a mature “long nose” doe that appeared to be dry. With her head in the air, neck stretched to full length, one step at a time, she worked her way up the knoll - right at us. When she stopped at about sixty yards, I told Terrel, who had been tracking her through his scope at my direction, to shoot. A full frontal shot. It would have to be directly at the front of her chest.
After what seemed to be an eternity the rifle thundered, belching a fireball into the fading evening light. The doe stood unmoving in spite of the noise and fireball, looking directly at us. I tried to see any indication of her being hit. None. He had missed at sixty yards!
“Cycle the action slowly, but don’t stop until you’ve got it done,” I whispered. “She’s still there. Still a good target. Don’t quit. When you’re reloaded - shoot again, right away.”
He did it as well as if he’d practiced for twenty years. At his second shot she went down like she had the ground pulled out from under her.
Hugs all around. Relief, joy, satisfaction, exuberance, and just a little wood yard dance. All these things felt and expressed. We did it. No more reason to fear or worry. Meat in the freezer! The only tag we drew that year, and it was filled. There would be some proud parents, parents of parents, siblings and friends.
Terrel and his first deer, a mature doe taken with a Marlin XS7 .243 Winchester.