Illinois hunting and fishing

Tales from the Timber: Haley’s buck

July 07, 2009 at 08:08 PM

Haley Knight has a track record in the timber that any deer hunter would envy.

Two shots. Two deer. And not just any deer.

At the age of 13, Knight already has a buck of a lifetime hanging on her wall for all to admire. She shot that big deer, an 18-point non-typical bruiser from Montgomery County that scored 181 inches, moments into opening day of the 2008 shotgun season.

Hunting in a buddy stand with her grandfather, B.J. Beaman of Granite City, Knight spotted the big buck first. She then watched the 18-pointer for five minutes as it walked toward the stand along with a doe.

For some hunters, the waiting would be too much. Buck fever might set in. Nerves might make steady hands shake. Not so for Knight. While she was excited, she was also ready.

“I was just like, ‘I can do this, I’m all good,’” Knight recalls.

She was right.

“First a doe came in and my grandpa shot her. The buck went over, sniffed her and walked back along the same trail and just stood right in front of the deer stand. So I shot it,” Knight says. “It ran about 5 yards and fell down. I guess it was a perfect shot.”

No wonder the Roxana resident has decided to take up bowhunting this deer season. Gun hunting has obviously not been much of a challenge for the eighth grader.

Much of the credit for that goes to her father, Chad Knight. No question, luck is a factor when any young hunter bags a big deer. But preparation is also important.

Haley spends plenty of time talking and practicing hunting with her father, whose home in Panama is decorated with mounted deer, fish and other outdoor trophies. Her approach to bowhunting is indicative of the preparation she put into gun hunting. Since last season Haley has been shooting at 3D targets in the yard and at an archery range in Highland.

Knight took the same approach to his daughter’s training back in 2007 when she decided to start hunting. His daughter had no problems with the class or the exam because the information was very familiar.

“When I went to that class it was simple. I already knew everything because my dad is a big hunter and taught me all that stuff,” Haley says. “Like how much orange you have to wear, what to do when you come to a fence with a gun and how to be safe and stuff.”

Her father also spent long hours helping Haley get comfortable handling her 20-gauge shotgun. All that work paid off last season. For a variety of reasons, Haley was unable to practice shooting heading into gun season. Yet her only shot in 2008 yielded a buck that would have set the knees of many veteran hunters knocking.

Shooting a deer that large was a surprise for Haley and her grandfather. But not entirely. They were hunting on property belonging to a friend of Beaman’s who has several sizable trophy racks hanging on his walls.

“So we kind of knew there were big bucks there, but we never knew there was this huge one,” Haley says.

Then too, Montgomery County remains an under-appreciated sleeper in Illinois deer-hunting circles. You’ll never hear the south-central Illinois county mentioned in the same breath as Pike, Adams, Brown, Fulton, Knox or Peoria counties. But as in many Illinois counties, there is plenty of deer habitat in Montgomery County. Evidently there are also numerous places for big bucks to develop.

Last year hunters shot 2,125 deer in Montgomery: 1,231 in gun season, 712 in archery season, 130 in the late-winter season, 32 in muzzleloader season and 20 in the youth season. That ranks in the middle third of the state for overall harvest. Yet the county ranks in the top 15 of Illinois’ 102 counties for whitetails registered in the Big Buck Recognition Program run by the Department of Natural Resources.

And in the past two seasons Montgomery has produced some impressive trophies. In 2007 while hunting on public ground, Litchfield resident Greg Wilson shot a 21-point Montgomery County buck that netted 222 5/8 inches. Wilson’s deer gross-scored 230 inches and was best of show among gun entries at the 2009 Illinois Deer & Turkey Classic in Bloomington. The basic 5x5 had a total of 11 abnormal points that added up to 52 3/8 inches. He had a 19 4/8-inch inside spread, and his gross typical score added up to 181 1/8 inches.

Haley’s buck wasn’t in that same class and did not earn honors at the 2009 Deer Classic. But the deer was very possibly the highest-scoring buck entered in the Classic by a female or by a hunter under the age of 13.

Plenty of thanks for that goes to Beaman. Typically Knight has taken his daughter hunting, as he did in 2007 when she shot a button buck on the second morning of the season. But last November, when Knight was unable to take his daughter out, Beaman stepped forward. Not only that, he was very generous to his granddaughter.

“He always said, ‘You are getting the biggest one,’” Haley says. “And he remembered his word.”

When a chilly opening morning dawned last fall, Haley and Beaman were standing side-by-side in a buddy tree stand. Though not an early riser, Haley said she has no problem getting up in the dark to go deer hunting. “I’m always up early when it’s deer season,” she says.

Moments into the morning, Beaman spotted a buck in the distance that was out of shooting range. While he watched that deer, Hayley turned to grab for a thermos of hot chocolate.

“It was cold out there,” she recalls.

But before Haley could reach the hot chocolate, she saw a big buck walking toward the stand.

“I thought ‘Oh my gosh, this deer is huge. I hope it’s coming this way,’” Haley says.

Sure enough, over the next five minutes the buck kept walking toward the stand while following a doe. When the doe came into range, Beaman dropped her with one shot.

At this point, Lady Luck smiled on Haley. Because instead of running off into the woods after the sound of Beaman’s shot, the buck hung around. In fact, the 18-pointer walked over to the fallen doe, sniffed her and then walked back toward Haley. When the deer got to within 10 yards she dropped him in his tracks.

After fewer than 15 minutes of hunting, she had the buck of a lifetime and had filled her only tag for the season.

“It was really exciting because it was so big,” Haley says. “I was jumping up and down and stuff and my grandpa said, ‘Sit down, you’re going to scare it.’”

But Haley’s shot was right on the mark, hitting behind the shoulder blade. The deer never moved and Haley wound up with the biggest buck killed in Panama, not to mention bragging rights over any other seventh-graders in the area.

“All the guys I know said they thought it was awesome,” Haley says. “And Grandpa was really proud of me and got pretty excited.”