At some point as the 2022 Illinois Youth Deer Hunt clock ticked toward expiration, Raelyn Owens turned to her hunting partner – who also happens to be her dad – and repeated a line every hunter has muttered once or twice after making a questionable choice.
“I regret my life decisions,” the Lebanon girl remembers saying, with more than an ounce of regret, after passing on shooting a doe during her previous hunt.
Because she is only 13, Owens can be forgiven for not recognizing a fact more-experienced hunters have learned.
Things sometimes work out.
On Oct. 10, the final day of the Youth Hunt, Owens and her dad, Paul, were sitting in a stand in St. Clair County when fate turned her way. It was windy and Raelyn’s side of the tree faced a cornfield that was adjacent to the woods.
The young hunter had grown inpatient, but her hunting partner kept her focused.
“My dad has good ears and he kept telling me to sit quiet and sit still,” Raelyn said with a laugh. “And it happened. Suddenly, I saw something move. It was a deer’s tail. My breathing stopped. Then I saw antlers.”
Raelyn reached over and gently – or not so gently – punched her dad to communicate what had quickly become an intense situation. The buck would eventually become an obvious target at 35 yards.
That’s when a funny thing happened.
Raelyn, who often shoots competitively and had harvested three deer in the previous two seasons, has a challenge when it comes to aiming her shotgun. Eye dominance obstacles are actually not completely uncommon for hunters.
“Many times I can’t close my left eye when I’m aiming,” Raelyn explained. “I have a patch I wear when I shoot that helps cover my left eye, but I couldn’t get to my patch. So I kind of pulled down my blaze orange stocking cap to cover my left eye.”
The move worked and Raelyn fired and hit the deer, which managed to head into the woods – but not before a second shot by Raelyn took him down for good.
An ‘outdoorsy’ youngster
At a time when it appears youth in the state and around the country are avoiding hunting and fishing, Raelyn’s story is certainly encouraging.
An eighth-grader at St. Clare School in O’Fallon, Raelyn said she first took interest in hunting at about age 6. She credits her dad, her grandfather, Ed Owens, and all her uncles and cousins for getting her involved.
“I was born and raised around hunting and fishing, and it’s been a big part of my life,” Raelyn said. “My grandpa and family members have gone to deer camp for many years, and it’s always something I look forward to each year.”
She took up turkey hunting in 2021, missing a turkey she shot at – “it’s not easy at all” – during the spring season.
Fishing also is a passion and she has already set a hefty goal for herself once she enters high school.
“I want to be the first female on the O’Fallon High bass fishing team,” she said.
Meanwhile, she will continue her hunting prowess. As mentioned, the 8-point, 190-pound buck Raelyn took during this year’s Youth Hunt was the fourth deer she has taken since she started deer hunting at age 11. In 2020, she harvested a button buck. Last year, she killed one buck in Jackson County and another in St Clair County.