Going on your first big game hunt is always special for young sportsmen. It is also very special to their parents.
It is an event that builds camaraderie among friends, and forges bonds between parents and their young hunters that will last a lifetime.
This year, three boys and a girl from Kingman drew tags for a juniors only antlerless deer hunt in northern Arizona, in the famous Kaibab, Unit 12A west.
Before these young hunters were allowed to go into the field, their parents had a requirement that each of them would have to take and pass the Arizona Game & Fish Department’s Hunter Education Program.
A two-weekend resident class is offered twice a year by the Kingman team of instructors, led by Chief Instructor Jim Rich.
In March, three of the young hunters participated in the class and graduated.
Those hunters were Aubree Gordon, Carsen Moore and Coy Berg.
Carsen’s brother, Caden, took and passed the same hunter education class in 2015.
With all four young hunters graduating from the program, it was now time for the parents to decide what hunts to put them in and get them prepared.
Rink Gordon, father of 10-year-old Aubree, said the parents talked amongst themselves and decided to apply the kids for the antlerless hunt on the Kaibab. There were 400 tags authorized for the hunt, and the odds were about 50-50 that they would draw.
Fred Moore is the father of Carsen and Caden Moore. “We felt that this hunt would be a great opportunity for them to go on a quality hunt. It was their first hunt, and there would be many opportunities for them.”
Erik Berg has been to the Kaibab a number of times and he, too, felt that if the kids drew tags, they would have a great hunt. The fathers were not disappointed and Lady Luck smiled and the four young hunters drew tags.
Due to work schedules, each family went up to the hunt unit separately.
Erik, his father Arlan, and his son Coy went up on Wednesday, and on Thursday while scouting they saw a lot of deer.
And it wasn’t just deer they saw. They saw lots of the famous Kaibab squirrels, and even a few flocks of turkeys.
By nightfall Thursday, Erik felt very confident that the kids would do well.
Thursday night Rink got to camp. With him were his daughter Aubree, and 13-year-old Talyn.
Fred and his two sons wouldn’t be up until Friday night.
On opening day, Erik and Coy decided just to walk out of camp and search for deer.
They were about a half mile from camp, and while they had been seeing deer as they slowly moved through the Ponderosa pine and oak forest, they had yet to get the young hunter on a doe that presented a good ethical shot.
Finally, they got on an old doe that was standing broadside at 130 yards.
Coy got set with his rifle, which was 243-caliber and was equipped with a scope and a bi-pod. He took aim and fired. It was a perfect shot and the doe went down fast.
At the check station, officers from the Arizona Game & Fish Department aged the young hunter’s first big game animal at 5 years old.
Next up was 10-year-old Aubree. “I have to be honest,” Rink said. “I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to pull the trigger, but when it came time, she did great!”
On opening day, Gordon said there was lots of shooting going on. Squirrel season was open, along with the junior’s deer hunt, so there were many people hunting.
But deer sightings were numerous and the youngster got her fair share of opportunities. Twice she even got a shot off, but both times they were clean misses. “She kinda got a little discouraged,” Gordon said. “But after she saw that Coy had taken a deer, she settled down and got it done.”
The practice they had before the hunt paid off when young Aubree was able to take a doe with her scoped sighted 7mm/08 rifle at 89 yards. Game and Fish aged that doe at 2 years old.
With both hunters in camp done on opening day, all that remained was for Fred and his two sons to hunt.
But things don’t always work out like they are planned.
Saturday, the boys and their father got set up on potential targets maybe a dozen times, but every time something went wrong and neither young hunter got a shot.
On Sunday, they had just a half day to hunt, as they had to be back in Kingman that evening.
The plan on Sunday morning was that Erik would take out Caden, while Fred would take out Carsen.
Erik said they had gone just over a half mile when a group of deer crossed in front of them. The veteran hunter and his young hunter headed off after them.
They had walked into the forest just over a half mile when they found the deer. Caden got set up with his 243 rifle that was equipped with a scope and bipod. Those shooting aids are essential for new hunters.
The range was about 145 yards when Caden settled in for the shot.
At the shot, the deer jumped and took off, but didn’t go far. Caden had made a perfect double lung shot. Game and Fish officers said this deer was a yearling.
Fred and Carsen were also on deer, but again they just didn’t get in a position where the young hunter could make a safe, ethical shot.
They came back to camp and found that Erik and Caden were done, so they loaded up and went to glass a spot one last time before they had to pack up and leave.
They glassed for a while, but didn’t see any deer.
When Erik got back into the truck he looked down the hill and there, right between two trees, was a bedded yearling.
It was 128 yards and Carsen got set up on the bi-pod with his 243. Taking his time, he settled in for the shot and fired.
The deer just rolled over and it was quickly over.
The fathers of these four young hunters had nothing but praise for the Arizona Game and Fish Department and for the volunteers who put on a juniors deer camp for the hunters and families. Some folks, who were not hunting, even stopped in for a bite to eat or to utilize the archery range that was set up for the kids.
There was lots to see and do.
The volunteers, who are from the Buckskin Chapter of the Arizona Deer Society, offer young hunters a respite from hunting.
At the check station the officers were very friendly and worked well with all the young hunters, according to Gordon.
“I was amazed to see how good those folks were in working and explaining kids about the process they were involved with,” Gordon said.
Berg and Moore also said they were impressed with the way that the Game and Fish personnel interacted with the kids.
This hunt is designed to remove excess females from the Kaibab deer herd, which annually produces more deer annually than any other game management unit in Arizona. Game and Fish utilizes sportsmen like these young hunters to accomplish that goal.
Typically the success for this juniors hunt is about 85 percent. But under the watchful eyes of some very involved friends and fathers, the Kingman kids filled all of their tags on their very first big game hunt.