There’s only one thing on Dylan Riley’s mind year-round — big, trophy whitetail bucks.
Dylan Riley placed the crosshairs of his scope right where he thought it should go and squeezed the trigger. The deer didn’t even flinch.He recomposed himself and squeezed off another shot, and another. A fourth shot followed, then a fifth. The buck, which Dylan estimated would score around 160, finally had enough, and lazily ambled off into the brush.
“I was shooting a lever-action 30-30, and man was it a bad gun,” Dylan recalled. “I couldn’t be too disappointed about missing that buck, though, because my first deer, a doe, was lying right where she dropped on my first shot just moments before that big old buck came out.
“I was glad I got my first deer, so I didn’t give much thought to that buck. If I were to miss a big buck like that today, though, I’d be a little upset.”
Dylan shot that first deer when he was just 7 years old — six years ago. With more than half a decade of deer-hunting experience under his belt since then, Dylan, an eighth-grade student at Oak Grove Junior High in Northeast Louisiana, has discovered that one of his greatest loves in life is relentlessly pursuing big-racked bucks like the one that somehow eluded him that day.
There isn’t much that makes him happier than when he finds the object of his obsession.
“I love to deer hunt,” he raved. “The adrenaline rush you get when that deer steps out and you know you’ve got a shot can’t be beat. Then the suspense that comes after the shot when you know you got him but aren’t sure what kind of shot you made and where you’re going to find him … there aren’t too many things that can beat that as far as I’m concerned.”
Dylan isn’t much different than any other 13-year-old. He is an all-star baseball player, an honor-roll student, and is prone to spending time in front of the TV trying to electronically defeat an out-of-this-world alien, rack up running yards with Reggie Bush or take down an elk out west.
“Dylan is just a normal kid,” said Rickey Riley, Dylan’s dad. “He’s not a Boone & Crockett son, and he wasn’t born on a deer ranch. But he has developed a love of hunting that surpasses what I see in some adults.
“He’s involved in the entire process from scouting to processing, and I couldn’t be happier with how he’s turned out. I get just as much thrill from Dylan taking a big buck as I get when he knocks the ball out of the park.”
Moms and dads who would like to get their kids more interested in hunting would do well to follow the route Riley has taken. He believes that there has been a breakdown between adults and kids because taking a child hunting is a job that some parents just aren’t willing to accept. Therefore, he decided to put in the time to ensure Dylan was properly exposed to hunting.
“It takes effort to get a kid interested in hunting,” Riley stressed. “It’s a job because you’ve got to carry two guns, two backpacks and two of anything else that you carry to the stand.
“Of course, I never even took my gun when Dylan first started out because my main concern was on him shooting a deer. Now I don’t like to go without Dylan because he’s a big help, and I get a bigger kick out of him shooting a deer than me.”
Riley strongly believes that it takes a parent or other adult hunter willing to take on the responsibility of introducing a kid to hunting to get a kid hooked on the sport. More than likely, kids aren’t going to pick it up on their own.
“Try to introduce them in a way that gets them excited about hunting,” Riley suggested. “If they like video games, get them a hunting game. If they like watching DVDs, get them a couple of hunting videos, and watch them together. Take a kid out and target practice a little bit to get him used to shooting. But, above all else, make sure you let them still be a kid.”
Riley also stressed the importance of safety when introducing a kid to hunting. Enroll them in a hunter safety education class and go with them. Riley knows that he has reached Dylan because it is now his son who buzzes him in the stand to ask him if he has his safety on.
“He tells me now that one of these days he’s going to put me in a stand and tell me don’t get down until he comes and gets me,” Riley quipped. “When I put him out at a stand, I go up with him, load his gun and put it in a corner and tell him that whatever he does, sit there until I get back.”
All of Riley’s time and effort has certainly paid off. He said his reward was when Dylan took that first deer, then his first buck, and then a record-class deer. Each accomplishment Dylan achieves makes his dad well up with pride.
“I’ve spent more time working on his stands than I have mine,” boasted Riley. “I’ve put in a lot of time making sure he’s safe and that he knows how to handle himself properly in the stand. Watching him hunting for his most recent deer for two years then accomplishing his goal of taking that deer is my payday.”
That deer was a 12-point buck that scored 134 3/8. Dylan entered the deer in the Simmon’s Big Buck contest, and it led for a while, but it was eventually bumped out of the top five. That was all right with Dylan, though, because accomplishing a goal that he had set for himself was more important than winning a contest.
“I killed that deer out of a box-stand on the opening day of the youth hunt on Oct. 28,” Dylan recalled. “I was hunting around Area 4 in East and West Carroll parishes. That area is known for holding some big deer, and I had my sights set on this one for a while.”
Dylan and his dad have more than 200 pictures of this buck from velvet to the time Dylan took the shot.
“All the pictures we got of that deer were either late night or very early morning before the sun broke,” Dylan said. “Unfortunately for him, he decided to step out that day at 5 in the evening. I had been in the stand since 2, and I didn’t really expect to see him that early in the season. I dropped him with my 260 Ruger with a 90- to 95-yard shot that hit just a little bit above his shoulder. He didn’t go anywhere. This deer was really special for me because I hunted him last year with my dad, but this was my first year to hunt by myself, and I got him.”
Dylan has his own advice for kids looking to get into hunting. Those who have parents who hunt should show an interest and ask their mom or dad how they can get involved. Kids with parents who don’t hunt can try to seek out other relatives likes aunts and uncles or family friends who hunt in hopes of getting invited.
“That’s how my dad and I both got started hunting,” explained Dylan. “One of dad’s friends invited us to go hunting one day, and once I saw that first deer in the field, I was hooked. I’d suggest that any kid, whether they’re interested in hunting or not, at least give it a try. It’s not for some people, but you’ve got to make that determination yourself. Give it a chance … I bet you’re going to like it.”
Dylan also suggested adults should help kids get entered in contests like the annual Simmon’s Big Buck Contest in Bastrop. The deer don’t even have to be potential winners to be entered. Dylan even enters his spikes just for a chance at a truck. Parents can also take kids in to look at all the deer mounts that are typically displayed at such contests.
Dylan said one of the most important things he thinks parents can do to help their young hunters is to help them find a rifle or bow that is properly fitted to their bodies. Things like gun weight and length or bow draw weight are important for adults, but they are even more important for kids.
“I shoot a .260,” said Dylan. “It’s the flattest shooting gun I’ve ever had, but it might have a little too much recoil for a beginner. Adults might not realize it, but that kick from a gun is enough to make a lot of kids not even want to shoot. A .243 is a good first gun because it shoots almost as flat as a .260 with a little less recoil.”
Although he has hunted with a bow, Dylan hasn’t been successful with it as of yet, and he has decided to wait on the bow hunting until he gets a little older. His reasoning is that he doesn’t want to keep having to buy and sell bows as he gets stronger. In a few years, he can get properly outfitted with a good bow with a draw weight he can handle that will last him a long time.
Of course, no gun or bow will serve a young hunter well if he or she doesn’t spend the time necessary on the range to get to know how it performs. Dylan believes learning to shoot accurately and where to shoot a deer is important because bad shots could wound a big buck that winds up unaccounted for.
“I love to spend time on the range, and can shoot boxes and boxes of bullets each time I’m out,” said Dylan. “The key thing is to work on tight groupings and having patience. You don’t want to get out there in the woods and try to take a shot you shouldn’t take, and if you get a good shot, you don’t want to miss.”
Dylan has recently gotten interested in hunting with a muzzleloader, and he says he’d just as soon kill a deer with it than with a rifle.
“It takes more hunting skill because you have to be closer,” he theorized. “Whereas you could take a 200-yard shot with a rifle, a 100- to 150-yard shot would be about the maximum with a muzzleloader. I’ve been shooting a Thompson Center Encore that I load myself. I haven’t shot a deer with it yet, but I did get a shot on an albino doe in Arkansas a while back with it. I missed, though.”
One of the things Dylan loves most about deer hunting is that he gets to spend time with his dad. The two can often be found scouting for rubs and scrapes. Finding some active deer sign creates a bond between a father and a son that not very many people will ever experience.
“When we get on something good, I know that my dad and I are going to hunt this deer together,” Dylan said. “Just knowing that you found this deer together and that you’ve got a good chance of taking that deer is something special. My mom even gets involved after we get a deer. She always tells us that if we clean them she’ll cook them.”
“And speaking of cleaning,” Riley interjected, “Dylan understands that part of the hunting process is properly caring for and cleaning a deer. Cleaning is part of the process that comes with shooting a deer, and Dylan understands that the hunt isn’t over until you get the meat back. Sometimes I think he enjoys cleaning them more than he likes hunting them.”
Riley also explained that a supportive family is important for fostering a love of hunting in a kid. He says his wife Cindy has been super-supportive with all the time he has taken to teach Dylan.
“Dylan probably spends 80 percent of his time with me and 20 percent of time with his mom once hunting season starts,” he said. “She basically gives him to me in the winter, but she has never complained. And we both stress the safety issue with Dylan. We tell him over and over that there will always be another deer, but there will never be another Dylan.”