ORRINGTON, Maine — A year ago, after Brandon Elden filled his deer tag just 32 minutes into Youth Deer Day, his dad, Randy Elden, had a talk with the excited hunter.
“I told him last year, ‘This is not going to happen every year. You’re going to spend some seat time. You might have to spend days, even weeks, before you shoot another one,’ Elden said.
But he was wrong.
On Saturday morning — Youth Deer Day 2016 — 11-year-old Brandon was back at Bob’s Kozy Korner with his dad and another deer.
This year, it took all of 48 minutes for the younger Elden to cash in on a day set aside for junior hunters and their adult chaperones.
“I’d kind of like him to [hunt] past a coffee break [some time],” the proud dad joked.
Brandon wasn’t too interested in coffee. But he was prepared to sit for a bit if he had to. It just didn’t work out that way.
“We took one bottle of Gatorade, but really didn’t have much time to drink it,” he said.
And what has led to the two successful hunts?
“He took over the best stand on the property,” Randy Elden said with a chuckle. “We had four [deer] in behind us, [but] we couldn’t turn around, and after they left, I told him, ‘If they were here, there are others here.’ I didn’t even finish the sentence before I said, ‘Wait. Two more over there.’”
Despite torrential rain before dawn, the Eldens were determined to get out on Youth Deer Day.
“We were going no matter what … we wouldn’t have missed that,” Elden said. “Now his grandfather is saying, ‘I’m going to take him out with me, now. He’s good luck.’”
Now that his tag is filled, Brandon is looking forward to enjoying the rest of the season as a spectator. Think he’ll stay inside for the month of November?
Brandon said he enjoys spending one-on-one time with his dad, and he loves to hunt.
“I still go with him when he hunts,” Brandon said. “It’s good to just sit there and wait.”
After a slow start to Youth Deer Day, business at Bob’s Kozy Korner began to pick up about mid-morning. Youth hunters who tag a deer at the store at any point during the season receive a hunter-orange hat, and they have their name entered into a drawing for a .243 Savage hunting rifle.
Bob Bastey, who has owned the store for 12 years and given away a rifle for 10, said he looks forward to Youth Deer Day each year.
“Back when I started this, youth [participation] numbers were going down, so we tried something that would bring youth in. That’s why the gun [giveaway],” Bastey said. “We’re happy when we see the kids coming in. Youth Day is a big day. They get a hat, and they get something to talk about. It’s something I really enjoy. This is my favorite day.”
And as a steady string of successful hunters arrived at the store, it became apparent that there are a lot of skilled youths who enjoy the sport.
Andrew Munroe, 13, of Orrington showed up accompanied by his dad, Chris Munroe.
Andrew took his first career deer a year ago, with his bow. This year, he tagged a 110-pound spike-horned buck,
He said his dad set him up in a blind that gave him great angles to shoot from. His dad said that the hunt was a bit simpler than that.
“You might want to mention the acorn ridge that was nearby,” Chris Munroe said with a laugh.
It turns out the blind was in a very promising spot. And Andrew’s dad knew it.
“My bow stand is on this ridge, and every time I try to walk to my tree stand, I can’t get to it without jumping a deer,” he said. “We knew they were there. We just had to sit there and wait.”
Lee Kantar, a wildlife biologist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, was on hand to gather biological data on the deer and to congratulate the lucky hunters.
Kantar typically spends Youth Deer Day at Bob’s Kozy Korner, and he enjoys watching the parade of youths that show up to tag a deer or simply grab a snack before heading back into the woods.
“I think this is an exceptional place that Bob has,” Kantar said. “He has done a great job of encouraging youth to get out there and go hunting, and it’s a great atmosphere. I think this is a great community thing.”
Cade McKenney, a 10-year-old Brewer hunter, came to Bob’s to tag a 62-pound button buck he shot while hunting with his grandfather, Mike Lavin of Brewer.
“The fun part is taking the kids out to keep the tradition alive,” Lavin said.
That tradition was tangible for the Lavin-McKenney party: Everybody in the hunting party arrived at the tagging station with their own hand-crafted hunting knives that Lavin makes and gives to family members for Christmas.
Cade, hands still bloody after field-dressing his deer, proudly showed off the knife his grandfather gave him a year ago.
“Deer antler,” he said, pointing to the knife’s handle and smiling.
While all of Saturday’s hunters seemed excited about taking part in their own special day, several had other plans for the day.
None were busier than Thomas Pelkey, a smiling 8-year-old who showed up wearing a soccer uniform, cleats and shin guards.
This was not, Thomas will assure you, what he was wearing when he shot the 102-pound doe that he was preparing to tag.
After the morning’s successful hunt, he rode to his Orrington home with his dad, Don Pelkey. By 8:30 a.m., he was at the soccer field for his team’s final game of the year.
Then, it was onto Bob’s Kozy Korner to tag the deer.
And after that task was completed, even more important work remained.
“I want to get candy now,” Thomas said.