Three Sisters, Three Deer, One Season
By Ryan Graden
Are you a dreamer? I’m sure if you are reading this magazine, you are an outdoorsman, but do you have dreams? You know, the dreams that pertain to your hunting future. Dreams like shooting that 200 inch buck, or traveling to Alaska to get your moose, bear, and sheep. Maybe your dream is to do a safari in Africa or complete the North American Grand slam. Whatever it may be, we all have our lists of what we’d like to accomplish in our hunting career and that’s part of what keeps pressing on in this great sport of hunting.
For me, one of my dreams came one step closer to coming true this last fall and I can hardly wait to share it with you guys!
I am the proud father of four daughters. Yes, that’s right, no sons, just daughters. For a long time that was a “problem” for me. I grew up hunting with my dad, uncles, and grandfathers. This sport was a tradition among the men in my family for multiple generations. As a boy growing up, I couldn’t wait to pass on the same experiences and memories to my son(s).
In 2002, my first little girl was born. Rylee came into the world calm-cool-and collected. She didn’t waste time with crying. She just went straight to changing her daddy’s heart! I was hooked! Little girls were “OK” with me and that’s where one of my dreams began. I wanted to see all of my daughters harvest a deer in the same season. Possible? I was sure of it.
Over the next 8 years, I added three more daughters to the mix. It didn’t take long for Brenlie, Taydem, and Paysen to have their daddy wrapped around their finger. Now, they are all healthy and growing into beautiful young women. But don’t let that fool you! When it comes to hunting, they are as serious about it as any grown man and they have a record to prove it! Let me tell you a little bit about them!
Rylee, was a hunter from the beginning. When she was no more than two, she would be waiting by the door of our apartment for me to return from my Saturday hunting escapades. I would show her what I harvested, talk about why God made it that way, and we’d begin to do the butchering. Deer, turkeys, rabbits, squirrels, and pheasants. You name it, she had an “anatomy lesson” on it all!
As Rylee grew up, I introduced her to shooting and it didn’t take long for me to see that she loved it. She listened and applied all that it taught her. She understood the dangers and had a healthy respect for the weapons. On the range, she was a “dead-eye” and I knew that when this little girl started to hunt, things were going to fall!
When Rylee was eight, she asked me to be a part of the Iowa Youth Season. I was overjoyed and we went right to work. We practiced all summer with a 50 caliber muzzleloader loading about 50 grains of powder. That gave Rylee a range of accuracy out to about 50 yards. We talked about and practiced shot placement over and over again. Soon, Rylee was ready for her chance and that chance came one evening as a mature doe walked right up to our blind in a hayfield. Rylee placed a perfect shot to tally up her first deer ever! But it didn’t stop there. She was hooked and looking forward to more seasons!
Fast forward to this past Iowa Youth Season. Rylee, by this time has harvested three deer to her name and was going for her fourth. But this year was a little different for her and I. You see, during the past seasons, I had to do quite a bit of the “helping” for the hunt. Packing the right equipment, carrying the gun, getting the gun rest, and more. But not this time. Rylee was old enough to do that all on her own. So, what did I do? I became the camera guy and we were hoping to get it all on video.
The very first evening of the 2015 youth season Rylee and I set out for a new stand that we had hung at the end of the summer. A neighbor of ours gave us permission to hunt on the edge of his bean field and we took him up on the offer. It was a beautiful night and the setting seemed perfect for a harvest.
For me, it was surreal. Rylee was twelve-years-old and doing most of the needed things on her own. As we settled into the stand, I looked over to see her ready and prepared. She was in “hunt” mode and I couldn’t help but reflect on all that we had shared over her short hunting career already. She had her mind set on shooting a buck that night and that was the plan that we were going with.
The setting was perfect. The wind was from the south, the beans were green and lush, and the sun was just about to set. I had the camera rolling and Rylee had her eyes peeled for any movement coming from the east where we expected the deer to show up at.
It didn’t take long before we saw two does pop out of the woods. They entered cautiously and did their best to check the wind before getting too far out of the cover. I could hear Rylee’s breathing get a little faster! I chuckled. “You still get excited with does?” She replied, “Yes”. With a smile. The two does continued to move around and graze on the edge of the bean field. I was in the process of getting some great footage being a first time camera guy.
Then, I heard a whisper. “Dad, I want to shoot her!” I looked over at Rylee and could tell she was serious. I responded, “I thought you wanted to wait for a buck?” With a slight grin on my face. “Not anymore! I can take this! It’s a perfect shot. I want to take her!” I shifted my camera a bit and zeroed in on the doe and gave Rylee the “green light”.
The doe was grazing at about 40 yards with her head down taking a few more mouthfuls of grass. Rylee made the adjustments she had to make for an accurate shot and began to squeeze the trigger. With an explosion of sound and a cloud of smoke, we watched as the doe dropped like a pile of bricks! Deer #4 for Rylee was on the ground and we were both shaking with excitement.
Rylee’s doe was huge! The body was enormous and she was excited. She called Papa (Grandfather) Roger like always and we loaded it up to take it home.
Fast forward another week, and it was my turn to take daughter #3, Taydem out on her very FIRST deer hunt. That’s right, Taydem is eight-years-old and like Rylee, made the announcement last summer that she’d like to go deer hunting this year too!
Now, anybody who has multiple children knows that each kid is different. Behaviors, personality, and character are what make them unique and Taydem is nothing like her two older sisters. You see, Taydem is fearful of things that go “boom”. That’s right, loud noises scare her to death. You see the problem don’t you? Guns make loud noises and you need to use a gun if you’re going to go deer hunting. But, I wasn’t going to let that “fear” of hers keep her from getting out and hunting. So, we made a plan.
Taydem was a unique case compared to her sisters. This fear always popped up and I knew that it wasn’t something that she could necessarily “get over”. Rather, we would have to handle it as we went.
So, we invested in some electronic noise canceling earmuffs. I was hoping that by using those, it might equal the playing field if she could learn to trust them and their “promise”, to keep loud sounds from her ears.
So, toward the middle of the summer we set up to practice shooting the muzzleloader. When I saw her look at the gun, I could tell that Taydem’s fear was creeping up on her. So, I put the earmuffs on her and explained what would happen. While she was wearing them, I would clap my hands as loud as I could to demonstrate how quickly they would become quiet. The more and more I did that, she seemed to relax and gain a trust in them.
So, we put it to the test. We set the target out at 50 yards. I set her on my lap with the gun rested on a few rolled up blankets. As I held her on my lap (what I did with all my girls), I carefully talked her through the shot. I told her to look through the scope and find the target. Slowly make sure that the crosshairs were right on the middle of that target. And when she was ready, to slowly squeeze the trigger until the shot went off.
Boom! I felt her little body push back into mine and as the cloud of smoke engulfed us both. But a smile appeared as the cloud dissipated. She was happy! Not scared! I was proud of this little girl who went head-to-head with something that was scary. And to add to the experience, there was a hole smack dab in the center of the target! She too, like her older sisters, had no problem “hitting the mark”.
The evening came for Taydem and I to head out to the stand and we were both super excited! It was her first deer hunt ever and I hoped that it would be something that she would never forget!
Rather than hunting from a blind, which was what I usually did with the girls when they were that age, Taydem and I climbed into a ladder stand. It was attached to a sturdy hickory tree and it allowed us to see the full view of the hayfield that we were sitting over. She had her earmuffs on and she sat on my lap as we waited for the sun to set and the deer to appear.
While we were in the stand playing the waiting game, we talked a lot. (whispered, I mean) We “practiced” what could happen tonight if a deer came out. Where would she aim, how would we move the gun into position, how would she find her shot in the scope and slowly pull the trigger.
I wanted Taydem’s mind to be prepared if we got the opportunity.
As the evening went on, my hopes were fading. I checked my watch realizing that there was only minutes of shooting time left and we hadn’t seen a deer all evening. She kept asking me if they were going to come out to which I responded, “I’m not sure baby.” Just then, I heard a rustle in the leaves behind me. I slowly turned my head to see a small doe coming down the trail that dumps out into the hayfield right below our stand.
I quickly checked my watch to see that we had four minutes of shooting time left! I whispered to Taydem’s earmuff, “there’s one coming and if it steps out, you’re going to have to take a quick shot. We are almost out of time!” So we quickly moved the muzzleloader into position and prepared for a possible shot. The doe, rather than conducting the traditional “pause” at the edge of the field proceeded to walk right out in front of our stand at 15 yards, stopped broadside, and began to graze. If you don’t think that was a godsend, I don’t know what would be!
I asked Taydem if she could see it in the scope, she said, “yes”. I looked at my watch to see that our last two minutes were quickly ticking away. I whispered back to Taydem, “If you’re ready, go ahead and shoot.” There was a slight delay and then I heard and felt the gun go off! I held on to her and the gun as we watch the doe take off like lighting! It ran away toward the opposite edge of the field as if it was going to jump back into the timber line. But as it ran, it began to have a slight left tilt to the run that proceeded into a downward spiral as the doe tipped over and laid still!
“You got her”, I shouted! “She’s down”! I could feel Taydems body tense up with excitement. She began to shake. “Are you cold”? “No daddy, I’m excited!”
Brenlie, daughter #2, is my “hunter”. She talks about hunting all the time! And to her credit, she has accomplished quite a bit in her first four years of hunting. The first deer that she harvested was a six-point buck. A year later, her second deer was a 168-inch 12 pointer we had nicknamed “Raker”. You might have seen her and this buck in an issue of the Iowa Sportsmen a few years ago.
Brenlie’s hunting addiction has continued to grow, but with her success at harvesting bucks, it’s also caused her to become a bit picky! Hence, why her season was much longer than her sister’s this fall. Brenlie had her eye on a buck that we called “Gigantor”. She was bound and determined to get that buck before Dad (me) had a chance at it with my bow during the Iowa bow season. Bren and I tromped our way out into the woods many a night until she finally changed her mind. I think it was under the pressure of her sisters that she finally folded and was ready to harvest a mature deer of either sex.
This evening Brenlie and I headed out to the same stand that Rylee harvested her doe out of on the first night of the youth season. It was now almost two weeks later. The weather was a bit cooler, the beans were a little less colored, and the smell of fall was in the air already. Bren was excited for the night and I think we could both sense that “something” was going to happen.
We had sat in the stand for about an hour and a half when we heard some brush rustle in the timber off to our left. I hurried up and got the camera ready just in time to see two does pop out of the edge of the timber into the brome grass on the boarder of the beanfield that we were hunting. I turned to see Brenlie already prepared for the shot. She had her one eye closed and she was zeroed in on the larger of the two does.
We watched for about 5 minutes as the deer quietly and securely grazed on the smaller greens in the brome grass patch. Brenlie was patiently waiting for a broad side shot as I’ve always asked her to. We’ve talked enough for her to know that this is the surest and best angle for a shot. But, the longer we waited, it was apparent that the doe had not intentions of turning and Brenlie was ready to take another angle.
In our preparations over the years, the girls and I will often watch the Outdoor Channel and pause shows when we see a deer come out. I will ask them, “Ok, where would you aim if the deer was standing like this?” and they would run up and point on the deer. After doing this over and over again through the years, I knew that Brenlie knew her mark and she would have no problem placing her shot! There was a reason that we nicknamed her “Bulls eye Brenlie” within the family!
The doe continued to graze towards us and Bren had a clear shot at the crease between the front of her shoulder and the base of her neck. She asked, “Can I take her now, Dad?” “If you’re ready?” I answered. As soon as I spoke those words, the blast went off and that doe jumped and spun! Immediately you could tell she was hit and hit good!
We watched as she ran a bit further into the grass and stopped. He body began to get heavy and her legs a little weak. Slowly she tipped over and rested on the ground! I turned to see Brenlie breathing with full heavy breaths just as she did when she shot her monster buck a few years earlier. What a great little hunter. She got just as excited with that doe. I could tell that she was in this for the right reasons.
That evening I will never forget the uncontrollable pride in my heart. Now, I know that pride is not always a good thing. But in this case, I was making no excuses for it. I was proud of the hunters my girls had become and still are becoming. I was proud of the harvests that they had made.
I was proud of the caution they had used in their hunts. I was proud of the way they appreciated the harvest and understood the life that was given. I was proud of how the two older sisters encouraged their younger sister in her first harvest. I was proud that all the hunts were caught on video!
I never thought that I would be leading four little girls in the woods someday. I know that right now, only three are old enough to do this. But I promise you, number four, at five-years-old, is already planning her hunt with Daddy! And to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have it any other way!
I can’t wait to see what the good Lord has in store for these girls and their daddy. I’m sure there are many more adventures to come and I only hope that they continue to grow in the gifts and abilities God has given them.
By the way, Guys, don’t discount the little ladies that you have in your life. Take them out! Spark an interest. You may be surprised at what happens. There is something special between a daddy and his girls. I, for one, wouldn’t trade it for the world! Good luck!