Aubrey Dale had hunted all season to get her first buck, joining her father in the deer stand whenever she could, showing more patience than one would expect of a 10-year-old.
It paid off on the final Sunday of the season, Jan. 28, when she killed her first antlered buck, a mature 7-point her dad was wanting removed — and one that a bobcat tried to steal. More on that later.
“That was a great finish to January,” said Corey Dale, who sells commercial insurance in Brandon. “She’s a fourth-grader at Brandon Elementary and earlier had been named the student of the month for January. It was a great month for her.”
Aubrey Dale is an avid hunter who Corey Dale calls “a true daddy’s girl.”
She killed her first deer, a doe, when she was just seven, but she hadn’t shot another one since.
“She loves it, she really does, and she wants to go whenever she can,” Corey Dale said. “Any time she sees me about to leave to go deer hunting, man, she’s up and ready to go. We pack food and stuff and just have a good time.
“Ever since she killed that doe, she’s passed on does and spikes, waiting on a buck. I think she kind of got tender about does, since she spined that first one and we had to make a second, finishing shot.”
This year, the Dales had made eight trips together without an opportunity for Aubrey to shoot a buck. On Jan. 28, her last chance, they went to a roomy elevated shooting house overlooking a food plot on a long power-line right-of-way.
“I was hoping she’d get a shot at the 7-point,” Corey Dale said. “We’d gotten a lot of pictures of him for three months but never saw him while hunting. He was on our shooter list, a mature 7-point with a big body. He weighed 175 pounds, and that was after the rut.
“We got in the stand about 3:15, and it didn’t take long for deer to appear. We had about 10 or 12 does, yearlings and a couple of cow-horn spikes in the food plot, but she wasn’t interested. She kept saying she wanted a rack buck.”
Hours passed, and the sun was fading fast, not only on the afternoon but Aubrey’s hunting season.
“About 5:30, he walked out in the power line about 250 yards away from us and started walking toward us,” Corey Dale said. “It took a while, and it seemed like forever, for the buck to close 150 yards to get within 100 yards. That gave us time to go through our game plan, with me reminding her where to put the crosshairs, how to breathe and how to squeeze the trigger.”
Finally, the deer was in range, and they waited for it to present a broadside shot.
“We were rapidly running out of time,” Corey Dale said. “She was watching him in her scope, waiting for a shot, and I was panicking about the time.”
The two cow-horn spikes chasing the does didn’t help, either.
“They kept pushing deer between her and the buck, and we had to wait for them to get clear,” Corey Dale said. “We only had a few minutes left when finally she got the chance.”
Aubrey Dale had the buck’s vital areas squarely in the scope of the .308 rifle, fitted with a suppressor to lessen the recoil.
“She’s always been a good shot, and I am completely comfortable being off the side and letting her do it herself.” Corey Dale said. “That way, I could glass the buck with my binoculars and watch for the deer’s reaction to the shot. He bucked real good, so I knew she’d hit him hard. He ran out of the power line into the woods.”
But when they descended and went to check for blood, they found just three or four drops of blood.
“That surprised me,” Corey Dale said. “We trailed a little bit and couldn’t find any, so I decided to pull out and call Chris Pena, who is on that Facebook site called “Nose to the Ground Blood Trail” and he said he could come up on Monday morning and meet me.”
The drive home was excruciating for both dad and daughter.
“I kept telling her that she’d done everything right, and it was OK, and I’d even resigned to start saying, ‘We’ll get them next year,’” he said. “She didn’t have much to say.”
On Monday, Aubrey went to school while Corey made the drive back to Holmes County to the family property to meet Pena.
“He put the dogs’ noses on the blood, and they went off, and in a matter of seconds they were barking like they had bayed the buck,” Dale said. “But when he went in to the dogs, he couldn’t find anything. He brought them back out, put them back on the blood and sent them back in. They returned to the exact same spot and started barking. When he got in there this time, he didn’t see anything, but he went to where they were barking and looked and found the buck completely buried in leaves.
“Apparently, a bobcat had found the buck overnight and had eaten some of the guts and then completely covered it up with leaves to hide it from other predators. Chris said he’s seen it before.”
With temperatures in the 50s overnight and in the 60s both days, the meat was ruined, but the antlers were saved. The shot had been perfect, hitting right behind the shoulder and getting a clear pass through. Yet there was little blood to be found.
“I field dressed it, and took it and cleaned it up real good and put it in the back of the truck, covering it with a lot of old burlaps bags,” Dale said. “When I went to pick her up that afternoon at school, she came running out and asked, ‘Did you find my buck? Did you find him?’
“I said, ‘No, but I did find something you’ll want to see.’ With that she went to the back of the truck, pulled back the burlap and let out a scream so loud and then jumped up and down squealing. Partner, that right there made it all worthwhile.”
Click here to read other big-buck stories from this season.