Andy Leali of Palmyra says his daughter Maci is a calm, low-key 10-year-old. She’s patient. She pays attention. And she’s a great shot. All of those traits, he figures, work in her favor as a hunter.
But when the first deer of her hunting career walked into view in Newport on Saturday morning — just 15 minutes into her first hunt — the Sebasticook Valley Middle School fifth-grader admitted that there might have been a moment when she got a little bit excited.
“Dad was sitting next to me when [the deer] stepped out and I said, ‘Daddy, look!’” Maci recounted, blushing a bit at her loss of composure. “And [the deer] looked at me.”
Andy Leali shakes his head at the memory.
“She got the deer’s attention,” he said with a chuckle.
Fortunately for the Lealis, the deer wasn’t quite sure what it had heard and couldn’t pinpoint their location. They were hunkered down in a ground blind, and while the deer knew something wasn’t right, he seemed more curious than alarmed, Andy Leali said.
“That’s the beauty of the blind,” Andy Leali said. “First-time hunters or youth hunters [can] get away with a lot that you normally wouldn’t get away with.”
Maci took advantage of the opportunity, standing up so that she could see a bit better, then crouching down so that she could aim her .22 magnum rifle out the window. Andy Leali pitched in by holding out one finger for Maci to use as a gun rest, and the 10-year-old squeezed the trigger.
“We didn’t know [if it was a good shot] because Daddy said his tail was straight up, and he said that usually isn’t a good sign,” Maci said.
Still, she was pretty sure that her aim had been true.
“She was much more confident than I was,” Andy Leali said, explaining that after unloading Maci’s rifle, the duo walked back to her grandparents’ house, told them about the deer and waited 45 minutes before going back to locate the deer.
“My grandfather made me go wake up my grandmother and tell her [that I’d shot a deer],” Maci said. “She said, ‘No. Really? I don’t believe you.’”
Believe it, Grandma.
After returning, they found the deer not far from where it had been standing. It was a good-size buck and sported nine-point antlers. Andy took care of field dressing the deer and said he’ll continue to do the dirty work for his daughter for a few more years. At some point, though, he expects her to pitch in more fully.
Maci, however, isn’t so sure.
“I don’t like slimy things,” Maci said, wrinkling up her nose.
With the slimy work done, Maci and her dad headed to Moosehead Trail Trading Post to tag the deer. That’s when Maci’s deer began drawing a crowd.
“Mom said there were people coming in off the street just to see it,” Maci said.
When the deer was hoisted out of the truck and weighed, it was Andy Leali’s turn to lose his composure.
“The head hadn’t even come off the tailgate and [the scale] was already at 170,” said Maci’s mom, Melissa Leali. “When it came up to 208, he said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ He walked away and I thought, ‘What is he doing?’ I then realized that he was all emotional.”
Andy Leali said watching his daughter tag her first deer, and watching it tip the scales at 208 pounds, did bring some tears to his eyes. And though he’d known the deer was big, he knew better than to expect that it would top the 200-pound mark.
“I kept telling myself that it was a 200-pound deer, but I’ve said that in the past,” he said. “It takes a lot of deer to get to 200 pounds. And this deer was only 4 years old. We’ve been watching it the past three years.”
Maci was impressed by the size of the deer — “I think his head weighed more than my [7-year-old] brother,” she said — but has been a bit surprised by the attention her 208-pounder has garnered.
A local production company took video that will be featured on “American Traditions Outdoors,” a hunting show, and had her re-create her hunt. The show airs airs on Time Warner Cable in Maine and New Hampshire on Channels 9 or 21, at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Saturdays, at 11 a.m. Sundays and 9 p.m. Wednesdays.
Andy Leali also has entered his daughter’s deer for inclusion in The Biggest Bucks of Maine club, and said the Maine Sportsman is interested in running a photo and essay from her.
“I just didn’t think it was a big deal at first,” Maci said. “But everyone just keeps talking about it.”