Coming Full Circle: A Young Hunter’s First Deer

When I get Heartland Bowhunter’s Michael Hunsucker on the phone, he’s sitting in deer camp in Colorado, resting up for the final day of archery season before heading back home to Missouri. He’s been on the road since September and the whirlwind of travel and hunts is only just beginning; a sprint that will last through the end of hunting season. 

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

With a busy travel and production schedule, Hunsucker relishes time at home with his wife Bridget and their two sons, Kamden and Noah. The boys, aged eight and five, have grown up around hunting, fishing, and the outdoor lifestyle — with an appreciation and a respect for the outdoors, increasingly a rarefied thing in our digital age. The entire family spends time in the woods together; as the boys have grown older they’re able to come along on hunts with less worries, and even start looking at tackling deer of their own.

The transition from spectator to participant — to hunter — is a significant one, as any sportsman can appreciate. We all recall our first deer, first elk, or first bird, no matter how many years have passed.

For Kamden, Hunsucker’s eldest, the memory of his first deer is still very fresh.

A boy's first deer

A Boy’s First Deer

Two years ago Kamden turned six, the legal age to hunt in Missouri, and was very ready to head into the field and try his hand at the process he’d seen his father go through for years. The aspiring hunter spent the prior summer practicing, and his father helped zero in his crossbow at 30 yards. Once deer season opened, it was game on. And like any good little brother, Noah was keen to come along for the big event.

“Noah was super gung-ho,” Hunsucker remembers. “He was like, ‘Dad, let’s go. I want to tag along.’ And so he did.”

The trio headed to the bale blind, settling in to see what the day would bring.

“Pretty shortly after we got in the blind, we had some deer come out and feed in the food plot in front of us,” Hunsucker recalls. “One of them actually circled around downwind and kind of caught our scent and they spooked off. We sat there for another hour and when nothing really was moving much, we headed home for the day.”

Kamden found himself dealing with the frustration and disappointment that comes from an exciting moment with no actual opportunity. The highs and lows of hunting; part of the game.

Hunsucker knows it’s all about balance, and part of that balance is setting expectations while the boys are quite young. “We got home and I was like, ‘Listen, I know it’s frustrating. I know it’s tough.’ I always want it to be fun for him; I don’t ever want to force it. Even when they’re too young to hunt, they’re still going out. They want to come hang out in the blind; we have spots that are conducive for that, with hay bale blinds where you have enough space to be comfortable, relax, and have fun while hunting, so it’s cool.”

A key part of managing those expectations is try and try again, and so Hunsucker and Kamden headed back into the field again, with little Noah once more joining the hunt. The trio tucked into the hay bale blind, set up, and waited to see if deer would come into the food plot. Eventually their patience paid off, and deer began to filter in. Kamden got ready as one promising doe came broadside at 20 yards — the perfect shot.

Eventually their patience paid off, and deer began to filter in. Kamden got ready as one promising doe came broadsise at 20 yards – the perfect shot.

Hunsucker called out to the doe, a short bleat to catch the deer’s attention. The shot was set, the doe was broadside and well within range, and everything was coming together beautifully.

And then Noah spoke, thinking the noise his dad was making was directed at him.

“What, daddy?”

His tone was low, but it was enough to slightly spook the doe. Luckily, however, she wasn’t spooked out of the plot or even out of range. Kamden kept his focus and made the shot. 

“He couldn’t have made a more perfect shot,” Hunsucker recalls proudly. “It was really the last light and he made what looked like a perfect shot. We couldn’t tell for sure; we went and found the bolt but there was not much blood. It was in tall grass and so we really couldn’t couldn’t find any blood to follow, and so we opted to wait until the next morning to look for a blood trail.”

The three headed back to the food plot the next morning, and found a blood trail on the edge of the field. It had been a tough night for Kamden, not knowing the outcome of his first hunt, and he was ready to have resolution. Following the blood trail, they found the doe. She’d run 80 to 100 yards before collapsing.

It was a big moment for Kamden.

“He was really more proud than anything,” Hunsucker shares fondly. “We ate the backstrap steaks later that week, and he was the proudest he could be.”

Bringing Up Hunting Youngsters

It’s a complex thing, taking a life — especially for a six year old. 

“We’d had conversations about it prior to that hunt,” noted Hunsucker. “And obviously they’ve grown up around the lifestyle. They know where their meat comes from. And so it’s not that foreign of an idea but still, it’s definitely a complex thing. Kamden was super excited; almost overwhelmed with everything. We took her back home, and of course he had like 20 questions as we processed the meat. He’s like, ‘That’s kind of gross.’ I answered, ‘That’s just life, man. Every cheeseburger you eat comes off a cow, you know.’” 

Things come full circle. Whitetail transform from deer in the woods to backstraps on the grill. Cows become burger. Turkey go from field to Thanksgiving table. And for Kamden, his first hunt is yet another step in the lifetime of an outdoorsman.

Things come full circle. Whitetail transform from deer in the woods to backstraps on the grill. Cows become burgers. Turkeys go from field to Thanksgiving table. And for Kamden, his first hunt is yet another step in the lifetime of an outdoorsman. His father could not be more thrilled.

“I don’t want to push hunting on them. That’s one thing I’ve always felt is important. I mean, obviously I’m extremely passionate about hunting and so I was always hopeful that my kids would share the same passion. But you hear a lot of stories where, you know, people that are maybe professional athletes try to push their kids into sports, and then they end up wanting to do something else because they get pushed into it. So I never wanted to push it on them. 

“I always said, ‘If you guys want to come tag along, come on. And when you get to a certain age you can start hunting for yourself.’ And so, both my boys grew up around it. Kamden was definitely all about it; he wanted to turn six so he could hunt. And Noah is going to be a hunter for sure. Any time I go out, he wants to come.”

Hunting as a Family Affair

For the Hunsuckers, hunting truly is a family affair. Bridget started bowhunting when the two began to date. The arrival of Kamden and Noah meant she had to take a bit of a break from hunting, but now that the boys are older, she’s enjoying getting back into the field more often. This year the goal is to get Kamden his first buck.

Both Noah and Kamden have been spending time in hunting blinds since they were toddlers, and the transition from hanging out in a corner of the blind to active participant is an exciting one. Turning six is a big moment in any kid’s life, and with the added event of being able to legally hunt in the state of Missouri, it truly is a big step for these young outdoorsmen — one enjoyed just as much by the boys’ parents as by the boys themselves.

It’s a family affair, and also a community one. The meat the family harvests doesn’t just go to their own table. Working with local Missouri farmers and utilizing tags provided by deer management plans, there’s plenty of venison to go around. Local friends and family are gifted venison, and this year Hunsucker plans to meet up with and donate meat to local families who are in need of food around the holidays.

“We got together and processed a bunch of meat, packaged it, and then delivered it to those people,” Hunsucker shares. 

It’s just another step in teaching the next generation of hunters that there’s more to hunting than the trophy photo, and there will be families across Missouri thankful for the gifted venison on their plates this holiday season.

73

Jess McGlothlin

Before taking the role of onX Communications Writer, Jess McGlothlin worked as a freelance photographer and writer in the outdoor and fly-fishing industries. While on assignment in the past few years she’s learned how to throw spears at coconuts in French Polynesia, dodge saltwater crocodiles in Cuba, stand-up paddleboard down Peruvian Amazon tributaries and eat all manner of unidentifiable food.