Young hunter tags record blacktail buck
By Craig Reed
“Mom, I got a horse with horns.” In a voice filled with excitement, those were the first words Skyler Firestone said to his mother, Precious, in a phone call after shooting and tagging his first blacktail buck.
The animal wasn’t quite the size of a horse, but it turned out to be an Oregon state youth record for Western Oregon 3-point blacktail bucks taken with a rifle. The rack might look like a 4 by 4, but is officially scored as a 3 by 4 because the far point on the left-hand side is abnormal. “To hear his excitement was pretty cool,” Precious says.
Skyler had the buck’s antlers measured at the outdoor and sportsman’s recreation show in Roseburg earlier this year. The official Boone & Crockett score of 1294/8 easily topped the previous record of 1213/8. In the overall adult class, Skyler’s buck is ranked sixth.
“That’s probably a buck of a lifetime, a beautiful buck,” says David Morris, author of “Record Book for Oregon’s Big Game Animals.”
Skyler tagged the buck in the fall of 2020, but because of COVID-19 restrictions, there was no outdoor show in 2021 in Roseburg. He waited until this year to have the rack scored.
On the morning of the eventful hunt, Eric Firestone’s plan was to make a short 15-minute loop walk with his son, Skyler, in the Waggoner Creek drainage of the Coast Range a few miles from Elkton and then have his two sons at school in Elkton on time.
Skyler was 11, so he was hunting on his father’s tag through a mentorship program.
While son Landon, 8, stayed with the parked rig, Eric and Skyler began their walk on an overgrown logging road at daybreak. Eric was carrying the rifle— as required by the mentorship program— and Skyler was carrying shooting sticks to steady the rifle.
A small buck bounded across the road in front of the hunters. Eric used a bleat call in hopes of stopping it, but the call instead enticed a big buck to step out of the trees and into a small opening, standing still and broadside.
Eric handed the rifle to his son.
“I was nervous at first because I’d never shot one before,” Skyler says. “Dad told me to shoot it. He had binoculars on it and told me it was the biggest blacktail buck he’d ever seen.”
With that information adding to the pressure, Skyler pulled back from looking through his rifle’s scope.
“I had to refocus,” he says.
The buck remained still, giving Skyler the few seconds he needed to take aim on the animal’s front shoulder and pull the trigger. The buck dropped in its tracks.
“He was pretty excited,” Eric says. “I was excited, too. We high-fived and hugged each other. We knew it was a really big deer. He was excited and wanted to call mom.”
After the excitement eased a bit and photos were taken, Eric and Skyler worked together to drag the buck to their pickup. They got it loaded in the back, then drove to Grandpa Tim Shepherd’s house and barn, where the three worked to gut and skin the animal.
Eric had his two sons to school at 9 a.m. in Elkton.
Skyler told his friends at school about his successful morning hunt.
“They thought that was really cool,” he says.
The buck’s cape, head and rack were taken to Patterson’s Taxidermy in Roseburg for mounting. Dave Patterson told the family the buck would make the Oregon record book.
“That was neat to hear,” Precious says.
There was a long wait to get the rack scored. Finally, at the 2022 outdoors show, the rack on the finished mount was scored and put on display during the three-day event.
The buck and its score will be listed in the 2023 edition of “Record Book for Oregon’s Big Game Animals.”
“That big buck fed us through the winter,” Eric says. “And Skyler still gives me a really hard time because the 4-point I took (in a past year) fits inside his antlers.”
Precious is happy to have the meat, although she doesn’t like to kill animals herself.
“But I love that our kids are involved in hunting,” she says.
Anytime big game is tagged, the family works together to cut and wrap the meat at its Kellogg-area home.
Skyler, now 13, is looking forward to another blacktail hunting season and to his first season of hunting bull elk in the Tioga Unit of the Coast Range.
Landon, 10, also will be hunting for a buck through the mentorship program.
“Skyler has set the bar really high for Landon, who wants to get a big one like his brother,” Eric says.
When the Western Oregon blacktail season opens October 1, the Firestone family will venture out into the woods in search of a buck.
“I enjoy the walks, seeing the different animals and getting to shoot,” Skyler says.
When not in the woods, Skyler is a member of the Elkton Wranglers 4-H Club and raises lambs; he maintains two beehives; competes in football and track and field; and is a member of the Elkton Bible Baptist Youth Group.