Bagging a black bear

Ashlee Vilasuso of Orrington poses with the 220 pound black bear she shot recently while hunting with her father, Ron. Ten-year-old Ashlee also is a black belt in karate and has won numerous awards in cowboy action shooting competitions. (Photo courtesy of the Vilasuso family)
Ashlee Vilasuso of Orrington poses with the 220 pound black bear she shot recently while hunting with her father, Ron. Ten-year-old Ashlee also is a black belt in karate and has won numerous awards in cowboy action shooting competitions. (Photo courtesy of the Vilasuso family)
Posted Sept. 24, 2010, at 6:18 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:26 p.m.

Chat with Ashlee Vilasuso for a few minutes and you begin to wonder when she actually found time to shoot her first bear a couple weeks back.

Ashlee is a karate expert who has earned her black belt. She’s a cowboy action shooting champ who travels around the state and all over the eastern U.S. to compete. She plays soccer and softball and is a cheerleader.

Then there’s school.

Ashlee Vilasuso is 10 years old. And in her first year as a licensed junior hunter, the Orrington fifth-grader is enjoying the kind of success that veterans would envy.

Back in the spring — before she earned her black belt in August — Ashlee bagged two turkeys. On the same day.

The jakes weighed 14 and 16 pounds, and she tagged both on Youth Turkey Day, when the state’s junior hunters and their mentors have the woods to themselves.

More recently, she bagged a good-sized black bear while hunting with her dad, Ron.

“It weighed 220 pounds, [live weight],” the soft-spoken Ashlee said. “He came in and sniffed around the smaller buckets that we had and then walked out in front of a big barrel, and that’s when I shot him.”

Left out of her first version of the story: Ashlee first had to improve her shooting position in order to get off the shot.

“The front of our tree stand has a shooting rail and she couldn’t see over it,” her mother, Sandy Vilasuso, added. “So she needed a little boost.”

That’s where Ron came in.

“I was on my dad’s knee,” Ashlee said.

Sandy Vilasuso explained that whenever the duo heard something approaching their bait site, Ashlee would perch on her dad’s lap to get a better look.

Even though Ashlee was excited about filling her bear tag, she said there were many other factors that made the hunt enjoyable.

During the three days that she spent in her stand, she had quite a few memorable experiences.

“I heard a beaver smack his tail. We saw a porcupine climbing a tree. We heard an owl and a coyote. We had two deer run out. And a smaller bear came out [after the deer had left],” she said.

Sandy Vilasuso said that both Ashlee and her brother, 13-year-old Daniel, are accomplished cowboy action shooters. In true cowboy action fashion, both are known in competitive circles by their cowboy names.

Daniel is “Dan the Man.” Ashlee? Meet “Lil Miss Sassy.”

The Vilasuso kids have been competing in cowboy action events for three years, and Ashlee has been the state champ in the “Buckarette” class for all three. Her mom said she also won the New England championship twice; the other year she had a scheduling conflict and wasn’t able to attend the entire competition.

“They compete against many adults because there really aren’t a lot of kids,” Sandy Vilasuso said. “You have your categories — that’s where the Buckaroo and Buckarette come in — but [their] overall is what they really look at, because that’s where their competition is.”

Sandy Vilasuso said that both Ashlee and Daniel have been trained well and have learned that firearms must be respected. If they hadn’t fully absorbed those lessons, she said that neither child would be competing.

“They’re very, very safety conscious,” Sandy Vilasuso said. “That’s why they’re allowed to do this.”

Next on Ashlee’s agenda: Deer season. And she said she hopes she’d be able to enjoy some more hunting success come November.

“I think she’ll do it,” her mom said.

With a chuckle, Sandy Vilasuso did admit that her daughter’s luck wasn’t with her when a certain permit lottery was held in June.

Relatively few hunters fill all four big-game tags — turkey, bear, deer and moose — in a given year. One reason for that: Only a few thousand hunters — 3,140 this year — earn the right to hunt moose each year.

“I wish she could have been drawn for a moose,” Sandy Vilasuso said. “She could have gotten a grand slam.”

Not that she … or Ashlee … is really complaining, mind

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