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Senior Correspondent

Stopped by some friends' house the other evening for a holiday glass or two with Debbie and Barnie Day, who live down the road from us, and heard the best deer story I've heard in quite a while. Up here on Belcher Mountain, folks take their deer hunting the same way they take their deer meat: seriously.

This one involves 14-year-old Ryan Shorkey, a young man from Charlotte who can shoot the daylights out of whatever he's aiming at. I took some photos of him and his Belcher Mountain pals on the first day of dove season in September at the Days' place. When the first or second dove flew over, Ryan was up and on it so fast I missed the shot.  Ryan didn't.

I knew from his father, Steven Shorkey, that Ryan was an excellent competition shooter. He has hunted since he was 10. And if you give his father half a chance, he'll let on how proud he is of Ryan: "You may know he is an accomplished shot-gunner. He shoots on a competitive sporting clays team (about 30 kids aged 9 to 18) out of Richburg, SC called the Rocky Creek Clay Dusters. Their home club is Rocky Creek Sporting Clays. He shoots in tournaments all over SC, and this past year, ranged as far as Nashville, TN (Southeast Regional Championship) and Macon, GA (NWTF annual tournament, where he won a new shotgun for being high scorer in the preliminary round). Those last two tournaments are for "all comers", i.e. mostly men, not just for kids."

Ryan lives and breathes hunting. Watches hunting shows. Works on his shooting. Turned down a ticket to a UNC football game to hunt. But even before the season began, he was working for this day, his father says:

"There are not a lot of 14-year old boys (or men for that matter) that will sit in a deer stand from before sun-up till 2PM, peeing in an empty Gatorade bottle when needed, to hunt deer. He is a determined little man.

"Ryan put in the time on this buck. We scouted the area in late August with Alan Black to determine where to put the stands. Then went up the following weekend to do just that. Installed a trail cam and salt licks too (at a point in the season when it was legal). He moved his stand twice in the ensuing weeks to have a better view/shot at whatever might appear."

When I saw Ryan Saturday evening, warming his shins by a roaring fire in the Days' all-purpose living room, he was a little down but still excited from the hunt. Early that morning, in frigid weather hovering somewhere around 29 degrees F, Ryan was in his deer stand over on the yon side of Woolwine. When he got a good look at the deer, it was right below him — and it was an astounding 12-point buck. Now, the only 12-point buck most hunters will ever see up close up will be in a wildlife magazine. 

Ryan shot, but wasn't sure he shot the buck where he meant to. The buck bounded off.  Ryan and his dad went after him an hour later. There were plenty of signs of blood, but Ryan and the hunting party he was with couldn't find him. They searched all day, but that buck was nowhere to be found. It was bitter cold, his dad recalls, "with winds gusting to 30 mph, making the wind chill likely in the high teens. But he didn't say a word, he just put his head down and on he went. He was crawling on his hands and knees to follow the blood trail." 

The next morning Ryan had to be in church in Charlotte, where he is an acolyte. His dad was having a little car trouble, and enlisted some local guys who can fix anything with moving parts to replace a bad alternator on the SUV.

Meantime, Barnie, councilor to many people from many different walks of this life, was thinking about that 12-point buck and the young man who shot it. Be a shame to let that thing go, undetected down there in the bush, he thought. So he got on the horn and organized a search party to go after it — Alan Black, Joel Honse, Darryl Conner's blue healer, Smokey, and Steven, and off they went.

It was rugged terrain, Barnie recalls: "Rough, up and down country. Isolated, with good thickets, ample creeks, heavy mast crop.  Prime big buck habitat."

It was Alan Black, the county attorney who, like many folks up here, can do anything, who found the deer after a few hours search Sunday. It was gut shot, and instead of heading for water downhill, the buck had circled behind and above Ryan, and laid up, Barnie said, in a "terrible thicket." They manhandled it out, rustled it into the back of a pickup truck and took its portrait. 

Steven Shorkey  had this to say: "Lots of guys get 8-points, many fewer get 10-points. Fewer still 12 -points or better. That is the "Rhodes Scholarship" of deer hunting. Hopefully it isn't all downhill from here regarding trophy whitetail bucks for him. I think it will just make him a more discriminating deer hunter from here on out. The vast majority of deer hunters will go their entire lives without even seeing a 12-point, much less get a shot at one, much less kill it."

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