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The Junior Huntin' Fools

February 2019
Author: Robert Hanneman

I knew no matter how lucky my family was in the 2018 draw, we were going to have a busy fall. My boys let me know that they wanted to hunt as much as possible, even if it meant missing out on their extracurricular activities, including sports and time with friends. I am so thankful they are too young to own a credit card because I am pretty sure they would have bought every over-the-counter tag in the West that they could! We ended up drawing a couple of good tags and then filled in the rest of the year with over-the-counter tags.

Our first hunt of the year started in Oregon for antelope. After two decades of applying, the state finally gave me a tag. I had high hopes of bringing home a Boone & Crockett antelope since I had drawn one of the best tags in the state. My middle boy, Caleb, quickly volunteered to spend two weeks in the Oregon desert with me. We made a deal before the hunt that if he hunted as hard as I did for the entire hunt and I did not find a buck that I wanted to harvest, he could fill my tag on the last day of the hunt.

The Oregon hunt was a blast! We shared our camp with great friends and were able to spend a lot of father/son time together exploring the desert. We even got in a little coyote hunting. During the time spent scouting and hunting, we spotted over 200 different antelope bucks. The best three bucks were in the 80-82" range, but I was really hoping for something better. True to my word, Caleb, at 11 years old, harvested his first antelope. We made a great stalk, and after getting him set up in a prone position, he made a great shot at 200 yards. I really want to thank Oregon for their mentored hunting program where I was able to allow my son to fill my tag. The smile on that kid’s face was worth the 20 years of applying.

The next hunt we had scheduled was for mule deer in eastern Montana. We usually hunt the Missouri River Breaks every year, but my good friend, Tyler Ferris, called and asked if the boys wanted to hunt some private land that he had leased in eastern Montana. As the sun came up, there seemed to be bucks rutting does in every direction we looked. As fast as I could get the spotting scope on one buck, the boys were asking me to check out a buck they had glassed up. This went on until Connor finally spotted a nice whitetail buck moving up a draw. Since he had never taken a whitetail, we made a quick plan for a stalk and Connor, Colter, and I were on our way.

Trying to catch up with a rutting buck that is traveling while looking for does is always a challenge, but about a mile later, we finally caught up with him and got Connor all set up for a shot. After getting a better look at the buck, Connor decided he was going to pass on him in hopes of finding something bigger. We were getting ready to head back to the truck when Colter spotted a handful of mule deer bedded on a far ridge. One look through the spotting scope and Connor was ready to fill his tag. We dropped over the ridge and cut the distance to the deer. We crawled back over the ridge and got Connor set up for the shot. He fired one shot and collected his largest buck to date. After getting to the buck and having Connor cut his tag, we decided to make our way back to the truck and grab Amy and Caleb so they could see the buck and be part of the successful hunt.

Once we were back at the truck, Tyler said there was an old ranch road that would get us a lot closer to the buck. As we were traveling down the old road, we jumped a buck and a doe out of a big drainage. One look and I knew someone had to shoot this buck. Caleb was begging to shoot it, but I gave the opportunity to Amy. She took a good long, hard look at him and decided to pass. You should have seen the smile on Caleb’s face! For the second time that year, Caleb made a great shot and the buck disappeared back down the drainage. We slowly made our way up to the edge and glassed the buck piled up in the bottom. As I was trying to figure out the best way down to him, I laughed when I heard Amy say, “He is a bigger buck than I thought.”

The rest of the hunt was a blast, and Amy continued to pass on good bucks. Toward the end of the hunt, we were driving up to a point to glass and found a bobcat dead in the road that was frozen solid. After looking him over, we discovered that he had climbed the power pole and been shocked. It’s crazy the stuff you come across in the hills. Unfortunately, bobcat season was not open, so we had to leave him there.

In Montana, you have to be 12 years old to hunt elk, so Connor was my only son with an elk tag. This was the tag that he wanted to fill the most. I told him taking a bull was not that easy but we would do the best we could, especially since he did not want to miss too much school. Toward the end of the season, we waited for ideal snow conditions and then made our way out into the hills. We got lucky and turned up a bachelor group of bulls feeding that morning. After watching them bed for the day, we made a play and got set up across the ravine. After a while, they started to get up one by one and feed during the midday sunshine. We knew there were at least two 6-points in the herd. We watched a couple smaller bulls feeding, and I was surprised that Connor wanted to wait in hopes that one of the bigger bulls would feed out. After a little wait, one of the 6-points came feeding out of the trees. Connor was already set up, so we checked the range again, and with a single shot, he took his first bull.

I cannot even try to explain how much fun I had hunting with my family this year. I am already looking forward to 2019 since my youngest son, Colter, will finally be old enough to hunt. If you ever have the opportunity to take a kid hunting, I highly recommend it. It is so awesome to watch them experience the outdoors and all the things that we as Huntin’ Fools love and enjoy!