Imagine a Little Leaguer winning the World Series. Or a peewee hockey player hoisting the Stanley Cup. Or even a go-karter driving to victory in the Indy 500.
Impressive? You bet. Exciting? Ask Taylor Ritchie.
The 14-year-old did none of the above, but, as a hunter, accomplished the equivalent — bagging a prize 17-point buck.
Ritchie brought down the big deer, her first, with a 20-gauge shotgun while hunting with her father, Brent Wells, on the family farm in Vermilion (at the edge of Erie County) during Ohio’s youth-gun season Nov. 23-24.
In her third year of hunting, the Vermilion eighth-grader harvested the kind of trophy deer that hunters many times her age never even get to see, let alone kill.
While hunters will sometimes see big bucks during the year, then scope them out during deer hunting season, this one came as a surprise.
“We had no idea there was one that big in this area,” Wells said. “Though, I guess the neighbors had seen him before. We guessed that he was about 5 years old.
“We were just in the right spot at the right time that day. We saw his rack come through the trees. He was with about 10 does.”
During the rut season, it’s not uncommon for a buck to attract a large following of does. In fact, it was one of the females that Ritchie had her sight on.
“I was aiming for one of the does at first,” she said. “Then we saw him trotting along with them. He kept coming nearer and nearer. I waited until he got close.
“I was shaking so bad, I thought I missed at first.”
But her shot from 10-15 yards away hit its mark.
“It was so exciting,” Ritchie said. “I would have been happy with anything, but to get one that big is like a dream.”
According to Erie County Wildlife Officer Kevin Good, though there are a lot of big deer in Ohio, Ritchie’s accomplishment is uncommon.
“We are blessed in Ohio to have good numbers of large-antlered deer,” said Good. “But it’s very rare for a young hunter to have the patience to get one.
“It’s quite an accomplishment.”
The deer was the biggest of the 19 taken in Erie County during this year’s two-day season, down from 24 in the county last year. In Lorain County, youth hunters shot 49, as compared to 63 last season. Statewide, 6,645 were killed (down from 9,178 in 2012), with Coschocton County leading the way with 246.
Ohio’s special youth-hunt weekend is held annually in November, usually a week before the regular deer-gun season which was Dec. 2-8 this year. Young hunters may use a legal shotgun, muzzleloader or handgun to pursue deer. They must be licensed and accompanied by a non-hunting adult age 18 or older.
Ritchie’s deer has a 22-inch antler spread and is eligible for recognition by the Ohio Big Bucks Club with a green score of 159 (on an Ohio average of 100). Minimum requirement for a Big Buck certificate is 140 inches. Scores are determined by a series of measurements using the Boone and Crockett scoring system.
The number is not official, however, as there is a required 60-day “drying” period after which the rack will be measured again.
While the meat will go into the family freeze, the antlers are now in the hands of a taxidermist.
“That’s what she wanted for Christmas,” said Wells, who has three other children who hunt. “To have (the antlers) mounted.”
Though it may be a bit touchy for Santa to have to deliver, it’s a good bet that Ritchie will be one of few teens to have a set of deer antlers under her Christmas tree. They will hang in the family’s living room, according to the teen.
As for Wells, he was thrilled with his daughter’s accomplishment. But, although he won’t admit it, it had to sting a little. His biggest career buck is a only nine-pointer.
“Believe me,” he laughed. “I hear about it daily.”