Pennsylvania regulations require kids to hunt with an adult until they’re 16. Hanna shot her first whitetail buck, this 8-pointer, with her father, Joe Harris, when she was 12. Joe also took her to a hunting preserve to shoot a red stag at age 9, and she has eight turkeys to her credit as well.
Spending family time outdoors, away from the stress and pressure of daily life, is important to Joe. “My dad took me hunting, and I remember those as some of the best times,” he says. “We went to deer camp, we trapped, fished. We were an outdoors family. To see it passed on to another generation–it feels good.”
Hanna says her father has been a good teacher and hunting partner, talking her through the process when she has a deer in her sights. “He tells me what to do and he keeps me from falling asleep,” she says. “He reminds me to take the safety off and where to line up on the deer, how far I can shoot. He always makes sure I put my safety harness on.”
But this year, her first as an adult hunter under Pennsylvania law, Hanna looked forward to striking out on her own. On November 29, with her siblings and parents all hunting nearby on their family farm near Danville, she climbed into a treestand by herself for the first time. When a 6-pointer walked in with a spike and a doe around 7:00, she tried to set up a shot. “I started to think about everything my dad tells me to do and I got nervous. I guess I was afraid I’d miss. I’ve never missed, even on turkeys, and I didn’t want to have to call my dad and tell him I’d missed a buck.” Her nerves got the best of her and she decided not to shoot the 6. “Which was really lucky,” Hanna says. “Not five minutes later I looked up and saw a doe and this massive buck. But I really had no idea… I was thinking maybe a nice 8-pointer, not 16.”
“He was standing behind a tree, and I could see his rack on both sides of the tree. I knew he was big.”
For two long minutes the buck stood still as a statue, and she thought she’d been busted. Then he took two steps forward. “I lined up on him,” she says, “then waited a few seconds because I wanted to make sure the safety was off and check everything like my dad tells me.”
Hanna says she felt calm. “I kind of got all my nerves out on the first one.”
“My dad tells me that sometimes when I shoot, I get anxious and jerk the trigger. He tells me to pull the trigger nice and slow, so I made sure to do that.” Her 70-yard shot was true.
On the recovery her brother tried to tell her the buck was a little 4-pointer, but she knew better. Her father kept a video camera pointed her way. “He was just watching me and laughing,” Hanna says, “because I just started jumping up and down, which was kind of embarrassing when we watched the video.”
“When I saw him, my heart was still pounding, I was still shaking–crazy. Getting my first buck was exciting, but getting this one on my own was even more exciting, knowing that I did it myself.” “It was also cool,” she admits with a laugh, “that I could show up my cousins, who think they’re really good hunters and bag on me because I’m a girl.”
“Everybody thinks of it as this huge buck, but I think the coolest part is I was out there alone,” she says. “It makes me feel really good. I’m proud of myself, in a way, that I could take everything my dad taught me and I could actually do it by myself.”
You can bet Dad is proud, too. “All these years I’m wondering if she’s paying attention to what I’m telling her, what her mother is telling her,” Joe Harris says. “Then she goes out on her own and does quite well. It’s exciting.”
Harris says he was in shock when he first saw the monster deer, which he recognized from a trail cam photo. “I thought, ‘Holy cow, it’s that big buck.’ I’ve been a taxidermist for 26 years, and I knew it was going to be bigger than anything we’ve ever had in the shop.”
The rack netted 210 3/8 nontypical, 181 typical.
Hanna’s trophy was the buzz in the hallways when she returned to school after the Monday opener. “Everybody already knew about it,” she says. “Most guys were impressed.” At one point she was called to the principal’s office and arrived to find four teachers waiting. “One said, ‘C’mere you.’ I thought I was in trouble. And he says, ‘Do you have a picture of the buck?'”
The owner of Harris Taxidermy Studio in Danville, Pennsylvania, Joe has taught all of his kids to hunt.
Hanna’s sister, Paige, now 13, took her first whitetail at 10.
Brother Joey, now 10, shows off his second spring gobbler, taken when he was 8.
Their mother, Maria, who also enjoys deer and turkey hunting, joins Joe in teaching the kids lessons about safe and ethical hunting.
Hanna Harris celebrated her Sweet 16 not too long ago. On opening day of the Pennsylvania buck season, just two weeks after her birthday, she appropriately tagged this monster 16-point whitetail on her first solo hunt. Steve Hill got the story on this sweet-16 buck, which could rank in the state’s top five as either a typical or nontypical, and on Hanna’s family of hunters.