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Six-year-old takes down first buck with crossbow

Six year old Coleman Stanley, a kindergarten student at Trinity Presbyterian, killed his first deer on December 29, a spike buck–with a crossbow. Coleman was hunting with his grandfather, Doug Beville of Forest Home. Coleman is the son of Natalie and David Stanley of Montgomery.

Coleman has been deer hunting with his “Pops” since he was four years old. He has seen his granddad shoot seven or eight deer, one with a crossbow, and decided it was time for him to get his own deer. He didn’t want to shoot a high powered rifle because of the recoil, but wanted to try the crossbow because it has no kick at all.

Coleman summed up his abilities with his usual enthusiasm, “Hunting is my most favorite thing to do. And I’m a good shot, too. I’ve killed two squirrels with my .22 and I got two doves flying yesterday with my .410.”

“Coleman does love to shoot”, said Beville. “He’s working on his fourth 550 count box of .22’s now, and there’s no telling how many BB’s he’s shot.

He and Beville began practicing with the crossbow a couple of months ago. “Coleman isn’t big enough to hold the bow without resting it on something. I won’t let him hold his left hand forward near the bowstring where he could get injured, and he can’t shoulder the bow. So we had some obstacles to overcome. But we have a tree stand in our yard identical to all those on my property. They are two person fixed metal stands at the top of a twenty foot ladder. So it was easy for us to practice and work out all the problems.”

Beville put the target twenty five yards away, a reasonable distance for a shot with a crossbow. The bow has a red dot scope, a non magnifying device that superimposes a red dot onto the target. “Coleman shoots open sights on his BB gun and .22 so I knew using the scope would be easy for him.”

But a problem became immediately apparent when Coleman first tried to shoot from the stand. “I couldn’t sit on the seat and shoot over the rail so Pops got me a bucket to sit on. Then I could see the target OK.”

Coleman could rest the bow on the rail of the stand, so holding it up wasn’t a problem. But he couldn’t shoulder the bow and still reach the trigger, so he discovered his own way to aim. He put the butt of the stock in the center of his chest, steadied the gun with his left hand on the stock, and could then reach the trigger with his right arm stretched out. That wouldn’t work with a high powered rifle because the recoil would prohibit it. Also, the crosshairs on a normal rifle scope can only be seen when your eye is within a specific distance from the scope. But with the red dot scope he could still sight through the scope and down to his target even with his eye so far away.

Coleman immediately began shooting six inch groups, but for some reason they weren’t centered on the target. Beville solved that problem easily. “I had to readjust the sight to the way he was shooting. I also intentionally made it group two inches low because usually a deer reflexively ducks at the sound of the bow shooting. That decision nearly came back to bite us later.”

Coleman kept practicing until he was shooting three inch groups at twenty five yards. “It’s fun to shoot. I got pretty good and knew I could hit a deer.”

Beville explained other aspects of the lessons. “He could only shoot when I was holding his leg. That was our signal that the deer was in proper position for the shot. We spent lots of time looking at pictures of deer and he would point out the exact spot to aim at. We have a feeder outside our bedroom window illuminated by a bright light so we can watch deer at night. We regularly practiced aiming at those deer and learning when to shoot and when not to.”

Coleman recognized this easy opportunity. “I wanted to open the window and shoot one of those deer but Pops said that wasn’t fair and they could put you in jail if you did.”

After several practice sessions, Beville deemed Coleman ready for a real hunt. “We would wait until about an hour before dark to get to the stand because Coleman’s sitting time is very limited. I’d take his five gallon bucket for him to sit on, but that became a real disadvantage because it placed him up above the sides of the stand. He’s so wiggly he was like a flag waving at the deer. He is also a real motor mouth and there’s no telling how many deer we scared off. We went five times without ever seeing a deer.”

But he kept practicing shooting the bow, looking at pictures, and aiming at deer at night. And on the sixth outing all the stars fell into perfect alignment.

The wind was right for hunting a small green patch where a close shot was a good possibility. They climbed their stand at 4:15 and hoisted the bow and bucket.

Beville tells what happened. “It was cool enough for decent hunting but not so cold that Coleman would be uncomfortable. We had been squirrel, dove, and deer hunting from dawn until dark for two days straight and Coleman was dead tired. He fell asleep almost immediately. Ah, we have a decent chance today, I thought. Stillness at last. And sure enough about 4:45 a deer entered the far end of the patch.”

“Pops woke me up and said he saw a deer. I looked and saw it was a buck! I wanted to shoot right then but Pops said he was too far.”

The deer took his time feeding but began slowly making his way toward the hunters. Coleman had his crossbow up and ready and practiced aiming at the deer. He kept whispering, “My first deer is going to be a buck!”

Beville kept saying, “Shhh, don’t move. Just keep pointing at him. Be verrry still.” And the deer kept coming. “I was waiting for that twenty five yard shot we needed and sure enough the deer walked up to about that distance and turned broadside to us. I could hear Coleman’s deep, rapid breathing beside me. I grabbed Coleman’s leg which gave him the green light for the shot.”

He took his time, held the dot on the spot, and squeezed the trigger. It was too dark to see where the arrow hit, but the sound of impact was unmistakable, as was the erratic gait of the fleeing spike. “I got him! My first deer is a buck! I got a buck! Let’s go get him, Pops!”

“Good shot, Coleman! You hit him! But we need to wait a few minutes before we go get him.”

The deer never ducked even an inch at the sound of the shot. Uh Oh. It was also apparent that one of his front legs was injured. Had the shot gone too low because the sights were set that way? The next fifteen minutes passed slowly in a way, but also quickly with Coleman’s nonstop chatter.

After the allotted time, Coleman raced down the ladder and sped out into the field to find his arrow. And there it was, twenty seven yards out and soaked with blood.

“We quickly found the blood trail and Coleman led the way under the light of a flashlight. It was a really good trail, solid and thick. Coleman had no trouble following it.”

After about one hundred yards and ten “When are we going to find him, Pops?”, there he was. “I got him, Pops! My first deer is a buck with a crossbow! I got him! I got him!”

The arrow had gone through the tops of both front legs and the extreme lower part of the chest. Without the “help” of the sight adjustment, the shot would have been right through the heart.

When asked if this wasn’t a lot of trouble to go through for a kindergartener to get a deer, Beville replied, “It was no trouble at all. From start to finish the whole process has been great fun for both of us. Seeing Coleman’s enthusiasm helps to reignite some I’ve managed to lose in my nearly sixty years of hunting. To him that spike was a better trophy than the biggest deer I ever got was to me. He doesn’t have to tell you he loves to hunt. You can see it on his face and hear it in the passion of his voice. We have a very special relationship and part of that comes from just sitting together quietly (more or less) in the woods and enjoying nature. There’s nothing I would trade for that.”

And what if you ask Coleman the same thing? “I just like hunting. It’s my favorite thing to do. Come on, Pops. Let’s go!”

Addendum: Five days later, on Coleman’s very next hunt with the crossbow and from the same tree stand, he made a 32 yard shot through the lungs of an eight point.