MEXICO, Maine — When Maine eliminated its minimum hunting age at the beginning of last year, allowing kids of any age to head afield with adults during legal hunting seasons on all of the state’s big game animals, Derrick Waugh knew one little guy who would be excited to participate.
His son, then 8-year-old Brycen Waugh, already was an outdoors enthusiast.
“He’d always come with me when I went out hunting,” Derrick Waugh said. “He didn’t carry a gun, but he had an interest in it. He enjoyed being in the woods. So once the law changed and he was able to go hunting that year, he was real excited about that.”
And Brycen, an active third-grader, had quite a memorable first hunting season: He completed Maine’s hunting “grand slam,” taking each of the state’s big game animals — wild turkey, bear, moose and deer — in a single calendar year.
Brycen might be the youngest Mainer to have completed that feat. Until 2016, youth hunters had to have reached their 10th birthdays in order to hunt in Maine.
An important disclaimer: The BDN is not calling Brycen’s feat “a record,” and has not researched whether that is, in fact, the case. Why? The BDN does not want to encourage parents to encourage potentially unprepared children to head afield in order to become the state’s “youngest” successful hunters.
Brycen began preparing for his first official year of hunting early, practicing his shooting with his dad, using a .410 shotgun and a .243 rifle to hone his skills.
Brycen’s successful year began in the spring, when his mom, Katie Gurney, and her father took Brycen turkey hunting. He cashed in with a 10-pound “jake,” or young male turkey, which he shot with a 20-gauge shotgun.
Later in the year, he geared up for bear season, planning to hunt on his grandfather’s land near Rangeley. And Derrick Waugh made sure Brycen was an active participant from the beginning.
A relative works for a pastry company, Derrick Waugh explained, and had access to snack food that hadn’t sold by its expiration date. Those pastries were to be used as bait — and Brycen had a job to do.
“While I was at work during the day, Brycen opened all of those,” Derrick Waugh said. “He sat there for hours and opened those individually wrapped pastries and put them in the barrels.”
Those pastries were then brought to the woods, where they served as bait to lure the bears in.
The duo hunted several days during the first week with no luck. By monitoring trail cameras, they learned the bears were visiting the baits later in the day. When the photos indicated that the bears were beginning to head out earlier — during daylight hours — they returned to their ground blind and Brycen ended up taking a 133-pound bear with a .223 rifle.
The most difficult tag to fill, hunters will tell you, is a moose tag. The reason? The number of participants is limited to those whose names are selected in a random drawing.
Brycen didn’t have his own name drawn, but he was still lucky: His great-grandfather’s name was drawn, and he added Brycen as his second shooter, or “sub-permittee.”
The Waugh team was again successful, taking a cow moose in Wildlife Management District 4.
The moose walked about a half-mile after the first shot was fired, and the crew struggled for four hours to get it out of the woods. Brycen, however, had a ball.
“I think he liked tracking the moose as well as he did shooting it,” Derrick Waugh said.
Needing just a deer to complete his grand slam, the Waughs spent two weekends in the woods before finally filling the tag on Nov. 11.
That hunt wasn’t without drama, though.
Derrick Waugh explained that Brycen had fired at a doe — Brycen’s grandfather was drawn for an any-deer permit and transferred it to the young hunter — and his single-shot .243 rifle jammed. Shortly after that, another doe came into view.
“I couldn’t get the bullet out of [the .243],” Derrick Waugh said. “I had my gun, so he used my [.30-06] instead.”
The .30-06 is a larger gun and has more recoil than the .243, which many youth use as their first deer rifle.
“Usually he never would have shot that [gun], but he was excited, so he went for it,” Derrick Waugh said.
The proud father said he has cautioned his son, explaining that hunting isn’t always as simple as it seemed this year.
“He said, ‘This isn’t so hard,’” Derrick Waugh said with a laugh. “That’s what me and my dad are worried about. We don’t want to set him up for disappointment later on.”
Brycen, who also enjoys playing basketball, baseball and soccer, said he has moved on to ice fishing and caught two nice trout last weekend.
But he’s already making plans for next year’s hunting seasons.
“I want to get a 12-pointer,” he said.
And what is it about hunting that he likes best?
“It’s fun,” Brycen said. “And the animals taste good.”