Chris Herring of New Hope has every right to be proud of 10-year-old daughter Marley Kate and the 184 2/8-inch buck she killed on Nov. 12 during the second weekend of the youth gun season.

But, truth be told, it’s not the trophy kill that Dad likes to talk about.

What makes Marley Kate’s dad proudest is the maturity the New Hope Elementary fifth-grader showed over a three-year period that led to putting down the 240-pound, palmated 14-point.

“For Marley Kate, this story began three years ago when she first started hunting with a gun with me,” Chris Herring said. “She’s just crazy about hunting and being with me in the woods. I didn’t have any boys and she grew up tagging along. She loves it.”

She has a good mentor, too. Her dad helps manage a big farm in Lowndes County, and he stresses trophy buck management.

“She listens too me and she learns, obviously,” the elder Herring said. “Three years ago, we were together hunting and she first saw this buck. It was just 3½ years old, but I already knew he was going to be a superstar. You manage deer like we do — and we kill a lot of 150 and 160-inch bucks — (and) you start to realize those one in 10 that really have a chance.

“She let it go when I told her about management, but she named him Blade Runner. He was a 130-class buck that year, and we made a pact that we wouldn’t kill him until he was a 5-year-old and fully mature. She agreed.”

Last year, when the buck was 4½ years old and had grown into a 150- or 160-inch buck, it stepped out into a field at 80 yards, and she had her gun up and the deer in her scope.

“Then she stopped and asked me, ‘Daddy, Blade Runner is only 4½  right?’ and I answered, ‘Yes, why?’” Chris Herring said. “To my surprise, she said, ‘Well, I know we only shoot 5-year-olds and I don’t want to shoot him this year.’ 

“I was shocked and really proud that a 9-year-old little girl really understood everything I had taught her since she was 4 about growing trophy deer on our farm .…”

Marley Kate Herring, who had killed a bunch of cull bucks in those two years, simply lowered the gun and let the big buck walk away.

“Now, think about that,” Chris Herring said. “That put a lot of pressure on me. I was worried that the buck might get shot. We manage deer, but they are free-ranging and I knew he could move off property and get shot. But I also knew the buck held tight to this one area. I swear I think that buck lived its whole life on 80 acres; I’ve got 500 or 600 pictures of him, and they all came from the same two or three cameras.

“I found the sheds last March, and I felt pretty good about it. Then I really went to work. I poured the food to him, and I even planted a 15-acre soybean patch just for that buck, to hold him. No telling how many thousands of dollars I had invested in that buck.”

The cameras started picking up photos of Blade Runner again in July — and, yes, it was a beast to behold, having added another 20-plus inches to what had already been a trophy rack.

Dad kept it secret from his daughter.

“I didn’t tell her about seeing him, but she was all the time asking about him,” Chris Herring said. “We’d be on vacation, and she’d look at me and ask, ‘Dad, do you think Blade Runner is still alive?’ I’d nod and say yes.

“So then I had to figure out how to get a 180-inch deer within 100 yards so my 10-year-old hunter can shoot him. That’s not an easy task, but five trail cameras and a lot of food helps. I patterned him pretty quick and the rest was on Marley Kate.”

On Nov. 13, Blade Runner appeared at 140 yards.

“I really felt that Kate needed to take the shot at no more than 100 yards,” Chris Herring said “With luck on our side, Blade Runner turned toward the stand and chased a doe to about 75 yards. Kate had her 7mm-08 ready for the shot and made it count with a single kill shot.

“I was so proud that she got the opportunity to reap the benefit from her previous year’s decision to let Blade Runner walk.”

When it was over, the father-daughter team celebrated.

“She said, ‘Daddy, I can’t believe I got the Blade Runner,’” Chris Herring said. “It was a very good moment.”

Herring said the deer is unique, even for a property where 150- and 160-inch deer are taken each year.

“We just don’t see a lot of palmated deer like this,” he said. “This one had over 45½ inches of mass measurements. We’ve scored a lot of deer, and we’ve scored this one twice and we got 184 2/8 gross, and I think it will net closer to the mid 150s.

“But he’s a monster and she deserved it.”