As we always like to say on Wired To Hunt, we are here for the next generation of hunters and today we have one of the most impressive examples I have ever seen of this new generation. Today’s story recounts the hunting successes of a 10 year old boy up to 2010 and then details his most recent season. But to call him a boy is probably not appropriate, Clay Craft is an absolute man-child of a hunter. He makes me look like a chump! Believe it or not, Clay has harvested 33 deer in his 10 short years, of which a handful have been legitimate Pope & Young giants! I honestly am not sure that there is a more accomplished young hunter in the entire country. So without further adieu, if you’re ready to be impressed, read on for the tales of Clay Craft, hunting prodigy and son of Whitetail Properties Land Specialist Bryhn Craft…Told in Bryhn’s words…
I was going to start this off by saying something like…. “We are just a normal family that likes to hunt and we get lucky every once in a while.” But the more I think about it that would be stretching the truth. In fact, some would say that is just a flat out lie. The truth is, to have a season like the one you are going to read about doesn’t just happen by chance like most people think. It actually takes a lot of hard work and dedication. Let’s start by seeing what has led us up to this past season, that I will refer to as “Clay’s Season.”
Clay’s obsession for deer hunting began at an early age. He started actually going to the stand with me at age 4. We hunted a dozen or so times that season. He watched me shoot several deer from our favorite box stand on a farm we leased back in Mississippi. Well, one day toward the end of the season he decided that it was his turn to shoot one. He told me he had had just about as much watching as a 4 year old could take. So I sat him in my lap as I saw a big doe walking into the food plot. With me holding and aiming the rifle, and Clay pulling the trigger, “Clay’s first deer” was on the ground at age 4. Now, just what it takes for a 4 year old to know how to aim and shoot a gun is a whole other story in its self that I will save for later.
For now, we will continue with “Little Man’s “story, as he is known back home. Clay went on to harvest his first buck that same year without the assistance of his dad. He used his now favorite rifle he has since named “Darla”, after the great Babe Ruth’s Bat. He told me one day as we got out of the truck that every time he pulled the trigger on that gun, a deer fell, kind of like the Babe hitting home runs with his favorite bat. I almost wet my pants laughing so hard that day as I handed him his gun. Well since that first doe at age 4, so much has happened. Clay, now 10 years old, has taken 23 deer with “Darla” as of the end of this season, including several nice bucks by anyone’s standards. Unfortunately I don’t have room here to share pictures of all the bucks in this article. But I can’t help myself completely. His Missouri buck, that he shot at 6 years old, was shown at the top of this post.
We celebrated all day over that one. But what is even more amazing to me than Clay’s hunting success with his rifle is that this “Little Man” has killed more deer with a bow than some of you reading this right now. We let Clay start hunting with a bow from a ground blind at age 5. We had limited results getting the deer within 10 yards of the blind for an ethical shot. Ethical, meaning within the bows limited abilities at lower draw weights to penetrate, not Clay’s ability to shoot. We eventually ended up in a double lock-on set. The two stands were set 18 feet up in a cedar tree, overlooking a tight pinch point where the deer literally had to walk under the tree headed to a food plot. With our safety harnesses on tight, a couple of afternoons sitting in this pinch and one well placed arrow, Clay had harvested his first doe with a bow at age 5. As of the end of this season, Clay’s bow hunting stats are totaled up at 10 whitetails with a bow and two of them great Kansas bucks
So as you see we had a head start on most folks going into Clay’s 7th deer season. So let’s start “Clay’s Season” by explaining where, when and how it all happened. We hunted this season on land that we lease in Eastern Kansas and North West Missouri. Not with guides or outfitters like you might expect. I have had the Kansas lease for two seasons and the Missouri farm I just leased this year. Now Clay may have a leg up on some of you when it comes to his hunting land. Being a Land Specialist / Agent for Whitetail Properties here in North East Kansas I know good land when I see it and I know how to utilize the land to its best potential. I think Clay would tell you he doesn’t mind exploiting me for my knowledge in this area. I looked at several farms for lease in a few different areas and as you know, you can’t kill big deer if they don’t live there. We settled on farms in these 2 spots for their potential to produce some great deer. To even the playing field next season you could ask Clay to recommend someone to help you find some great hunting land. He may actually let me help you, when I’m not out looking for new spots to hang his stands!
To continue reading about the incredible season Clay had in 2010, click the link below. If nothing else, you need to see the two monster bucks he took this fall!
Our season started early this year in KS during the youth Rifle season. Now is probably a good time to tell you that Clay is becoming a little picky about what he shoots in KS and with good reason. He fully understands the stress that comes with being a resident of Kansas and having only one buck tag a year. See, Clay goes with me every chance he gets and helps me put out the Big & J BB2. BB2 is a supplement feed and attractant made by Big & J industries. We use it on all our farms for its ability to keep the bucks in front of our cameras. Clay checks the cameras himself so he will know firsthand what we have walking in front of them. I think he thinks I will keep one of the big boys for myself if he doesn’t go with me. I told you he was a “seasoned hunter”. So this season, knowing what was around the farms and knowing he had a tag in Missouri, Clay set himself a pretty high goal. It had to be a ”Freak Nasty Monster “ for him to let Darla do her thing. Basically he was saying to me if it wasn’t a monster he would rather bow hunt in Kansas than shoot one with his rifle at the beginning of the season. I don’t think he could bear the thought of his Kansas season being over in September. I don’t blame him. He knew what we had on the Missouri farms as well. He knew he could shoot one with a bow and one with a gun in Missouri and that would tide him over while he hunted for a buck in Kansas with his bow. He had this scenario figured out. We hunted the youth season in Kansas without seeing that ”Freak Nasty Monster” he was looking for. We bow hunted several times during the early October season in Kansas without having a shooter come into range of Clay’s bow. Now it’s important to note that Clay reduced his bow standards significantly from “Freak Nasty Monster” to 135 or better. He is realistic after all. One afternoon while I was filming him hunting over a food plot of wheat and rye that we had planted, we had a doe tempt him just a little too long .With one draw of the bow, and him remembering the”GAS” method of shooting I made up just for him, he had put his 9th deer, by bow, in the books. “GAS” is an acronym for Grip, Aim, and Squeeze. It helps him remember the important things to do when the moment of truth arrives. Grip, make sure he is not squeezing the handle of the bow. Aim, aim where he wants the arrow to hit for at least three seconds. Squeeze, slowly put pressure on the trigger until the bow goes off, and don’t punch it. This method has reduced his group sizes significantly.
The very next trip to the woods after his Doe harvest found us high in a two man ladder stand in North West Missouri. We were taking advantage of the Missouri youth rifle season. We got in the stand around 3:30 pm that afternoon and started seeing deer just 10 minutes after we sat down. We were hunting in an area on the farm that I had regular pictures of a nice buck. The buck lived there and I figured he was the dominant buck in that general area. When we got out of the truck, I grabbed my rattling horns, knowing that bucks like this were usually responsive to calling. I knew with all the deer activity we were seeing, if that buck was in our neck of the woods we had a good chance of rattling him up. Just as the sun set I cracked the horns together and within 1 minute, I saw the buck we were looking for going up a ridge about 120 yards from us. No matter how hard Clay tried, he could not get a clear shot on the deer. The buck actually walked up the ridge and looked our direction trying to see where the other bucks should have been. When he didn’t see anything, he turned around and went back the way he came. Clay was upset to say the least. I told him not to worry. I would wait just a minute or two and hit the horns again and for him to get ready and set up the way the deer walked off. I rattled the horns together and again, within seconds, Clay said he could see the buck coming. I gave him the green light. One shot from “Darla” and Clay had taken another Missouri Giant.
Now this is where the story changes slightly. Up to this point in Clays hunting career, everything was for the most part positive. The next two times in the tree would reward us with the ups and downs of bow hunting that all hunters will go through if you hunt long enough. It does however seem to be a little harder on a 10 year old. The very next time in the woods after Clay’s great Missouri hunt would find us sitting in a lock-on 20 feet up in an oak tree in Kansas. This stand is hung on a fence line that runs down the middle of a draw and funnels the deer within 20 yards of our stand. Just as the sun set, Clay said he could hear a deer coming from our right. As he looked through the Nikons he said it was a nice buck. He readied his bow for the shot. Just as the deer stepped out from behind a cedar trees at 25 yards, Clay took a second look and said he thought he would pass this buck. Now this was a 135 inch 8 point 4.5 years old. I was thinking to myself ,“Are You Kidding Me”. But instead I just said, “OK, it’s your tag”. I wanted to tell him a long story of how when I was 10, I would have been happy with a button buck with my bow. Much less, a legitimate Pope and Young. The buck came to 15 yards, then 10 yards and Clay just could not take it anymore. He said he was going to take the shot. He drew his bow as the buck looked the other way. He checked his grip, settled his string on his nose, aimed for at least 5 seconds and started squeezing the trigger of his release. The shot was a thing of beauty! I couldn’t have made better shot placement myself. The celebration in the stand started immediately. We were high fiving, knuckle busting, hugging and I think I even did the cabbage patch. We just knew he had taken his first PY at age 10. We got down and started tracking the deer. We had great blood until we found the arrow. It was broken off about seven inches from the brodhead. The blood trail stopped where we found the arrow and we looked until both our flashlights batteries were dead. I even came back the next day and looked for about 6 hours and found nothing. Clay was disappointed to say the least. I am still not sure exactly what happened on that one, except that it just wasn’t meant to be. The deer did show back up on our cameras about 7 days after he was shot. I even have pictures of him from after the season in January and can’t tell that he was affected by the shot. Deer are resilient creatures.
In case you’re counting, that’s three sits in a row where Clay has shot deer and the last 2 were great bucks. We were determined to keep this track record going. After we were sure the buck Clay shot with his bow was still alive we started making plans and waiting for the weather to get right so we could get back in the stand. As an early November cold front approached, we found ourselves back at our Kansas farm, set up in a pair of Lone-Wolf lock-ons. With our safety belts strapped on to a tree at nearly 20 feet up, overlooking the same food plot where Clay shot his doe earlier in the year, we were ready to keep his streak alive. The first deer in the field was an 8 point we call “Tight Rack.” Clay gave him a free pass without hesitation. He never even went for his bow. This deer was a 3.5 year old 8 point that would gross in the mid 120’s. Unfortunately “Tight Rack” was shot by another hunter that we let hunt the farm this season. The man that shot him was happy with his buck until he found out that a 10 year old boy passed him with a bow at 10 yards. But nevertheless, Clay had his sights set higher than that. At sunset we had four does cross the creek and feed in the plot. As they fed, one of the does threw her head up and started the staring game with us. We both knew what had happened, she caught our wind. Instead of thinking it was over, we made lemonade out of lemons.
I told Clay “watch this” and I took my grunt call out of my jacket pocket. As the doe started stomping and blowing at us, I started with a series of tending grunts. My Idea was with it being early November and the deer nearing rut, it was not unlikely that a buck would burst into a food plot and chase the does around. I blew that call for at least 3 minutes. I did everything you can do on a grunt tube. I grunted, clicked, roared, even threw in a doe bleat or two for good measure. Clay was actually laughing at me. The does did not know what to do. But they did exactly what I needed them to do to. They made a buck think that there was another buck in that food plot chasing does. Every time they stomped or trotted off in the leaves it just added to the realism of my tactic. I got so caught up in watching the does that I did not realize that a buck I knew all too well had crossed the creek and was circling our position. It was”Stickers.” Stickers is a main frame 8 point with matching 4 inch kickers off both of the 12 inch g2’s. He was a solid 150 class buck. I only had 2 pictures of this buck and had never seen him with my own eyes. So now my attention was on watching his reaction to my calls and to what the does were doing. This was an intense few minutes as I called him to within 40 yards. I was so locked on to what “Stickers” was doing, that I was not paying attention to what else was happening. Lucky for us “Little Man” kept his head in all this excitement. Clay said, “There’s a buck Dad.” When I turned my head to respond by saying something like,” I know, haven’t you been paying attention this whole time?”
Then I saw what he saw. Another buck had come to the calling. This was a great 140 class 10 point. Before he could get his bow drawn the deer had walked from 8 Yards to 20 Yards. Before Clay could get the deer to stop the buck was at 26 yards. Clay has a 30 yard pin on his bow now that he is a little older , he draws just a little over 30 lbs. We feel like 25 yards is his bow’s limit. After all, these are big bodied Kansas bucks and we have already discussed what happened last week. I told Clay to take the shot. His shot would have been right on the mark had the deer not dropped and turned. The arrow struck the deer solidly in the hind quarter. Now we knew instantly that the only way this would be a fatal shot is if Clay hit an artery. We decided to slip out and come back the next day and see if we could find the deer. To put things in prospective here, his arrows time of flight at 26 yards would be equal to an adults bow at around 45 yards. That’s plenty of time for a deer to get out of the way completely. But you know what T-Bone says,”Shoot, Maybe. No Shoot, No Maybe.” We came back that next morning only to follow the blood trail less than 100 yards to where the deer bedded down several times. We determined that the shot was not fatal. So a great hunt with an emotional rollercoaster ride left Clay with all sorts of doubts. I encouraged him to be positive, that every bow hunter goes through these things and that it makes us better in the end. The buck he shot showed back up on camera within 5 days after the shot and has been in the area the entire season.
Well, it took few weeks for our schedules to allow Clay and I time to go back and hunt. We found ourselves hurrying at 1:00 PM to get our gear together. Our plan today would be to check a few cameras and see if any of the stands had been producing regular activity. We checked 8 different cameras that day that were set up near stands where the wind would allow us to hunt. We were disappointed in all 8 spots. Well honestly, I was aggravated and Clay could tell it. It was now 4:00 pm. It gets dark around 5:30 and I was ready to just go home and not hunt. I headed toward the highway from the barn. As I pulled up to a crossroad where a right turn would take me home and a left turn would take me to one of my stands, I was torn. I knew we were late, but the best time to kill a deer was still ahead of us. I felt like if we hurried we could be in the stand and set up by 4:45. Clay had already said we could go home without hunting and that he understood. I knew he really wanted to hunt, so I took a left turn. As I sped down the gravel road, I told Clay that we had no time to spare. We were going to have to get out of the truck, throw on just our outer layers, and haul butt to the stand. No backpacks, no cameras, no nothing. We had to run and gun. I figured we could stand the 30 degree temperatures without any warm layers on for 45 minutes. After all we were going to have to almost run to the stand, surely that would build up some heat.
Without a minute to spare we were perched in pair of Lone Wolf Lock-ons hung about 18 feet high. We were looking over a 60 yard wide patch of trees we call the little woods. It actually connects a bedding area from the West to a block of timber to the East with bean fields on the North and South. It is a great spot to catch deer just traveling. We hadn’t been in the stand 5 minutes when I thought I saw a big bodied deer about 80 yards in front of us. I pulled up my binoculars and spotted a doe and a yearling in the thick brush. I did not feel like that was the deer I saw at first. I kept glassing the thick area down the creek from us until I spotted a buck. I knew instantly which buck this was, “The Perfect 10.” This is a deer I watched grace my trail cameras the entire previous season. Last year he was a perfect 10 point in the mid 150’s. This year he had 6 on one side and what looked like 2 main beams with two stickers coming off the front of them. It it was defiantly the same buck from last year. I have no idea what happened to the deer. He had no injuries that I could tell. He was at 80 yards bumping that doe around. I figured that it being post rut and the doe having her yearling with her she was not going to be interested in his courting gestures. I got out my grunt call and told Clay to get ready. I gave a few short grunts to get the buck’s attention. A few tending grunts, and a few clicks at the end must have been just what the doctor ordered. The Perfect 10 was on a string coming straight to the base of our tree.
Clay readied his bow and as the buck came within 15 yards, I stopped the buck for Clay to take the shot. What I didn’t know was that Clay had a limb in the way. I was about to freak out. I could not believe this was happening. We had been in the tree 5 minutes, called a huge buck to within 13 yards and now he couldn’t shoot. He adjusted himself in the stand and made the shot just like he had done it a thousand times. I am pretty sure I personally would have rushed that shot. The arrow found its mark. We watched the buck run just out of site and heard him go down. Man, the celebration began up in those stands. Crying tears of joy, giving high fives, Knuckle busting, and yea I even did the cabbage patch again. We got down and picked up the blood trail right where he shot.
We followed it maybe 80 yards until we saw a rack sticking up from the brush. Clay ran over to the deer and lifted up the rack. He then ran back and jumped on me, knocking me to the ground. After a bunch of I love you Daddy and a bunch of I love you too son, we both just sat there with tear filled eyes admiring Clay’s trophy and enjoying the moment. His tears I think were tears of joy. Mine were tears of knowing that I would not get many more moments like this with him. Just in case you are keeping score. That is 5 back to back sits in the tree stand where Clay had an opportunity to harvest deer. What an amazing season for a 10 year old boy. It was definitely “Clay’s Season.”