GRAND FORKS -- He started practicing the other day, putting half a dozen rounds through the .243 rifle at a target placed 100 yards away under the watchful eye of an accomplished mentor.

It’s all about getting ready for youth deer season in October and making the most of the opportunity to pull the trigger on a whitetail.

That’s where the practice comes into play.


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A couple of the shots were high and outside the circle on this inaugural target-shooting session, but the rest probably would have killed a deer. Half a dozen shots were enough, though, the mentor decided; the boy was starting to anticipate the kick of the rifle, and when that happens, it’s time to call it a day.

He’s not there yet, this towheaded 11-year-old, but he’s moving in the right direction.

As first efforts go, it wasn’t bad.

The goal – more of a requirement, really – is to eventually get three bullets within a 3-inch pattern on the target at a distance of 100 yards. That kind of consistency will up the odds for a clean kill, should the opportunity arise to pull the trigger on a deer.

And if preseason scouting reports are any indication, the boy will get that opportunity if he’s ready.

If. If. If. ...

If his shots aren’t consistent and the 3-inch pattern remains elusive, his odds of participating in this year’s youth hunt go down considerably. Harsh though it may sound, that’s the way it’s going to be. Missing a deer wouldn’t be the end of the world, but wounding an animal and then not finding it would be a dreadful introduction to deer hunting.

Being prepared and proficient, after all, is part of being a responsible hunter at any age.

So far, the odds that the boy will be ready for the youth deer season look pretty good. A few more target practice sessions will get him in the ballpark – or in this case, the deer stand.

More practice is on tap in the coming days, when the mentor will have the boy take only three shots with the .243. He’ll then switch to a .22 and work on squeezing the trigger and getting more comfortable with looking through a scope.

Practice makes perfect, as they say.

An even bigger challenge might be convincing the boy that he doesn’t have to shoot a buck to have a successful hunt. He’s been told he can only shoot a doe on this inaugural hunting excursion – if he’s ready – and the rule isn’t going over well.

That requirement could be amended if one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities should occur in the deer stand. But at the same time, the youth season should be about learning there's more to deer hunting than shooting a big buck. That would no doubt be exciting, but it also could result in unrealistic expectations for future hunting trips.

Just like 30-inch walleyes and 50-inch muskies don’t come around very often for even the most diehard anglers, trophy bucks are an elusive outcome for many deer hunters, even those with years of experience.

How this story ultimately plays out remains to be seen, but in a perfect world, it would begin on a crisp October afternoon with a northwest wind just brisk enough to put a bite in the air. Canada geese would be flying overhead, and some of the older hunters in the crew would be hunting grouse or hanging out by the fire back at camp.

The boy would be all-in on this hunting stuff for the first half-hour or so, eagerly scanning his surroundings for deer. But as the sun began to dip toward the western horizon, his enthusiasm would start to wane.

Where were all these deer he’d heard about or seen in trail camera photos?

Then, about the time he started thinking all of the stories were fairy tales, he’d see them – two deer emerging from the treeline to the north and walking toward the edge of the soybean field on which the stand was situated.

They were in no hurry, this pair, and while the deer were walking in the right direction, they were still beyond the boy’s range of shooting proficiency.

And so he watched. And waited. And listened to the sound of his heart pounding in his ears.

Every minute seemed like an hour as the deer slowly moved his way.

Then, finally, he heard the words he’d been waiting for from the adult who was with him in the stand:

“Get ready.”

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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken