Bentley Lane, 7, of Hartland, and his grandfather, Lewis Elliott, reenact the pose that resulted in Bentley shooting his first deer. The young hunter refused to shoot the small buck at first because he didn't have proper ear protection. When his grandfather put his own fingers in Bentley's ears, Bentley fired and dropped the 133-pounder from 130 yards. Gretchen Lane Credit: Gretchen Lane

HARTLAND, Maine — Seven-year-old Bentley Lane is a conscientious hunter. His grandfather, Lewis Elliott, says he has absorbed all the lessons that have been passed down from generation to generation and is focused on being as safe as possible.

“Before I even let him touch a gun, we went through all the safety issues,” Elliott said. “Like, ‘a gun is always [considered] loaded,’ and ‘the first thing you do is check [a gun when someone hands it to you],’ ‘always point it in a safe direction.’ All the stuff that my father drilled into me long before I took the hunter safety course.”

Keeping those lessons in mind, what transpired on Youth Deer Day shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise to Elliott. But it still makes him chuckle.

Elliott purchased Bentley a lifetime hunting license when the boy was 5, but this was the first year that he thought Bentley was actually ready to hunt. In preparation, the duo did plenty of target practice, and Elliott watched as his grandson regularly shot well at 25 and 50 yards.

“[Then] he said, ‘Gramp, I want to try 100 yards,’” Elliott said. “His very first shot at 100 yards he hit dead center, 1-inch high. That’s what I try to do. I said, ‘Wow. He’s ready.’ And when I realized he was accurate at 100, that opened up all kinds of options. It’s easy to get a deer within 100 yards. It’s very hard to get one within 50.”

On Youth Deer Day, the pair headed to a tower stand overlooking a field and apple trees a couple of young bucks had been visiting on a regular basis.

At around sunset, with a half-hour of legal shooting left, the bucks showed up again.

And Bentley was ready — almost.

“I reached down and I got his rifle and I pointed at the deer,” Elliott said. “He gets the rifle out on the rest, and he’s looking out there. … He gets his eye in the scope, and then he says, ‘Gramp, I can’t shoot.’”

Elliott said he wasn’t quite sure why Bentley felt that way, but he was fine with his grandson’s decision.

“I thought, ‘Well, maybe he’s having a change of heart, and he doesn’t want to kill the deer,’” Elliott said. “That’s OK. Then I asked him why, and he said, ‘I don’t have my earplugs.’”

Bentley is a well-trained hunter, you see.

“We had drilled into him, every time you’re target practicing, you wear the earmuffs that we have at camp,” Elliott said. “I’d wear mine, and he’d wear his. And that day, he didn’t have those.”

Elliott tried to coax his grandson into changing his mind, but Bentley dug in his heels.

“I said, ‘This one time, it’ll be OK,’” Elliott recalled. “He goes, ‘Nope. Not gonna shoot.’”

That’s when Elliott got creative.

“I said, ‘OK, how about this?’ And I stuck my fingers in his ears. He kind of bobbed his head ‘Yes,’ then got back into the scope.”

And a couple of minutes later, Bentley, with his grandfather still serving as “ear protection,” Bentley got his buck, on a 130-yard shot.

“I asked him, ‘Did you feel good about the shot?’ and he said, ‘Oh, yeah. Had it right on his lungs.”

Elliott explained that in the family hunting camp, a picture shows the location of a deer’s vital organs, and Bentley has been taught not only where to shoot on a straight broadside shot, but on shots when the deer is quartering in or away from the hunter.

Later, Elliott learned that Bentley was right: The shot hit both of the deer’s lungs.

After that, the celebration began, as more and more family members showed up to admire the 133-pound buck.

“It was an exciting time,” Elliott said. “The whole family came and had dinner at deer camp. My sister made a beef stew. And we brought [the deer] back like we were conquering heroes. It was a lot of fun.”

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John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. He spent 28 years working for the BDN, including 19 years as the paper's outdoors columnist or outdoors editor. While...