Paintball Doves & Granville Deer

Andrew Watson, 11, of Oxford shot last year’s top gun buck by a youth, but only after a neighbor calmed his nerves.

A young hunter had his nerves calmed by a helpful neighbor, and bagged N.C.’s top youth gun whitetail last year.

When the Wake County Wildlife Club gave out awards for North Carolina’s top white-tailed bucks of 2006 last March at the Dixie Deer Classic, one of the top eight-pointers belonged to 11-year-old Andrew Watson of Oxford.

His trophy had 146 6/8 inches of scoreable antler growth. And the buck’s rack was so symmetrical it only had 3 4/8 inches of deductions (the gross score was 150 2/8 inches).

It was one of the largest-rack bucks taken by anyone in the northern piedmont during December 2006.

Competing in the youth division of the 2007 Dixie Deer Classic, the sixth-grader at North Granville Middle School downed the second-best buck by a youngster during regular gun season last year (Jeff Kirby Jr.’s 157 4/8-inch Alamance County buck, taken with a muzzleloader, was the only other youth-division buck that scored higher).

The young Watson’s love of hunting started with a BB gun and a paintball gun during his youth let his father know he had a budding hunter on his hands starting when the boy was four-years-old.

“Being from Granville County, we’re rural people, farm-raised people,” said Mark Watson, a UPS worker whose job often prevents him from being able to take his son during the work week. “But hunting is what we do, and Andrew is very dedicated. He wants to go hunting every day of the season.”

His father began taking Andrew hunting with him beginning when the boy was four years old, Watson took his son a few year later during a dove-hunting trip. Of course, the young boy couldn’t use a shotgun — in fact, he couldn’t even hoist it — so his dad allowed him to carry a paintball gun just for fun.

“One day while we were dove hunting, Andrew took a shot with the paintball gun at a bird that was flying near us,” the elder Watson said. “Then I shot and brought down the dove, and it was covered in green paint. So he’d hit the dove in the air with the paintball gun just before I shot.”

It proved his boy’s markmanship skills that would be put to good use 7 years later.

Mark Watson was working Dec. 8, 2006, a Friday, and unable to be at home when his son stepped off the school bus.

But a neighbor who lives down the road, Kenny Hicks, was ready to take the boy with him for a deer hunt that evening at a nearby farm.

“By the time I get home from my job, it’s usually dark, so Kenny takes Andrew hunting with him,” Mark Watson said. “I take Andrew hunting Saturdays. Kenny’s a neighbor and has been very good about taking Andrew with him. Kenny, who grew up in the same neighborhood with us, has a 12-year-old daughter named Taylor, and she killed a buck last year with Kenny at the same place where he took Andrew.”

That place was an old abandoned two-story farm house near a winter wheat field where Andrew and Hicks often climbed to the second floor and watched for deer by looking out a window. A local farmer rents the land and plants crops at the farm’s fields.

The old house is so rickety that Mark Watson said he’s almost afraid to go inside or allow his son and Hicks to ascend to the second floor. But it’s a perfect hideaway for this group of Granville deer hunters and helps conceal the movement of boy and girl hunters who have trouble remaining motionless for the long periods of time usually required to be successful in tree stands.

“After school that day, I went across the road to Kenny Hicks’ house, and we went to the farm,” Andrew said.

“The field (beside the dilapidated farm house) was green; it was winter wheat, and the deer like to eat it.”

The young hunter said he and Hicks took turns looking out the window.

“We got over there about 4 p.m.,” Andrew said. “We climbed up to the second floor and started watching. The field has got a few pines but mostly oak trees around it.”

It was the boy’s turn to watch out the window that cold day when he spied the deer that would become his best trophy.

“A buck came out of the woods, and he was chasing a doe,” he said. “I was watching and saw the buck and I said, ‘There he is!’ to Kenny. It was the first time either one of has had seen this deer.”

The buck was about 150 yards from the two hunters, but they couldn’t be certain the deer would remain in the field for more than a few seconds.

“He stood there about 5 minutes and 150 yards from us,” Andrew said. “And there’s a (paved) road close to the field, and (the buck) kept looking at the cars (passing by).

“We got scared he was going to run.”

Then a bit of planning turned the tables in their favor. The Watsons and Hicks had placed shelled corn in the field to attract deer within an average rifle shot.

“(The buck) walked to the corn we’d scattered,” Andrew said. “He was about 100 yards from us then.”

When it became clear the buck was going to come close enough for Andrew to shoot, that’s when “buck fever” (uncontrollable nervous shakes) grabbed the young boy by the throat and wouldn’t let go.

He was trying to look through the scope of a .30-06 rifle his grandfather had given to him “when I was really small,” but the crosshairs wouldn’t settle on the buck.

“I’d just gotten the .30-06,” the young boy said. “I had been using a .243, but it jammed on me, so grandpa gave me his gun. Daddy got me another scope for the .30-06 and had just sighted it in a couple weeks earlier.”

Having Hicks beside him in the top floor of the farm house also was another bonus because the man saw what was happening and began to talk softly to his small protege.

“It was really hard trying to hold the rifle still,” Andrew said. “I was shaking really bad.”

Mark Watson smiled when he recalled what a calming influence his neighbor was during that moment of almost overwhelming anticipation.

“Kenny said Andrew started shaking like a leaf when the buck got closer, but he talked Andrew through it and got him calmed down so he could make a good shot,” the elder Watson said. “And (Andrew) got (the buck).”

Andrew said the last thing he did was say a small quiet prayer before he squeezed the trigger of his rifle.

“I said ‘Please let me kill this deer,’ ” he said.

The boy put the crosshairs of the rifle on the buck’s right shoulder as it was slightly quartering toward the unseen boy and man in the house loft.

“(The buck) dropped to the ground when I pulled the trigger,” Andrew said.

Hicks and the boy scampered down the stairs like two squirrels with a blacksnake chasing them and hit the ground at a fast walk toward the deer.

The big buck still hadn’t completely expired, and Hicks put a final shot in the buck.

“But I’d made a good shot, hit him right behind the shoulder where I was aiming,” Andrew said. “I don’t think he would’ve gotten up, but Kenny and me didn’t want to take any chances.”

The time was 5 p.m. with only a few minutes of daylight left that day.

The youthful hunter said he didn’t remember saying anything when he and Hicks reached the deer, but his older neighbor was obviously happy for the young boy who’d just bagged one of the top bucks for any hunter in the state last year.

“When we got to the deer, Kenny said ‘Do you know all those horns on the ground are yours?’ ” Andrew said.

The buck’s inside spread of antlers measured 20 inches and its G2 tines were longer than 1 foot. The G3 tines measured 8 and 9 inches.

The youngster could only shake his head in awe as he looked at the huge-racked buck as was speechless. But he said he received a different reaction at school.

“I showed pictures to my friends at school, and they were impressed,” he said. “They said they couldn’t believe it.”

Mark Watson was proud of his son’s accomplishment and said he was glad Andrew’s persistence had paid off.

“He’s very diligent about his hunting,” he said. “He goes every day after school once the season comes in. But I told him this was a really exceptional deer. I told him some people just have a horseshoe in their back pocket.”

Mark Watson said he also had pride because his son has other interests and does well at school.

“He’s on the A-B Honor Roll at school and is quite a baseball player, too,” Watson, a former baseball player at Louisburg College, said of his son. “He made the all-star team locally in baseball and plays on a league team and a traveling team.”

The pleased and proud elder Watson said it was doubly satisfying that his son had taken a buck any hunter would be proud to have on his wall.

“I’ve hunted deer all my life around here and never seen a buck like this one,” he said. “It’s one of the biggest eight-pointers I’ve ever seen.”

The Dixie Deer Classic officials agreed with that assessment as well, but probably not too unusual for a boy who could hit a dove with a paintball gun.

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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