On Jan. 31, the final day of deer season in much of Mississippi, Cameron Stigler of Florence took his 7-year-old daughter, Presleigh, to the woods for a last shot at avoiding a shutout season.
The goal: Get the “veteran” hunter a shot at a doe.
The outcome: A trip the father and daughter will never forget.
Presleigh Stigler not only got her doe, but an hour later, she closed the season with a 10-point, 146-inch buck.
“It was an afternoon that will live forever in the hearts of her family and friends,” Cameron Stigler said.
Presleigh Stigler is no stranger to the outdoors or deer stands; it was natural for her to gravitate in that direction. Her father is an avid outdoorsman who manages The Outfitter, a hunting/fishing store on U.S. 49 in Richland. They have hunted deer, dove, hogs and squirrel together.
“She has been outside since before she could walk and loving every minute of it,” Cameron Stigler said. “Presleigh squeezed the trigger on her very first deer at age 3 — with me holding the gun and aiming for her — and we were accompanied by her mother, Jenny.
“She did it again at age 5, on a nice 9-point with me holding the gun. This year, it was time for her to shoot by herself.”
But, as it happens, life got in the way.
“She’s been focused on school and helping her mother with her two younger brothers, so she hasn’t had a lot of times in the woods this season,” her dad said. “As a matter of fact, this was only her second hunt of the season, and it was on the last day.”
Cameron Stigler checked his second-grader out of Steen’s Creek Lower Elementary School early that Wednesday, and the two headed west to take advantage of a friend’s invite to hunt in Hinds County.
Before going to the stand, Cameron Stigler had Presleigh practice shooting her older brother’s .308 Handi Rifle, breathing and squeezing the trigger, dry-firing the firearm repeatedly.
“She grew up shooting .22s from the time she could walk, so shooting was just a normal thing to her,” Cameron Stigler said. “But she had only shot this gun once before that afternoon.
“We got on the stand around 3:45 after a 200-yard walk and were on doe patrol unless we saw a shoulder-mount quality buck. After several phone games, as well as regular comments like ‘Daddy, I’m bored,’ ‘Daddy, I’m hungry,’ ‘Daddy, I’m tired,’ and ‘Daddy, I’m bored,’ we saw our first deer of the afternoon.”
It was a nice, healthy doe, followed by a 31/2-year-old 8-pointer with palmated antlers. Presleigh spotted the buck right off, but her dad held her off the immature buck and started getting her in line with the doe.
“Around 4:30, she made the perfect shot, and the doe exited the field right into the wood line,” Cameron Stigler said. “We celebrated and reviewed the self video. With tears in her eyes, she said, ‘Daddy I got her, and all by myself.’”
Cameron Stigler calmed his impatient daughter, who wanted to go get her doe loaded. There was more time, “Daddy’s time on the trigger,” he said.
But, as it also happens, things change and roles reverse, and dad gives way to the daughter.
“Right around 5:30, I heard Presleigh whisper, ‘Daddy there’s a big buck,’” Cameron Stigler said. “I was glassing one way, and she was looking out my side and saw it. I immediately started shaking.”
Meanwhile, Presleigh remained calm and started getting ready to take a shot, but it became hectic with so much to do.
“Her ear muffs were tangled in her hair,” Cameron Stigler said. “The buck was zig-zagging, nose to the ground, at a steady trot, and we needed to switch seats. I didn’t think we were going to have enough time, as fast as he was going and all the problems we were having, but finally she had her hearing protection on and the gun out the window. She whispered, ‘I’m ready Daddy.’”
The shot rang out, and the buck left the field in a hurry.
“I thought she hit him a little far back, and all I was thinking was ‘Chris Pena’s going to be too busy tonight to find my baby’s deer. That was what was going through my head,’” Cameron Stigler said, referring to a man who has some of the best blood-trailing dogs in Mississippi.
Fortunately, Pena’s assistance wasn’t required.
The Stiglers found the doe quickly; it had only made it a few feet past the wood line.
“By then, my friend, Daniel Dantoni ,arrived to help,” Cameron Stigler said. “I told him I had loaded the doe and that the buck is that way. Daniel’s eyes got a little worry in them, hoping that the buck was big enough to be a shooter on the property.”
As the two men went to trail the buck, Presleigh got in the truck.
“I was worried about the shot but shouldn’t have been,” Cameron Stigler said. “I thought she had shot too far back, but it was a perfect double-lung shot. The buck had only gone 75 yards, and we found it pretty quick.
“As Daniel and I pulled (the buck) out of the woods, the truck door opened, her jaw dropped, and a little squeal could be heard throughout the woods.”
Presleigh, who had made two perfect 80-yard shots with her brother’s gun, flew out of the truck and grabbed the giant buck. She was grinning ear to ear.
“She said, ‘This one is going on the wall,’ and I told her it sure was and would be there for us to enjoy for years to come,” Cameron Stigler said. “Then she said, ‘But what will my boyfriends think when they come over and see it? What if it’s bigger than any thing they’ve ever killed?’
“I laughed, and said, ‘I wouldn’t be worried about that. You aren’t going to have any boyfriends until you’re at least 20.’”
Click here to read other big-buck stories from this season.