David Kaetterhenry of Stillwater has a deer-hunting story for the ages.
The 16-year-old boy, who has Down Syndrome, is among the young people who harvested their first deer during Minnesota’s firearm deer season.
David has had a passion for hunting, joining his father Kevin Kaetterhenry afield before he was even old enough to legally hunt.
“My wife and I knew of David’s diagnosis before he was born, and as a dad you think about what type of activities your son will not be able to do because of this diagnosis, but David blew me away by easily passing DNR safety training,” Kaetterhenry said. “David reminds me that I have to be careful about expectations I set in my mind, compared to what he’s actually capable of doing.”
On Friday, Nov. 9, David and his father Kevin made their way to North Branch. They stopped at David’s uncle’s home on the way to pick up the gun that David would use, a Remington Model 870 Wingmaster with rifled barrel and Nikon scope. The father-son duo continued on their way, entering their deer stand around 3:15 p.m. ready for the hunt.
Moderate winds graced the balmy 45 degrees. Looking north through the woods was a soybean field about 60 yards away. East of the location was heavy, thick cover where numerous deer had been harvested in previous years by family members. They both used grunt calls a few times during the first hour and rattled antlers once, trying to get something to happen.
“I had been whispering to David to remind him that the later it got, the better our chances of seeing a deer when we started to hear the shots of other hunters in the area,” Kaetterhenry said.
Fifteen minutes later, Kaetterhenry spotted a deer 75 yards north of their position.
“I whispered to David that a deer was coming, but he couldn’t see it as it had entered a creek bottom,” Kaetterhenry said.
At a fast walk, the deer reappeared on their side of the creek, about 40 yards away, when David first saw it. It was a buck.
While David aimed his gun, encouraged to wait until the deer had stopped and provided a good, broadside shot, but the deer did not want to stop. It continued its walk, closing fast.
“I grunted numerous times, trying to get the buck to stop – it did not. As it closed in, now only fifteen yards away, I whispered to David, ‘you’re just going to have to take the shot,’ which he promptly did,” Kaetterhenry said.
David’s shot found its mark and the buck dropped in its tracks. A beautiful, tall fork-horned antler on one side, with the other side broke off at the base, no doubt from a fight with a bigger buck.
It was the first time David had seen a deer while hunting, and the first shot he ever fired at a deer.
“After the shot, I reminded David to make sure the safety of the gun was on and that we would sit in the stand to make sure the deer was down and to allow ourselves to calm down a bit. We hugged, high-fived and laughed,” Kaetterhenry said.
Then the adrenaline rush hit David.
"It was really exciting," David said. "We were shaking our heads off."
David asked his father why he was shaking all over, when Kevin explained "that it was the excitement of what had just happened passing through his body.
"David was shaking pretty hard," Kaetterhenry said. "It was pretty funny."
The excited pair climbed down from the stand as the youth tried to process the reality of taking his first deer.
After pictures, David helped field dress the buck. Back at camp the deer weighed in at 150 pounds. A corn fed young buck that mom, dad, David and two sisters will feast on throughout the year.
The rest of the evening was spent enjoying their deer camp—watching Lord of the Rings, playing pool, eating pizza, drinking root beer, staying up late and reliving the hunt.
“About every 30 minutes that night, David and I would smile, knuckle bump each other and say, ‘I can’t believe you got your first deer,” Kaetterhenry said. “On occasion, David would go out to the shed to see the deer and say, ‘I can’t believe I got my first deer!’
The next morning they registered the deer and quartered it for the freezer, saving the antlers for the “trophy mount” which they deserve.
“In the back of my mind I was prepared that David might never get a deer, but he’s had a way of often proving everyone wrong,” Kaetterhenry said.
But on Nov. 9 everything lined up perfectly.
“I’ve sat outside for hours freezing and not seen anything,” Kaettherhenry said. “We got in our stand at about 3:15 and shot this deer about an hour later. I never thought I’d see a deer coming from that direction. Some of that is providence. David even said when he got out of the stand, ‘thank you God for sending me this deer’ and I’m sure stuff like this happens, but I wasn’t expecting a deer from that direction. I wasn’t expecting a deer with two guys in a stand not being as still as you could be. I wasn’t’ expecting someone shooting with a gun they don’t shoot everyday picking it up, finding a deer in the scope and dropping it right in its tracks.”
It appears there’s little this young man can’t do.