Drive to Thrive

Eric Rachel’s success in the woods has brought him a fair amount of fame and notoriety.

You already know Eric Rachel. You know him if you ever made a bow and arrow out of a stick and some string. You know him if you ever shot at a bird with a BB gun. You know him if you were a member of the 4-H Club while you were in school. In many ways, you are Eric Rachel.On the other hand, Eric Rachel, also known as L’il Eric, isn’t you. He would never come out and admit it to you personally, but this Poland 8th-grader can outshoot you, he can outhunt you and he can definitely outdrive you.

I know, an 8th-grader shouldn’t be out on the road driving, but that’s not the kind of drive I mean. Eric Rachel was born with an inner drive to succeed in anything he does. And if that means he has to hold his bow at full draw for an extended period of time to make a clean kill, that’s exactly what he’s going to do. Where others may not be able to stand the pressure, Eric welcomes it.

“He’s really a laid-back kid,” said Eric’s dad, Eric Rachel Sr. “He likes all the stuff that most young guys like — riding dirt bikes, mudding on the 4-wheeler and, as he would say, chillin’ with his friends — but when it comes to hunting and competitive archery, L’il Eric has a high drive.”

According to Rachel, he never has to ask Eric to get ready to go hunting or take care of any of the chores that go along with making a hunt. He does it on his own. And when the Rachel family takes some of Eric’s friends hunting with them, it’s easy to see that Eric’s drive and hunting ambition are head and shoulders above most of his peers.

When it comes to his peers, Eric is taking a leadership role in spreading his enthusiasm about hunting and competitive archery among them. He has put on several demonstrations for his 4-H Club and classmates about archery. He brings his BowTech bow to each demonstration, and goes over all the items on it that give him a competitive edge. He has also been active in helping to teach archery to his P.E. class at school.

Eric’s love of hunting began more than 10 years ago when his dad surprised him one day with a BB gun. But rather than just go out and start haphazardly plinking around with the gun, Eric actually took his time and practiced shooting the gun before he went “hunting” with it.

“One day he came back to the house and told me he knew where there was a raccoon in a tree,” said Rachel. “He said he couldn’t get it with his BB gun, so he asked me if he could take the .22 rifle. I walked back out to the tree with him, and we found the coon. L’il Eric took the .22, backed up and propped up against a tree to shoot. I told him to make sure to shoot it in the head. He dropped it with one shot that was right in the eye. I knew then I had a special kid on my hands.”

Since the day he dropped the coon, Eric has killed close to 20 deer, the first of which came from a stand the Rachels dubbed the “Tower” in the Liberty Hills community of Homer in Claiborne Parish.

“I was looking down a pipeline, and saw a good buck — about an 8-point — around 200 yards away,” Eric recalled. “I pulled up my 25-06 rifle to get ready for the shot, but I couldn’t hold my crosshairs still. Dad told me if I couldn’t hold it still, I shouldn’t take the shot, so I put the gun down.”

After a brief respite from holding up the rifle, Eric brought the gun back up after asking for another chance. Only this time, he saw two bucks standing in the clearing. Those two deer eventually pushed each other out the other side of the pipeline, and Eric thought he had missed his chance at his first deer.

“Another buck came out soon after that,” Eric recalled. “He wouldn’t stop for a shot, though. I was getting a little down, so I got up on Dad’s lap. It wasn’t long before a fourth buck showed up at about 100 yards. Dad made a sound with his mouth to stop the deer. I shot, and made a perfect shoulder shot. The deer ran off about 40 yards before it fell.”

Rachel filmed his son with his first deer, a 5-point that the entire family will remember forever. Eric’s mom, Anita, and his sister, Hollie, were hunting nearby, but neither was able to connect with a deer during the hunt. The morning belonged to L’il Eric, and he soaked up the moment as much as he could.

Since that first buck, Eric’s most memorable deer was a 9-point beauty that most veteran hunters would drool over. This special day began with Eric not wanting to get out of bed because of the hot weather and the news that he was going to be hunting the “Buzzard Stand.”

“I eventually drug myself out of bed, and grabbed my new Savage .270,” said Eric. “I hadn’t shot a deer with it at that point, and I figured I might as well give it a try. I spent a lot of time complaining about how hot it was even an hour before sunrise.”

Rachel remembers the day well.

“Lil’ Eric started complaining about how we should have gone to another stand because we weren’t seeing anything on the Buzzard Stand,” he recalled. “An hour later, he was still reminding me that the field was barren of deer when I looked out through the dense fog to see a very large-bodied deer on the scent trail we had laid down on the way to the stand.”

Eric shouldered his rifle, and watched the deer moving away from the stand in the foggy distance. After a few minutes of looking through the scope and only seeing the deer’s haunches, Eric gasped.

“I told him not to look at the horns but to concentrate on the shot,” said Rachel. “The deer started moving as if trying to find which direction the strange scent had gone. In doing that, he set up for a quartering shot. Eric told me he could see the back of the shoulder. I told him to put the bullet right there.”

Eric pulled the trigger, and father and son watched the deer whirl out of the opening. Eric told his dad he had the crosshairs about 6 inches behind the shoulder. Knowing that his son is an excellent shot, Rachel hoped for best.

After minutes of waiting and shaking, Rachel climbed down to go see if there was any blood. He made Eric stay in the stand to guide him toward where he had shot the deer.

“I could hear him telling me to keep going,” said Rachel. “I walked another 50 yards or so from where I had last stopped and saw some blood on the ground. I looked toward the direction the deer went, and it was five steps from where Eric had shot it.”

The hand-loaded 130-grain Hornady bullet had done its job perfectly. The bullet entered where Eric told his dad it did, and exited the other shoulder.

As accomplished a hunter as Eric is, though, he is also recognized as one of the must successful young competitive archers in the state.

Eric’s climb to the highest levels of the world of competitive archery within Louisiana wasn’t as steep as one might expect. Both of Eric’s parents shoot competitively, and they have combined to win four state 3D championships — three for his parents and one for Eric. His sister Hollie had a second-place finish in the state competition a few years ago.

Eric and Hollie got their start when they woke up one Christmas morning to find two compound bows under the tree — one wrapped in glitter paper and the other wrapped in camouflage. Four arrows accompanied each bow.

“I’ve been shooting a bow ever since,” said Eric. “I like to shoot, and it has become a habit. When I get done with my homework and chores after I get home from school, I get out my bow and start shooting at a little range we’ve got in our yard.”

Winning more than 30 archery awards the last few years coupled with his impressive deer-hunting resume’ has earned the younger Rachel a ton of publicity. If you had that nagging feeling you’ve seen Eric somewhere before, that’s probably because you have. He and his 9-point deer were featured on the cover of the 2004-05 Louisiana Hunting Regulations pamphlet.

Eric has also been featured in several local and state magazines along with some local newspapers in Central Louisiana. His propensity to land in the hunting spotlight has actually led to him being recognized on the street.

Ducking his head and lowering his eyes, Eric mentioned some of the places he had been “seen.”

“I’ve been recognized in the barber shop, Wal-Mart and a bunch at school,” he said. “I’ve even had some people come up to me with that hunting pamphlet and ask me to sign it for them.”

Eric readily admits that his family’s hunting heritage has had a lot do with his love of hunting and archery. He also recognizes that having access to several leased acres gives him an advantage that most kids don’t have. Even with all that land to hunt, though, Eric and his dad still frequent nearby Grand Cote and Ophelia national wildlife refuges after the rut has passed at their Claiborne Parish camp.

“If any parent out there wants to get their kids involved in hunting and doesn’t know where to turn, look no farther than the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” Rachel recommended. “I put L’il Eric in for some of the youth hunts last year, and we were fortunate that he was selected for the Lake Ophelia lottery hunt.”

Eric and his dad saw more than 60 deer during that hunt with seven of them being really nice bucks. The bucks stayed out of range, but the experience was enough to make Rachel an ambassador for the youth hunts.

“These hunts are in some of the best hunting grounds in the state,” he said. “These are some amazing spots that don’t get hunted by adults, and they offer the best chance for a young person without access to private land to kill a deer.”

Rachel also suggested that parents look into organizations like the Bayou State Bowhunters Association that provide outlets for young people to get involved thanks to the volunteer efforts of adults who share his desire to introduce kids to hunting and the outdoors.

“You can also take your kid to places where hunters hang out,” he added. “Whether it be a corner store or a big sporting goods store, get with them and talk to them. I’m sure that most hunters will go out of their way to show a kid what it’s all about.”

Rachel also mentioned a growing number of schools that offer archery classes during P.E.

“Go to your congressman or superintendent, and ask them to promote the in-school archery programs,” he suggested. “That can turn a lot of kids on to hunting who might not have ever gotten the chance otherwise.”

Eric’s extremely grateful for the opportunities he’s had.

“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hunting,” he said. “It teaches a kid how to provide for himself, and it keeps us connected to the times when people had to hunt for food. There’s nothing like killing, cleaning and eating your own deer, dove, rabbit, squirrel, hog or duck — although I’ve never had the chance to go duck hunting.”

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About Chris Ginn 778 Articles
Chris Ginn has been covering hunting and fishing in Louisiana since 1998. He lives with his wife Jennifer and children Matthew and Rebecca along the Bogue Chitto River in rural Washington Parish. His blog can be found at chrisginn.com.

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