On September 17, the first day of Iowa’s youth season for whitetail deer, Emma set out with her uncle BJ for the same treestand where she took two other bucks in years past. When they arrived at the stand, BJ Foreman felt his heart sink. “The farmer had pushed up a big pile of brush behind the treestand and burned it,” BJ says. “It was still smoldering. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, great, here we go. We won’t see anything.'” BJ had agreed to take Emma hunting because her father, Gerrit Foreman, had just started a 48-hour shift at the Clive Fire Department, where he is an EMT and firefighter. “She really wanted to go, so we climbed into the stand,” BJ says. “We’re sitting there with this smokestack billowing behind us, and all of a sudden something jumps on my shoulder.”
Shortly after, Gerrit Foreman got his first text message of the night from his brother, and there was a photo attached. “There was a big buck in there we had patterned pretty good on trail cam, and when I saw the photo message I thought, ‘Son of a gun, they got him!'” Gerrit says. “But no, it was a picture of Emma in the treestand with a kitten in her lap, and the text message said, ‘Emma wants to know if she can take this home with her.'” Says BJ of his feline attacker, “I’ve hunted all my life and had squirrels run across my feet, but I’ve never had anything come up from behind and jump on me. I just about jumped out of the treestand. Now I’m thinking, ‘What next? We’ve got a cat in the tree and a smokestack behind us. Nothing is coming out tonight.'”
But as Emma passed the time playing games on her uncle’s phone, eating Jolly Ranchers and petting the purring kitten, three does passed the stand. Emma told BJ she was holding out for a buck–a bigger buck than she’d shot before. Before long, the kitten got restless. “The cat’s climbing all over us, I’m wrestling with him and I look up and see two bucks coming down the creek and one of them is real nice,” BJ recalls. “I grabbed the cat, gave Emma the muzzleloader and she got shouldered up.”
The buck popped out of the timber 80 yards across an alfalfa field and headed straight for them. “I was saying, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this,'” Emma recalls, “but in my head I was thinking, ‘You can do this, just calm down. You blew up a milk jug at 50 yards, you can do this.'” BJ (left) was trying to talk her through it. “I told her to keep inching the gun over to keep him in the scope. He stopped at 50 yards and stared straight at us, and I thought, ‘Uh-oh, he knows something is up.’ I asked if she was on him, and she said she was. So I told her to get him.” When Emma was 8, Gerrit tested her readiness for her first deer season by setting up milk jugs at 50 yards and letting her shoot 50 grains of powder. She centered every jug. Now, as she settled the buck’s shoulder in her crosshairs, she concentrated on squeezing the trigger smoothly. “With only 50 grains of powder, you can pretty much see the bullet,” BJ says. “I saw it hit him and it looked pretty good to me. She wanted to climb down right away, but I told her we better give him a minute. What I really wanted to say was, “I can’t feel my legs right now, so you’re going to have to give me a minute because I don’t think I can climb down.’ I was really excited for her.”
Around 6:45 Gerrit heard from BJ a second time. “He said Emma just got a buck, and I think it’s 150-class,” Gerrit says. “I was ecstatic. I couldn’t sit still. Fifteen or 20 minutes later, I got another call and a picture message. BJ said they’d found the deer, and it was bigger than 150, probably 180. I was beside myself. The picture was kind of dark, so I told him to send more. Just then our tones went off for a medical call. I was driving the fire truck that night, so I couldn’t get any more pictures. That was killing me.”
Later that night, Gerrit got a look at some better photos and was floored. “I was showing everyone at the firehouse and we tried to guess the score. 180. 185. One guy said 178. Then I got another message that said the gross score was 202 7/8. Then another message said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re checking BJ’s math.’ I said, OK, there’s the problem–BJ is doing the math.” “But then they sent me some measurements,” Gerrit says. “Left main beam 28 inches, right main beam 30; left G2 13 inches, right G2 13 ½. I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s huge!’ Then they texted saying the score was 202 7/8 nontypical.” An official scorer for Buckmasters later gave the 15-point rack a gross green score of 201 5/8 and a net score of 180 4/8. The Foreman’s plan to have the buck officially scored after the 60-day drying period.
The next night a friend brought the cape to the fire station. “I about fell down,” Gerrit says. “I couldn’t believe it. We knew there were some good deer there, and we’d been following one for three years on trail cameras. But we didn’t have a single photo of this buck.”
Emma has enjoyed recounting the hunt to her schoolmates–especially the boys, who once told her that girls can’t hunt deer. “All of my friends were excited to see the pictures, and one of the boys said, ‘Emma, that buck is so big you could fit inside.’ And it’s true: I’m 4-foot-8.” “I know in my heart that she was just in the right place at the right time,” Gerrit says. “But I also know she’s put forth the effort. She goes scouting with me, checks trail cams and helps me put up stands. She knows where the deer are going to be and when, and I let her decide which stand to hunt.” “The fact that she had first crack at it played a role. I think it’s the greatest thing in the world that Iowa lets kids have that first crack. It’s safer, and they see better deer that way.”
Credit goes to Gerrit and BJ, who’ve clearly put mentoring kids before their own success in the field. Gerrit started taking Emma along on his bow hunts when she was three. “I strapped the safety harness down as tight as I could and she sat right there in the treestand with me–and kicked her feet the whole time. My wife said, ‘Doesn’t she mess it up?’ Sure, but the nights she and her sister went hunting with me I didn’t expect to get anything. I love that time with them, and they want to be there–which you don’t see much with kids these days.” On one turkey hunt with Emma and her sister, Gerrit was so busy packing Barbie dolls and folding chairs and other comforts that when he got to the blind he realized he’d left his gun in the truck. “So we just sat in the blind and said, ‘What’s that?’ and “Looky there.’ They were up and down, up and down, looking and talking. That was one of their first experiences with hunting.”
Emma shot her first buck at 8, on the last day of the Iowa youth season. She spotted a doe, and Gerrit was getting her ready to shoot it when she spotted a buck behind it. Emma dropped the little fork horn with a well-placed shot at 30 yards. “I was so happy for her I almost couldn’t stand up,” her father says. “I couldn’t find my knife, couldn’t remember how to gut a deer. She looked at me like I was crazy.”
“She asked where she hit it, and I showed her, explained here is the heart, here are the lungs. She says, ‘Daddy, how old were you when you shot your first deer?’ 19. ‘Was it a buck?’ No, a doe. ‘Did you hit it in the heart and lungs?’ So now it’s a contest.” At the time, Gerrit gave his daughter some advice. “I told Emma that if you’re going to shoot bucks, you need to better yourself each year. Next year, you can’t shoot another fork horn. You need to shoot something bigger.”
The next year, at 9, Emma took a nice Iowa 8-pointer from the same stand. “I was watching the alfalfa field because that’s where they always come from, but Emma kept looking behind us. And sure enough she proved me wrong. She said, ‘Daddy, there’s a deer back here.'”
They had to swap sides in the stand so Emma could get a bead on the buck. In all the commotion the deer started walking away from them. Gerrit was able to stop it with a doe bleat, and when the buck turned to look their way, Emma was ready.
“I asked, ‘Are you on him?’ She said ‘Yep, I’m on him’–and next thing I hear is a shot. She didn’t wait for me to give the go-ahead; she knew what she was doing.” She dropped the buck in its tracks at 75 yards.
Emma is leading the way for the other Foreman kids. Her 9-year-old sister, Hannah, has set her sights on a big buck that showed up on her dad’s trail cam this year, while Evan, 6, eagerly hunts squirrels and helps an uncle tend trap lines as he waits for his introduction to deer hunting in a couple of years.
Emma is also an avid angler. “I tell her she’s a catcherman, not a fisherman, because if nothing is biting she wants to move on,” says Gerrit. These channel catfish were the fruits of an epic day on Iowa’s Middle River.
“I got my line out first, and before Dad could cast I had one reeled in,” Emma recalls. “He handed me his pole while he got my fish off, and I caught another. It just went on like that.”
“Fishing is probably my favorite thing to do, but deer hunting is right up against it,” she says. “I love sitting in the stand and shooting the gun. And I really like deer meat.”
Emma says her buck is bigger than anything the men in her family have shot, which makes her feel “really, really good.” And it will be the first head in the house. “I’ve got a couple of deer mounts, but I’m not allowed to have them at home,” Gerrit explains. “My wife is not a hunter. When we married, she said, ‘I’ll take your last name on one condition: We don’t mount any dead things in the house. If you bring home something dead and put it on the wall, I’m going to throw a black towel over it, mourn it for seven days and bury it in the back yard.'” “So when Mama told me, ‘We’ve got to find a place to mount this one, I knew it was something special.” And that advice about shooting a bigger buck every year? Emma says she’s not worried about next season. “This one would be really hard to top. My dad says I can just start over–this time with a bow.”
The biggest hunt of young Emma Foreman’s life started off on a less-than-promising note, with several bad omens that would have sent many hunters home. But Emma persevered–and was rewarded with a 200-class Iowa bruiser. Read on to find out how the 11-year-old girl from Truro, Iowa, has already downed the buck of a lifetime.