Ashley Bates nearly missed the first day of this year's Junior Deer Hunt. The 12-year-old from Catonsville, who took a safety class last spring in order to hunt, was supposed to be practicing with her club field hockey team Nov. 12.
But when Ken Bates got word the night before that his daughter's practice had been canceled, he packed up the truck, picked up his father, Ken Sr., and took his daughter to a Worchester County property the family has hunted on for 50 years.
They arrived about 4:30 a.m.for the two-day hunt that was scheduled to begin at sunrise. The Junior Deer Hunt is for those under 16 who are accompanied by an adult, but the junior hunters are the only ones carrying a weapon.
Within 45 minutes of climbing into the tree stand, Ashley told her father that she had a doe in her sights.
"She was getting herself ready and I was paying attention to her, not looking at the deer, and she said, 'Dad, there's two deer, and one's a buck,'" Ken Bates recalled. "I talked her through it and told her to put [the shot] behind its shoulder and squeeze the trigger — make sure you don't pull the trigger — and I heard a boom. The gun had gone off. The rest is history."
The buck, a 9-pointer that the taxidermist later estimated to weigh more than 250 pounds, was dead. Ashley had used her grandfather's hunting rifle.
"She was excited, but she had no idea what kind of deer she had shot. She was just worried about getting the deer meat," Ken Bates said. "It was early, so I told her that we had to let everyone else enjoy the hunt, too. She was jumping out of her skin. At that point, I had no idea what she had shot. When we walked up on it, I said, 'Ashley, you have no idea what you've just done.'"
When they stopped at a convenience store on the way to the taxidermist, people were taking pictures of it on their cell phones and offering congratulations. Ken Bates said the taxidermist asked his daughter for her autograph.
"People hunt a lifetime and they never see a deer like this, let alone shoot a deer like this," Bates said.
Bates estimated that it would take a week or so to get the deer meat back. He figured on getting 100 to 150 pounds a of meat.
"It will definitely fill the freezer," he said.