MIDDLEBURY — On the first day of the recent Youth Hunting Weekend, 11-year-old Winston Forbes and his father were in the tree stand behind their Middlebury house.
“We sat there all day,” Winston said. “It was getting late.”
Finally, around 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 3, their patience paid off.
“It came walking out,” Winston recounted. “I shot it twice and then we gutted it out. The next day, we reported it.”
“It” was a 97-pound doe — Winston’s first deer, though the seasoned young hunter already has several squirrels to his credit.
“It was cool. It was really exciting,” he said.
On the same day, Winston’s cousin Cameron Forbes, 15, bagged a 120-pound doe — his second deer ever. At this point, their cousin Wyatt Forbes, 15, knew that “the pressure was on.”
“I kind of figured I had to get one,” said Wyatt, who starting hunting squirrels when he was five years old, turkeys when he was nine, and deer when he was 10. He has brought down four deer in previous seasons, the largest of which was a 140-pound doe.
This year, he also got his first bear.
“I went for a walk by myself, up on a ledge. I heard corn cobs breaking, and then it came running out of the corn,” Wyatt recalled.
He fired a shot at it, and the bear took off. Wyatt called his father.
“My dad didn’t believe me!” he said. But it didn’t take long to convince him. The two tracked the bear up the ledge by the trail of blood.
“We called it a good bear, because it ran toward the house,” Wyatt said.
But on the last day of Youth Hunting Weekend this year, Wyatt still didn’t have a deer.
“I made a last minute push,” he said, of spending the day outside.
And his dedication was rewarded near the end of the day: “One ran right at me. Just 20 minutes after I talked to Winston.”
It was a 108-pound doe — not his biggest, but not too shabby, either.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department offers special youth-only hunting seasons for spring turkey and waterfowl, as well as for deer.
The Nov. 3-4 Youth Hunting Weekend was open to anyone who was 15 years old or younger and who had successfully completed a hunter education course. Hunters needed to have a valid hunting license and be accompanied by an unarmed adult who holds a valid Vermont hunting license and is over 18 years of age. Youth were allowed to harvest one deer of either sex with no antler requirement.
Young hunters were also required to get the landowner’s permission even if the land was not posted.
The goals of the weekend are to produce confident, avid young hunters while giving them hands-on experience with hunting rifles, reinforcing the principles of hunting safety, improving the youth’s understanding and interest in hunting and wildlife conservation, and emphasizing the involvement of family and friends.
For the three Forbes cousins, hunting is a favorite pastime as well as a family tradition. All three Middlebury residents learned tracking and shooting from their fathers and other family members at a young age, said Winston’s mother, Tammy Forbes.
“All three are very good at hunting,” Tammy said.
“I like hunting because it kind of runs in the family,” said Cameron, who also offered that he just likes to be out in the woods.
For Wyatt, who said he often takes time after school to be in the woods and hunt by himself, the beauty of it is “just something that comes to you, that’s natural. Being in the woods is peaceful.”
Winston, who hunts and fishes with his dad, expressed a similar sentiment.
“I love hunting,” Winston said. “I like sitting (in nature) sometimes. It’s very quiet and peaceful. And fishing, it’s also quiet and peaceful.”