September 22, 2010
At 12 years of age, Alli Armstrong is more seasoned as a hunter than many adults. In just six seasons, she's taken 19 whitetails, 15 turkeys and a trophy bull elk. And if that's not enough to amaze you, this little princess from southern Illinois is a straight-A student!
Alli's goal of taking her best buck ever in 2008 was achieved during the second Illinois firearms season when she downed this outstanding 8-pointer with a muzzleloader.
"Dad picked me up early in the afternoon from school so I could hunt the 'bend of the river,' a sharp hook in the Ohio River bordering our 500-acre farm. My grandfather Ronald Armstrong -- 'Papaw,' as my younger sister Adriana and I call him -- had previously set up a double-buddy stand on the edge of our picked soybean field. My goal for the 2008 firearm season was to harvest my biggest buck ever. Dad and I watched barges go up and down the river and saw a few ducks, but no bucks were to be seen after the first hour.
"The soybean field was surrounded by tall bushes and weeds. It was cold and the wind blew out of the southwest. It was the first day of Illinois' second gun season, and the conditions were almost perfect! From our stand I could see and shoot to about 200 yards.
I had practiced up to 250 yards with my new .50-caliber Thompson/Center Endeavor muzzleloader. To pass the time, I clicked my rangefinder on every spot where a deer might appear, and then I practiced aiming in those directions to make sure things felt right.
"Wind caused waves to lap the riverbank as the sun slowly dropped below the trees, but I felt warm and comfortable in my camo clothing. To increase the odds of seeing a deer, I had been blowing on a grunt call every 20 minutes. Just when Dad and I started to wonder if any deer would appear before legal quitting time, a big-bodied buck with a massive rack stepped out of the weeds. Dad scrambled to get the camera ready and on him. Suddenly lots of things were going through my mind really fast. Luckily I remembered the distance at the spot where the buck appeared. I had ranged it at 150 yards.
"Finding the deer's shoulder in the top circle of my Nikon Omega scope, I started to squeeze the trigger. But the buck must have seen something across the field because he took off running. Dad immediately whistled, and the big 8-pointer stopped perfectly broadside. I squeezed the trigger again. Through white smoke, I heard a loud 'plop' as the bullet hit the deer. When the smoke cleared, it seemed like the buck was hanging in midair. He then ran 50 yards and dropped.
"I almost jumped out of the stand to run and see him! The big 8-pointer with long tines and lots of mass was definitely my best buck ever. I am really thankful that I get to hunt with my Dad and family. Harvesting this buck was truly a blessing."
AN AMAZING YOUNG LADY
This first-person account by Alexandria "Alli" Armstrong is only one of 35 hunts experienced by this 12-year-old over the past six hunting seasons. Her accomplishments include 17 whitetails by muzzleloader and shotgun, two whitetails by bow, 15 turkeys with a shotgun, and one trophy bull elk in New Mexico with a rifle.
Alli's three best bucks average 134 gross inches. All of her deer were taken on the family's southern Illinois farm. Alli has hunted multiple states for turkeys and lacks only an Osceola to score a turkey grand slam. Fourteen of her turkeys were mature long-beards, and two of those were double-bearded, while yet two others were triple-bearded!
At age 6, Alli passed her hunter safety course and has since assisted instructors in helping other kids pass their safety courses. Though I've interviewed and written about many topnotch male and female hunters over the past 25 years, this 90-pound 7th grader is my No. 1 pick for the "Most Grounded" award. Alli is a true inspiration and a breath of fresh air in a whitetail world often filled with envy and inflated egos.
To top things off, Darrick, Alli's dad, a carpenter by trade, has filmed all but one of her hunts. This undoubtedly puts Alli on the top of the heap for most successful outings filmed for a female hunter. Darrick originally started filming Alli for family entertainment and learning value only. Three of those hunts have since aired on Cabela's Memories in the Field television show. Some of Alli's hunts and those of other children will soon be featured on a DVD titled Kids Gone Hunting. All proceeds from this video project will be donated to cancer research through the Kids Hunting for a Cure program.
AN OUTDOOR GIRL THROUGH AND THROUGH
One of Alli's most memorable hunts was the one not captured on video. It had poured rain all night and into the early morning. Father and daughter decided to try their luck turkey hunting after the rain let up. Spotting a big tom across a swollen creek, Darrick surmised that the only way to kill the bird would be to go to him. He left the camera gear on the bank and loaded Alli on his shoulders. Holding Alli with one hand and carrying the unloaded shotgun with the other, the determined dad forded the rushing stream.
Almost across, Darrick slipped on a rock and knew he was going down. As he fell forward, he launched his 7-year-old onto the soft, grassy bank. He kept Alli and the gun dry, but was soaked to the bone himself. Father and daughter had a good laugh before they continued hunting. Unbelievably, Alli downed the longbeard only 20 minutes later.
Instead of hightailing it, Darrick said the bird must have been curious about the "splash" and all the laughing and giggling that had taken place.
Alli first started tagging along with her dad squirrel hunting when she was 5. "From that day forward," said Darrick, "she was hooked!" He remembers her first deer and turkey hunts as if they were yesterday. "In both cases, Alli was as cool as a cucumber and I was shaking like a leaf trying to hold the camera steady. She shot light-load No. 6 shot in a 20-gauge her first turkey season, so we needed to get a bird close. Five big toms came slowly strutting to within 10 yards. Alli was leaning on my back with her gun in position and whispered in my ear, 'Dad, your heart is really beating hard.' I thought it would come out of my chest before she dropped the lead bird."
A FAMILY AFFAIR
Four years ago Alli's mom, Susan, a high school math teacher, decided to give hunting a try for the first time. She had decided that father and daughter were having too much fun without her. Susan completed her turkey grand slam in 2008 and took three deer with a bow that year.
Younger sister Adriana is following in Alli's boot tracks. And Alli was right there cheering Adriana along when the younger sibling tagged her first whitetail and turkey.
Like Alli, Adriana was calm and deliberate during her first hunts. Several outfitters over the years have told me that they would much rather guide women than men. The reason for that, they say, is that women listen, stay focused, rarely get nervous, and are without huge egos.
The Armstrong daughters are living proof that hunting can be enjoyed at an early age.
And yes, the girls were taught by a father who is a skilled die-hard hunter in his own right. Darrick's personal hunting time has greatly ebbed during the past few seasons because he's been coaching and filming his two daughters and wife, but he's not complaining. And you'll seldom hear this proud dad brag about any of his accomplishments. How could he? He's too busy enjoying the outdoor successes of the three women in his life. Darrick's training skills and patience are undoubtedly phenomenal. But I'll bet love has something to do with it, too!
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
The Kids Gone Hunting DVD can be purchased online at www.AlliArmstrong.com or www.HuntTheMidwest.com. Alli has recently accepted the host position of a future television series also titled Kids Gone Hunting. Programming like this is crucial for getting more youngsters involved in the outdoors and hunting.