Brady Hartgrave lives in Manchester, Iowa, and spends almost every weekend on the Clayton County farm where his Grandpa Tim and Grandma Suzie live. He helps with chores…
…and finds time for fun stuff like riding go carts, fishing and shooting.
Williams started Brady out with a BB gun and moved him up to a Savage .17 caliber HMR rifle. He strung a corn can on a string at 35 yards and let Brady practice all he wanted. “He’d sit on the deck and shoot and shoot and shoot; he’d have shells all over the deck and flower garden,” Williams laughs. “His grandma would get after him to clean them up.”
A neighbor gave him an old double-barrel 16 gauge and a bucket full of shells. “We’d go out behind the barn and whack away,” Williams says. Brady remembers an important lesson that calls to mind the focus of those sessions: “The most important thing I learned about shooting is never, ever point the gun at someone,” he says.
When Brady decided he wanted to try deer hunting during Iowa’s mid-September youth season, his grandfather was surprised. “He hadn’t shot the muzzleloader at all, and my first thought was there’s no way I have time during the harvest to take him,” says Williams, who’s retired but works as a hired man for a local farmer. “But I told the man I work for, ‘I’m taking Brady hunting.’ You’ve got to take these kids out.” He set Brady up for some practice shots with his .50-cal CVA Accura: On his first shot the boy drilled a Pepsi can dead center at 40 yards.
On Sept. 18, opening day, Brady answered the 5:30 a.m. wakeup call…
…and set off in the predawn darkness with Grandpa Tim, filled with high hopes.
Williams has constructed several shooting shacks scattered around the 200 acres he hunts in northeast Iowa. He helped build this one, which belongs to his brother, and it was here–23 feet above a CRP field–that Brady spotted his Booner on Sept. 26, nine days into the youth season.
“We hadn’t seen anything the first week, and Sunday morning we were chopping wood when a neighbor stopped by to say he’d seen a monster buck on a nearby hill,” Williams recalls. “Brady immediately said, ‘Let’s go hunt Uncle Brad’s hunting shack.’ I said, ‘Now, Brady, all them shots are gonna be long shots for you.’ But I said OK.”
“That afternoon we got our backpack–he’s gotta have pop and candy bars, all kinds of stuff. Well, he’s 10 years old, and he’s talk, talk, talk, talk. He’s opening the side windows on the blind, opening the back windows. It got to be 6:00, and I told him, ‘It’s going to start getting good soon; you gotta be quiet.'” Five minutes later Williams had spotted a doe and was preparing Brady to take his first shot at a deer.
He helped Brady ready the gun, but meanwhile the doe disappeared in the tall grass. “I told him to keep watching for her, and next thing I know he’s saying there’s a big buck out there,” Williams says. “I’m like, yeah, big buck. Right. I grabbed the binoculars to take a look, and I couldn’t believe it.”
“I told him, ‘Brady, he’s not that big: He’s got a lot of velvet and weeds hanging off his horns.’ I said, ‘I do NOT want you to look at the horns: I want you to concentrate on his shoulder.'” Brady said, “He was tricking me. He kept saying it was a small buck. He didn’t want me to get all shaky.”
The ruse worked: Brady sighted on the buck’s shoulder and calmly listened to his grandpa’s advice. “I was preaching at him, big time,” Williams says. “Like I do every time he shoots.” He made sure the boy could see properly through the scope, and counseled him not to pull the trigger until he gave the go-ahead. Then he cocked the gun for his grandson. “I looked at the deer through the binoculars and asked if he could see him well. He said, ‘Yeah, grandpa, I can see him.’ I said, ‘Do you got his shoulder?’ He said, ‘Yep.’ So I said, ‘Shoot him when you’re ready.'”
“I took three deep breaths and then I wasn’t shaky,” Brady says.
“As soon as he shot, I couldn’t see anything for all the smoke,” Williams says, “but I heard the impact. I knew he’d hit something.” Brady was more certain: “I said, ‘Grandpa, I dropped him right where he was.’ I could see the weeds were moving, and I knew he was down right there. As soon as I saw that, my heart was bounding 100 miles per hour.”
“When we got down there, I peeked through the grass and counted 13 points just on one side,” Williams recalls. “I knew he was big, but I didn’t know he was that big.” “He grabbed me and said, ‘You’ve got a BBD: big buck down,” Brady remembers. “He started hugging me and kissing me, and I’m glad nobody was there because I would have been embarrassed.”
Estimates put the buck at over 200 lbs. field dressed and 6 ½ years old.
A green score of the 21-point nontypical rack totaled 196 1/8 gross, 183 5/8 net.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” Williams says. “He was going to shoot a doe at 50 yards, not a monster buck at 100. Yeah, it was a longer shot than I wanted, but I let him take it because I had confidence in his shooting. He has practiced a lot.”
Williams is well aware that things could have turned out differently. He tells the story of another kid he knows whose first deer hunt did not go well: He took four shots at a deer and made none. “That’s a heartbreaker,” he says. “These little kids need a chance: That’s why I say you gotta teach these kids to shoot. You’ve got to prepare them to succeed.”
“I don’t care if I never shoot another deer, I am just so proud of this little boy, how he did everything right. He spotted the buck, he made the shot–it’s his deer.”
Brady Hartgrave, 10, of Manchester, Iowa was taught to shoot by his grandfather, Tim Williams, who took his grandson on his first deer hunt last month. It was also Brady’s first time out with a muzzleloader after practicing with a .17 caliber rifle and a 16-gauge shotgun. Brady showed his grandpa how much his practice paid off when he downed this big non-typical. Steve Hill investigated and got the story from the young hunter himself.