The “Gabi Buck” by Team Member Mark Scheeren
Gabi is my middle child, sandwiched between her two brothers. She is by far the most outspoken of my kids, and is the most independent and intense. I grew up with seven sisters, so in a way, I get girls. But, I also grew up in a German immigrant household, so let us say it wasn’t the warmest domestic situation. Every aspect of a German household is straightforward and without fanfare – some would say it’s cold. There is not much given to validating feelings. It’s all about results. Honestly it’s almost like you’re living at a corporation rather than a domestic home. There are benefits to this though. You become immune to chaos and you’re built to deal with reality as it is. And while I can be pretty insensitive towards my kids struggles sometimes as a result of this upbringing – I balance this part of my personality with my deepest love for them. And with Gabi, I think the balance between my wife’s caring nature, and my straight forward nature, Gabi got the best of both of us. She is very sensitive and extremely caring, but can be tough and guarded when needed. In a sense, she has everything she’ll need to weather the storms of life, be happy, and succeed. And that is exactly the internal formula that provided the platform for her successful first hunt.
I never really thought Gabi would like to hunt, that’s the truth. I thought this because I did not know her as well as I thought I did. She surprised me. I’m going to jump ahead for a moment. When Gabi walked up to her buck lying there dead, there were no tears of feeling bad for the deer beyond what is the typical brief sadness associated with it. I however thought she would be heartbroken. She wasn’t…she was fascinated, and filled with joy at the conquest of it all. The tears she did shed were tears of joy and intense buck fever. I have it all on video – it was an amazing moment that changed both of our lives. Honestly, from that single moment I learned that my daughter was born to hunt, and I am a bit embarrassed to say that I was shocked by that. I’d like to say that I knew my daughter better than that, but kids will surprise you when you least expect it. I was humbled by what she possessed inside and the skills and patience she displayed on this hunt.
The summer (2016) before her first real whitetail hunt, I sat watching Gabi shoot her bolt action compact Savage 308 and realized she had skills. It took some time with managed recoil loads to rid her of the typical flinch, but within a few weekends of shooting, she developed the ability to be comfortable with her rifle, and to make off-hand shots in the kill zone all the way out to 70+ yards. She took pride in her ability too; she could feel the progress develop. Her unyielding preparation through that summer would pay huge dividends a few months later on a snowy, windy afternoon behind our house.
In the land behind my home, I have a route to still-hunt that has provided for more than a dozen bucks through the years. I took Gabi on the same route down to the old stream bed so we could turn around at the bottom of the valley and make a quiet stalk back into the wind headed uphill. The goal was to stalk up to the bedding areas just before it got dark and hopefully jump a buck and get a shot off.
Part of the difficulty with hunting young is the lack of experience, so you literally have no other hunts to gauge what a “good” hunt or a “bad” hunt is. So while I knew we had a chance at a buck, by the time we were making our way up the hills and into “buckland,” Gabi was beginning to not believe there were deer in those woods. It had been all afternoon of sneaking down to the creek, and now we needed to creep even more slowly back up those hills (at a new angle). I don’t care who you are, this kind of sneaking around takes patience and not everyone can do it. I knew that she was getting discouraged, but I was amazed at her ability to stick with it. Likewise, years prior, Joe sat with me in a tree stand for an entire day in a blustery cold wind. I kept asking him if he wanted to get down. He’d ask me, “Do you think a deer will show?” I’d answer, “Yes, yes I do. There is always a chance.” Joe’s response was, “Well then we stay. I want a buck more than I want to be warm.” All we got that afternoon was cold. But I was amazed by his determination and patience. Gabi’s attitude was exactly the same. We had been stalking for hours, and she kept one foot in front of the other, slowly and quietly making her way forward; rifle at the ready, with no real hope of seeing anything. That is stick-to-itiveness!
We crested the series of hills and ridges and were making our way to the flats that sit on top. Just beyond this is a small field of alfalfa. I told Gabi to watch carefully, as this was an area that deer loved to stage in. We stopped to scan the woods when 70 yards away a group of does stood up from their beds and began walking from left to right. Three of them then got nervous and bolted. One doe, the biggest of the bunch held back staring at us. Gabi was stunned; these were the first deer she had ever witnessed while also having a rifle in hand and a tag on her back. I wasn’t stunned…this was a typical hunt on this section of land. If you worked the wind, you could almost always see some deer, and an occasional buck or two. Then Gabi and I watched a buck get up from his bed. He was an 18 month old with one half of his rack broken off. He would have been a six pointer. Right then he was a three pointer, with a set of Nikon cross hairs now floating on his shoulder, and a fifteen year old trying to hold those crosshairs steady. Gabi was taking a while with the buck, so I figured I only had a moment left to kill the doe. So I took a shot at the big doe, but my bullet hit tree limb and deflected. As the sound of my Whelen faded through the valley below us, both deer just stood there; steady as statues. I whispered to Gabi, who now had tears running down her face, “The buck is going to leave, put the…” BOOM!!! A clean miss. She instantly racked a second shell without pulling the rifle from her shoulder – a veteran move. Tears still streaming, I watched her calm herself, breathe, and BOOM!!! The buck instantly buckled, turned and ran out into the field and out of sight. I knew the moment she hit the trigger that the deer was dead. I yelled “Good shot!” She unloaded the empty shell, lowered her rifle and looked at me. She looked upset, and I was having trouble reading her face to see what she was feeling.
I asked her, “Are you crying because you are sad and upset? Did you not want to shoot that deer?” She replied, “I don’t know why I’m crying. No, I’m not sad at all….I’m shaking!” She was intensely buck fevered and this was how her body and soul manifested that adrenaline. She kept repeating over and over…”Did I get him? Did I really get him!?” I had to tell her repeatedly, that not only did she get the buck, but that she did a masterful job of calming her body in the throes of adrenaline and hammered the buck with a standing 70 yard shot! All those weekends of shooting without a shooting bench paid off!
She still didn’t believe me when I told her she got the buck. She literally had no recollection of pulling the trigger, working the action, any of it. All of that was muscle memory from months of shooting. She actually believed I shot the buck and kept saying so! I had to keep reminding her of when I yelled “Good shot!” That convinced her, because she knew I would not shoot a deer and immediately yell “Good shot!” to myself. That would make absolutely no sense. She began to understand all those silly reactions you see people go through on outdoor TV when they get a nice buck; the shaking, crying, senseless talk…all of it. Buck fever is powerful stuff!
As we made our way to the area she shot the deer, she leaned down, and there, barely visible in the new drifting snow was a tiny speck of copper colored wood. It didn’t look right to Gabi – the color was unnatural, so she dug in the powdered snow and picked up her spent bullet! Perfectly mushroomed and deadly in all its small glory – she had the bullet that killed her first buck in her hand! Now we just needed to find the buck! I looked around for blood. Nothing. Because three other deer had jumped up and ran, there were tracks everywhere. So instead of trying to sort out the tracks, I just went out to the field where the buck ran after being shot. It did not take long to see a massive blood trail to a beautiful dead buck not thirty yards away – a perfect heart shot.
Gabi was totally overwhelmed with joy and amazement. I got out the video camera and got the moment on tape. It was one of the greatest moments of both of our lives. She helped me gut the deer without complaints so she could learn how to do it, and we dragged the deer home. I think I have a budding tracker in the making…time will tell!
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