By Bill Cooper
I have enjoyed countless deer seasons over the last 40 years in a variety of locations. I have hunted private properties, public properties, with guides and outfitters, enjoyed countless media camps with well-known outdoor writers, including Ray Eye, Doug Howlett, and Tony Kalna. Four years ago I found myself in a deer hunting camp with a famed country music star, of whom I was not a fan. The 2021 deer season, however, may well be the best deer season of my life.
I enjoyed hunting with two of my grandchildren and watching each of them take their very first white-tailed deer. Family memories were made that will no doubt last for generations to come.
During the early Missouri Youth Deer season, I spent a Saturday with 10-year-old Ronnie Cooper Austin, from St. Charles, Mo. Ronnie spent much of his early life with me enjoying the great outdoors. He loved fishing and swimming, but did not show much interest in hunting. This year, however, he asked me take him deer hunting during the youth season. I happily obliged.
Ronnie had experience firing guns, but we spent time together refreshing his memory about gun safety and shot placement. He fired a few rounds from Dian’s .243 and soon had targets with two-inch groups. Prepared for the next day’s hunt, he was pumped and ready to get his first deer.
Plans changed and Ronnie’s mom needed to pick him up at noon on Saturday. We were heartbroken because our hunt and time together would be cut short. As luck would have it, mom got delayed and he was able to stay until Saturday afternoon.
During our morning hunt, Ronnie and I sat in a two-man tree stand. The day dawned cool and windy, but we enjoyed the view from our lofty perch, being able to see well through the oak, hickory and cedar forest that surrounded us.
Ronnie turned his head on numerous occasions hoping to spot a deer moving through the woods. Each time the noises he had heard in the leaves turned out to be pesky squirrels.
We took a break before returning to a ground blind where we could watch the woods as well as a food plot. Once again squirrels were their usual bothersome selves, but we did enjoy watching their antics.
After a long lunch break, Ronnie and I returned to the hunt. For this particular sit, we chose to sit in a ground blind overlooking the food plot, where I had already taken two deer with my bow.
It takes a few minutes to get a 10-year-old boy settled in a blind and quietened down. We had scarcely done so when I caught movement in the underbrush to the southwest. I pointed the deer out to Ronnie. He immediately began breathing hard as the adrenaline kicked in.
Two young deer entered the food plot 40 yards away. They fed facing us forcing Ronnie to wait for a good shot. The deer fed to our right, causing Ronnie to have to adjust his position and move his rifle to a corner window of the blind. I held my breath as he made the move far too quickly, but he got away with it.
Ronnie handled the situation like a pro. He settled the crosshairs of the scope behind a deer’s shoulder, clicked off his safety, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger slowly. At the report of the rifle, the deer spun sideways and ran to the woods.
I’ll never forget the excitement in his voice when he realized he had just killed his very first deer.
During the regular rifle season, I enjoyed hunting with my 17-year-old granddaughter, Jaydin Cooper. It was the first time we had ever deer hunted together.
Jaydin is a talented singer and drama enthusiast. She had a play performance at 2 p.m. the afternoon of our hunt. I worried that she would have little light left to hunt when she completed the play, but she wanted to give it a try.
We climbed into the woods blind overlooking part of the food plot a few minutes before four. We had so much catching up to do, that we talked and giggled for the first 30 minutes. At last we calmed down enough to concentrate on deer hunting.
I scanned the woods continuously, hoping to pick up telltale signs of deer moving through. As usual, squirrel movement continued to be heavy, giving as a startle each time we heard one bound through the leaves.
At 4:40 p.m. I caught movement in the woods out the right corner window. I looked a little closer and spotted the shoulder of a deer as it stood in the thick underbrush. I alerted Jaydin of the deer’s presence and instructed her to move her rifle to the right shooting window opening. She did so slowly and quietly.
I attempted to film the excitement with my cell phone, but quarters were tight. I continued my efforts when I saw Jaydin bring her cheek to her gun and click off the safety. When the .243 roared, I saw her deer almost go down. It ran 40 yards across the food plot and piled up.
I’ve never seen a happier 17-year-old. Jaydin tracked the blood trail for the experience and poked the deer to make sure it had expired when she walked up to it. Her perfectly place shot, right behind the shoulder, had done its job quickly.
Jaydin texted her dad, Jayson, who lives just down the road from me. He showed up minutes later to enjoy the moment with his daughter. Elation spread over me as Jaydin, with a little assistance from her dad, field dressed her first deer.
I hope everyone enjoys a very happy Thanksgiving. We will at the Cooper household, when I get to recount the stories of my best deer season ever!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award winning outdoor writer and inductee of the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Outdoor Communicator. He is the host of the Living the Dream Outdoors Podcast, which can be found on most social media platforms. He lives in rural St. James and can be followed at www.facebook.com/ outsidealways.