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Dream season is just a start for young hunter

Frank and Bre Fagan, of Powell, help their daughters, Danika and Shelby, make elk brats from a cow elk that 12-year-old Shelby recently harvested. The family of hunters processes all of their own meat, including from deer and elk Shelby harvested in her first year of hunting. Danika, age 10, hopes to go on her first mentored hunt next season. Frank and Bre Fagan, of Powell, help their daughters, Danika and Shelby, make elk brats from a cow elk that 12-year-old Shelby recently harvested. The family of hunters processes all of their own meat, including from deer and elk Shelby harvested in her first year of hunting. Danika, age 10, hopes to go on her first mentored hunt next season. Tribune photo by Mark Davis

After connecting with her first deer, 12-year-old Shelby Fagan was kidded by some of her classmates, wondering why she would harvest a doe.

The pretty mule deer was taken with one shot near her family’s ranch near Heart Mountain. But the kidding didn’t bother her. She was just getting a start to her first season of hunting. The next goal was to harvest a buck. Shelby and her father, Frank, first headed out on horseback in the Sunlight area. But they couldn’t find the right buck.

They decided they needed more stealth and hiked through the same area. But no luck. Finally, they once again headed to Bureau of Land Management property near their home where she took her first successful shot.

“A few of the guys at school asked her why she would shoot a doe. Then she came back a week and a half later with pictures of her buck and they said, ‘Your dad must have shot that for you. There’s no way you did that,’” Frank said.

The thick-bodied buck was taken with a single shot on a snowy day. Shelby said she felt a little buck fever after seeing the rack, but it was shot selection that ultimately made up her mind.

“He just like stood there broadside so I could shoot him,” Shelby said.

“I tried to talk her into a different one, but she said, ‘Nope, I want that one,’” Frank said.

The buck wasn’t the end of hunting season for Shelby. The following weekend she harvested her first elk — a fat, 350-pound cow with her mom’s 25.06 rifle. The hunt wasn’t as adventurous as their attempts at finding a buck, but again Shelby dropped the elk with one shot. Both Shelby and Danika, 10, have been training with their parents for months by shooting milk jug targets from varying ranges.

Their outdoor experience didn’t end with the hunt. Frank and Bre continued the education by including their daughters in the task of processing all the meat. Both parents also harvested deer and Frank took an elk as well. There was a lot of processing to do. The family took the extended weekend to make brats, snack sticks, summer sausage, steaks, roasts, burger and tender teriyaki jerky.

Like a well-oiled assembly line, the family moved through the projects, nibbling on the finished products along the way while college football played on the television in the living room. Laughter filled the kitchen as they discussed the hunts until the last of the meat was packaged and labeled.

The meat will help feed the family for the coming year, lessening the grocery bill and providing them with the knowledge of exactly from where their meat originated. But the snack sticks won’t last long — the tender meat treats are the family favorites.

Few classmates will doubt Shelby’s hunting credentials in the future. Not only is she a good shot, but she had her hands — complete with polished nails — in the entire process. From field dressing to mixing and grinding for her favorite wild game fare, the preteen has proven to be a reliable armed addition to the hunting family.

“At least one of the boys at school actually congratulated me,” Shelby said. Her classmate hunted his first deer this season, though “mine was bigger,” Shelby said. “His was a 4x4 and mine was a 5x4.”

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