Nine-year-old Keylee spent some summer evenings wearing ear muffs, and a month ago carried a Winnie the Pooh blanket into the woods. Both were part of a system her father, Nate Johnson, used to get her ready for her first deer hunt.
Things couldn’t have gone better, and others could probably learn from their process.• Keylee had already spent a lot of time outdoors. She’s grown thinking thumbs are made for push-button spinning reels and not video games. She learned that meat doesn’t really come from grocery stores and tagged along to watch some of her dad’s turkey hunts.
• Shooting practice started two months before the youth season, on a sturdy, portable shooting bench with several rests so the feathery girl wouldn’t struggle with the rifle. Before the first fired round, she was taught how to get the proper sight picture through the scope, and dry-fired the unloaded and ancient Remington .22 many times for trigger familiarization. Nate eventually found the perfect height of chair so she was solid as possible.
• She wore hearing protection all through her practice sessions at the range because even the report of a .22 can damage hearing and cause flinching. Nate had her wear winter earmuffs when shooting a pellet gun at home, from the same bench and rests, so she’d remain comfortable with something on her head.
• More fun than punching paper, her .22 targets were spinning two-inch metal disks. After every shot she had to raise her head and practice again finding the right sight picture in the scope. She hit 19 of 20 shots in her first session.
• After several practice sessions, Keylee got to shoot the bolt-action .223 she used for hunting. The dry-firing and sight picture practice was repeated. Her first target with a live .223 round was a gallon jug of water, which she dead-centered at 50 yards. Like most young shooters, the sight of the water exploding took her mind off the rifle’s recoil.
• Practice sessions eventually included images of deer to make aiming in the right place second-nature.
• Nate kept Keylee involved in the pre-hunt preparation. She made a list of things she wanted to take when the big day arrived and helped her dad put a pop-up blind on a food plot. The spot was selected because it was being used daily by some young does, which would be fine for the small rifle and the 62 grain bullet. Also, the deer would be close but in sight for a long time crossing the open field. That would give Nate ample time to get Keylee ready for a shot.
• Though warm, the pop-up blind allowed the girl to move about, enjoy snacks, water and the use of tissues for troublesome allergies. It also let Nate bring the shooting bench, perfect chair and rests (the rolled-up Pooh blanket) so Keylee would be steady and confident in her shooting.
• Nate remained calm when deer entered the field and offered Keylee positive reminders to keep her confidence. He had the rifle’s scope at its lowest magnification so she could easily find the deer, then cranked up the magnification. Keylee dropped a doe with one shot at about 100 yards.
• Nate fixed the best venison cuts for a meal a few days later, and praised Keylee for helping feed the family to boost her pride and enthusiasm. She’s already talking about next youth season, but may have extra company. Keylee’s excitement through the process has infected sisters Katelyn and Kelsee. So when he judges them mature enough, Nate will again repeat the steps that served Keylee. Chances are their first experiences hunting will be successes, too.