Many hunters spend a lifetime waiting for the chance to match wits with a buck that tops 200 pounds. Shoot one that weighs that much, and the lucky hunter is allowed into the semi-exclusive Biggest Bucks in Maine Club.
Last year, more than 500 of those large bucks were registered in the club, which is maintained by The Maine Sportsman.
Among those who’ll gain entry this year is a precocious 7-year-old Searsmont girl, who recently bagged an 11-point buck that weighed 210 pounds.
Proud grandfather Randy Gagne checked in this week to tell the tale — and to celebrate a most memorable hunt.
“I am a lifelong Mainer and have been an avid hunter since I was able to carry my BB gun along with my dad when I was 5,” the Searsmont man said. “That’s about 45 years never missing a season. My two grown children never had an interest in hunting and I never pushed it on them. I am however the Proud ‘Poppy’ of a 7-year-old spitfire that loves everything outdoors.”
That spitfire: Isabella “Bella” Lindsey, who her Poppy has been calling “Bella LaBoo” since she was a baby.
“She loves hunting, fishing, ice fishing, four wheeling, and even has a small lobster boat named ‘Bella LaBoo,’” Gagne said.
The 19-foot lobster boat is actually Gagne’s, for now, but since it has her name on it, Bella has taken ownership and often tags along to learn about lobstering.
“She will be old enough this coming year and will have her first student lobster license and her own traps,” Gagne said.
In the meantime,she’s focusing on the things she is old enough for — like hunting.
On Monday morning, Gagne and Bella headed to their tree stand for an early hunt, and were just about ready to call it quits.
“Bella started to get bored and ready for breakfast. I told her I would do a couple calls and we would wait a half hour,” he said. “I hit the can call and followed it with several grunts. About two minutes later, I could hear the deer coming and told Bella to get ready.”
Bella was ready, but the buck showed no sign of stopping to give her a clear shot.
“I said, ‘Bella he’s not stopping. I’m going to take the shot.’” Gagne said. “She says, ‘No, Poppy I’m going to shoot.’ The buck heard her and stopped in his tracks.”
The buck continued to walk into the woods, and a preliminary search turned up no trace of blood. A bit later, Gagne and Bella found hair about 50 yards away from where the deer had been standing, and began to feel encouraged. But after finding no more sign of a wounded deer, they decided to call Susanne Hamilton, who lives in Montville and owns blood-tracking dogs. A few hours later, she showed up with a young dog, Fritzi, and they began the track.
“That little dog dragged us into the swamp and didn’t give up. Bella’s dad noticed the deer laying on a patch of dry ground in the middle of the swamp just ahead of the dog,” Gagne said. “It was an amazing thing to watch.”
Up until Jan. 1, 2016, Bella wouldn’t have had the chance to shoot a big deer — or any deer, for that matter — in Maine. That’s when the state eliminated the minimum age for hunters, which had been 10 years old.
Gagne said he and Bella’s parents never pushed her toward hunting, and thought long and hard before allowing her to do so. Gagne has been a law enforcement officer for 31 years, and takes gun safety seriously. Bella started learning safety lessons with BB guns at age 5, and worked her way up to actual firearms over the past two years. She was taught about target identification, muzzle control, and looking beyond the target to make sure a shot is safe, he said.
“We all felt she was ready. We talked all summer about what hunting is and what it means. She was told if she didn’t want to shoot an animal that was fine because hunting is not just about getting an animal, it’s about the experience and memories made in the field,” Gagne said. “I can tell you I was on the fence about lowering the age limits myself [when the law was changed]. I think as long as the young hunters are well educated and have good role models to follow it’s a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature.”