Kaylee Beals couldn’t possibly recall her first hunting experience.
Her mom, Kathy Beals, said the two have hunted deer many times together over the years, but her daughter’s first experience was when she was still in the womb.
“I started hunting with my (now) ex-husband,” said Kathy Beals. “I hunted with him for a few years and her first time was when I was pregnant with her.”
The mother and daughter began hunting with Kathy’s father, Dean Martin, soon after her marriage ended. He owns about 40 acres, much of it wooded land in Shelby County, where he has found plenty of space for hunting squirrel, rabbit and deer over the years.
The mother-daughter deer hunters enjoyed opening day for firearms Friday. And as they often do, they took Grandpa with them. Kaylee Beals shared a tree stand with her 76-year-old grandfather.
“For many years, it’s really been the three of us,” Kathy Beals said.
Kaylee Beals, 22, and her mother recall a time when Kaylee was 4 and she was convinced she had her “first kill” using a BB gun.
“The first deer that I ever shot at I didn’t kill it, but Grandpa killed it,” said Kaylee Beals. “He told me it was going to get me, so I shot it with a BB gun. I thought I killed it. I was super proud.”
Kaylee said at that age she thought “it was awesome” her Mom and Grandpa would go hunting and she wanted to be a part of that. It wasn’t until seventh grade, after she took the hunters safety course, that she hunted — for real.
“When I was little, I’d pretty much sleep through it all,” said Kaylee Beals. “Grandpa would bring his bow case and I’d sleep in it on the ground below his tree stand. I guess it was fun for me.”
Kathy Beals said once, while sleeping, her daughter was awakened when a doe came close enough to her that she could feel and hear “a snort” from the female deer.
Since about age 12, the younger Beals has gone out nearly every year with a 20-gauge shotgun. She enjoys more being outdoors and making memories with her family. But she’ll admit there are times it is simply too cold to bear.
“Today was really cold. It was so windy,” said Kaylee Beals. “It’s freezing out there. But we are all on Grandpa’s time. So he gets to dictate what time we come in.”
Kaylee said as a child she would “come up with tactics” to get down out of the tree stand earlier than Grandpa might like. Once she’s made a kill, it’s time to head inside, but the rule is to wait until Mom gets a chance at a shot.
“I’m a fair weather hunter,” said Kaylee Beals. “I’ll tell you that. Once we kill out, I don’t want to go back out.”
A few years back the women learned the reason Martin was tolerating the cold weather better than them.
“We found out he was wearing a heated jacket,” said Kathy Beals. “I guess we made him feel guilty. He got us each a heated jacket the next season.”
Martin said having the experience with his only child and only grandchild is “fun.”
Kaylee said her grandfather enjoys sharing the experience with them so much sometimes he won’t even carry a gun. He’ll wait and hunt during archery season.
The family butchers and processes their own deer meat. They gut it, dress it and cut it up themselves. She said they blend in some beef and pork and regrind the meat a second time.
The women hunt from two different tree stands, but Kaylee usually joins her grandfather in his. No shots were fired on the Friday morning hunt, but they did see three deer, which quickly disappeared, Kaylee said.
“For me, this weekend is the weekend I look forward to every year,” said Kaylee Beals. “We take off work (or school) that Friday and this is basically deer camp at Grandpa’s.”
Kathy Beals, who is a certified public accountant, said there was one year she couldn’t take off work on opening day and that was the year her daughter bagged her biggest kill yet — a 10-pointer — in 2017.
“Mom was pretty upset about not being here and not being able to experience that with me,” said Kaylee Beals.
The three have no plans on calling it quits anytime soon.
“We plan to do this as long as we can — and as long as my Dad can — and maybe someday I’ll get to bring my grandkids out,” Kathy Beals said.
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the second firearm season for deer hunting will be Dec. 5-8 in Illinois. Hunters may also use a muzzleloader on Dec. 13-15 for deer hunting.