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A Hunter Comes of Age by Scott Young

Most ten-year-old girls would be interested in school, the latest fashions and socializing with friends. My ten-year-old daughter, Caitlin, was more interested in dogs, shooting and hunting. It all started in late January of 2003 when Caitlin came to me and asked if she could enter the next Pheasants Forever Fun Trial (tournament hunt). My initial reaction was one of surprise! Although, Caitlin had grown up in a family where hunting, shooting and dog training are the family business, she had never expressed an interest in shooting or hunting.
Caitlin and Lexi
Caitlin and Lexi after first
tournament hunt win

Over the years, Caitlin had tagged along when we competed with our springers and cockers in tournament hunts throughout the Midwest, but never did she seem to be interested. She would frequently walk with our hunting groups. She enjoyed watching the dogs and talking with our guests, but she never let on that one day she would take up the sports that were so much a part of our everyday life. Looking back, it should not have been that much of a surprise. I mean, when everyday revolves around shooting, hunting and dogs, how could that not rub off on a young person - boy or girl?

When Caitlin asked about entering the fun trial, I simply said what most parents would say, "I will think about it." Over the next few weeks, I saw my little girl head out on our sporting clays course with her cousinsí 20 gauge semi-auto cradled in her arms and a box of shells in a make-shift hunting vest. She would stop at a station and attempt a couple of targets, without much success, and then move on. At first I didnít pay much attention, but as the days went by, I noticed that she was spending more and more time shooting targets. Much to my surprise she was not only shooting at the targets she was hitting some. After a few weeks she was hitting more targets than she missed, and that caught the attention of several of our regular shooters. Pretty soon, shooters were asking her to join their group for a round of sporting and when they came back in, they would tell stories about how many targets she had broke. She had jumped head long into this shooting game and with no teaching at all; she was becoming a first rate shot. Even the toughest targets were no match for my little girl.

"At the tender age of eleven, Caitlin became the youngest competitor ever to compete at the NUCS Nationals and was the only female to compete that year."

With a week to go before the fun trial, she asked me again if she could enter the event. Having watched her blossom into a very good shot in only a few weeks, I thought she might have a good time and I was thrilled that she was interested. I told her that hunting live birds was quite different than shooting at harmless clay targets and that the competition would be quite keen. That did nothing to quell her enthusiasm and she continued to hone her shooting skills over the next few days.

The day before the event she announced that she had selected the dog she would run in the trial. She had selected a two-year-old English springer named "Storm". The name says it all. Storm was the fastest springer in our kennel, with a great nose and dead on retrieving. He was like "lightning in a bottle". After a moment to digest her choice, I suggested that she should take another springer, "Lexi". Lexi was the oldest dog in the kennel. She was a steady and thorough hunter, having competed in numerous trials and three national championships. I explained that Lexi probably would not make any mistakes, she would find any bird in the field and she would be easier to hunt behind. That sounded good to Caitlin and she set about making final preparations for the next daysí competition.
Caitlin with her 22-lb eastern turkey

The day of the event came and with 17 dogs entered. Caitlin drew the first run of the morning. Now, for most kids, just entering an event like this and competing against adults would be extremely nerve racking, but, not for Caitlin. She gathered her gear, leashed up Lexi and waited for the field to be planted. When the scorekeeper came to take her to the field, she calmly walked to the start line just staring down the field. If she had turned around she would have noticed that most of the competitors and a throng of spectators were there to watch this young girl take to the field.

She loaded her gun, unleashed Lexi and she was off. Only 37 seconds in to her run, Lexi wheeled around, caught wind of the chukar and made a bee-line to its hiding spot. With one quick motion, the bird was airborne. She shouldered her gun, centered the bird and as the gun barked the bird disappeared in a cloud of feathers. Lexi marked the bird and made a hasty retrieve. When the first bird was in the bag, the crowd that had been watching could no longer hold their excitement, a thunderous roar went up! It was at this time that I knew a hunter was born and Caitlin finally broke out in a big smile. The rest of the run went just like the first few seconds, Lexi did her job of finding the birds and Caitlin dispatched each one with a single shot. After all of the runs had been completed, not a single hunter could match her score and she proudly accepted the first place trophy.

Over the coming months, Caitlin took a more active role in training and running dogs in competition. She continued to experience success and by yearsí end she had qualified four young dogs for the National Upland Classic Series, Amateur National Championships. At the tender age of eleven, Caitlin became the youngest competitor ever to compete at the NUCS Nationals and was the only female to compete that year. With high hopes, a great line-up of young dogs we set off for Nationals.

Having qualified some of the best amateur dogs in the nation for the national finals, hopes were high for a good finish. With two days of competition ahead of her, Caitlin tried to focus on the task at hand - which was winning a national championship. With each run, the pressure mounted. When you are competing against hunters that are much older and more experienced, it is hard to think that you can win.
Caitlin after placing 2nd at National Upland
Classic National Amateur Championships

After the first day of competition, Caitlin found herself in first place with a young English springer named Aspen. Aspen was a pleasant surprise on the first day. He found his birds with ease, Caitlin made excellent shots and luck was on their side when Aspen made a difficult long retrieve to finish off the run. In addition to Aspen, Caitlin had managed to position three other dogs in the top seven places at the end of day one.

Day two started with Caitlin and her English cocker, Wiley, in the field with the first run of the day. Conditions were near perfect. Caitlin was well rested, but very nervous, and Wiley was on the verge of out of control. When the run started, Wiley bolted from the start line like a drag racer. My first thought was that Caitlin had made a mistake by letting him go so quickly. My fears were laid to rest when I saw Caitlin handling Wiley like he was a high performance sports car. Wiley found each bird with exacting perfection and Caitlin matched his perfection, shot for shot. As quickly as the run started, it was all over. Caitlin and Wiley had scored the highest score in the competition. A score that would stand as the best for the national finals. At the beginning of day two, Caitlin and Wiley had started in 5th place. With his great run to start the day, they had scratched their way to the runner-up spot. When all runs were completed and the dust had settled, Caitlin and her band of young spaniels had claimed places 2nd through 5th overall in the Amateur Flushing division. Quite a feat for a young girl in her first year of shooting, hunting and competing in tournament hunts.

Today, Caitlin is a regular on the tournament hunting circuit. She hunts often with friends and family. She has made her first big hunting trip to hunt waterfowl and upland birds in Saskatchewan, Canada. Her shooting has improved tremendously, she is learning the intricacies of hunting and she is training some of the best spaniels in the country. Best of all I gained a hunting partner, someone who enjoys the outdoors and a person who is a great ambassador for the sport she loves.

Scott Young is the owner of Woodhaven Kennels and LaSada Hunting Service. Since 1986 he's been a certified hunting guide for upland birds and an all-breed gundog trainer since 1991, but specializing in English springer and cocker spaniels. Scott competes in tournament hunts and hunt tests. His accomplishments including training and handling runner-ups in the last two National Upland Classic Series Amateur National as well as qualifying a record fourteen dogs for the 2006 National Upland Classic Series National Championships. Scott can be reached at

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Spaniel Journal - your source for flushing spaniel training, hunt test, field trial & hunting information