Laurelai Winslow, 10, loves being in the woods around her Damariscotta home – and deer hunting. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

DAMARISCOTTA — Before the start of the spring hunting season, Laurelai Winslow had a heartfelt talk with her dad. After years of Tim Winslow following his daughter on many of her successful hunts, she wanted to hunt alongside him, just as all hunting buddies do.

Tim Winslow shook his head and smiled when asked how he felt about his daughter’s earnest request, like a man at a loss for words. Laurelai Winslow, you see, is 10.

Laurelai already has built a hunting resume that would take many a lifetime to achieve. Since she started hunting at age 6, Laurelai has shot five white-tailed deer, two black bears, a caribou in Alaska, and nearly a dozen wild turkeys.

The Winslows plan to be in the woods Saturday on opening day of Maine’s annual firearm season for white-tailed deer, which this year includes a record of 110,000 any-deer permit holders. Maine residents begin the hunt on Saturday; non-residents can start on Monday. The firearm season runs through Nov. 28, and is followed by the muzzleloader season, which ends Dec. 5.

Laurelai has two bonus deer tags, which means she could harvest up to three deer this fall. Don’t bet against her: Two years ago, at age 8, she shot two deer using a bonus tag – all in one day.

Any hunter in Maine can harvest a buck with a general hunting license. But with a bonus tag from the deer-permit lottery which are mostly allotted along the coast, where state biologists want to thin the deer herd a hunter can also harvest an additional deer for every bonus tag they win, although the bonus deer must be antlerless (such as a doe or a buck without antlers).

Laurelai remembers that hunt in 2018 vividly, how she was “drawing on my pad, doodling,” in the hunting blind just after 6 a.m. when she looked up and saw “a big, big buck, with glowing antlers from the sun.” She waited five minutes, until the 8-pointer turned broadside to make certain she had an ethical shot that would lead to a quick kill. Laurelai took that shot from 70 yards, without any instruction from her dad, and dropped the 185-pound buck.

Later that day when she stood in a family friend’s field in Warren, she saw a smaller “button buck” (an antlerless buck) and from 150 yards, Laurelai dropped the second deer without hesitation.

Laurelai Winslow, 10, peeks out of a hunting blind in the woods behind her home in Damariscotta. Young hunters in Maine can start at any age, as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid hunting license. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“On a hunt, she decides when to shoot,” said Tim Winslow, a Registered Maine Guide and carpenter. “And she decides when not to shoot. When she tells me she can make the shot, I know she can.”

Youth hunters in Maine can start at any age, as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid hunting license. Laurelai first harvested a white-tailed deer at age 6 a 120-pound doe she shot from 70 yards.

“It was the biggest and prettiest thing in the world. I was so tiny I had never seen a deer that big up close,” said Laurelai, who hunted with her mother, Ali, that day. “(Dad) told me if the legs buck up, then you know you definitely hit it in the right place. I kept asking Mom after I shot, ‘Did I hit it? Did I hit it?’ And she kept saying, “Yup, you did.'”

Debbie Bocko, the Winslows former neighbor in Washington, met Laurelai four years ago when she asked Tim Winslow to teach her how to hunt. Laurelai ended up becoming a second mentor.

“I thought if this little 6-year-old can do it, I might be 64, but I can do it, too,” said Bocko, a homesteader who raises livestock on her 80-acre farm. “I’m part Native American and all about self-sufficiency and sustainability. She understands the hunt from beginning to end. It’s not about killing something. It’s about going out and harvesting an animal and providing food. She can field dress an animal better than I can.”

It’s worth noting, Laurelai is the niece of the owner of the historic Libby Camps in the North Maine Woods, which date to 1880. But even Matt Libby, a Registered Maine Guide and float-plane pilot, thinks his niece’s passion for hunting goes beyond her years.

“She is a rare breed, for sure,” Libby said. “My kids have already talked with her and apparently Kayla, my 12-year-old, is planning to buy me out; Parker, my 10-year-old, will be chief pilot; and Laurelai will be the head guide.”

Laurelai Winslow has two bonus deer tags, which means she could harvest as many as three deer this fall, something she’s capable of doing. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

At first glance, Laurelai Winslow appears to be a typical 10-year-old girl – and in many ways she is. She wears a big bow around her ponytail, has stuffed animals in her room and a chalkboard with artwork. She’s colored her blond ponytail purple and blue to match that of her camo-clad Barbie, which Laurelai calls her “Hunting Barbie,” a doll she’s brought on hunts.

And Laurelai’s other deep passion is cheering with her grade school team. During a recent interview at her home, with the mounted grouse she shot behind her, Laurelai executed handstands, splits and backbends as she answered questions.

“If it’s a competition, then I like cheering better,” Laurelai said. “But if it’s just cheering practice, then hunting.”

Ali and Tim Winslow, both avid hunters, first started taking their daughter along on bird and deer hunts when she was 18-months-old, outfitting her with ear protection and carrying her in a pack. They brought her to the shooting range at age 4 – making short trips to make it fun, but also to constantly work on safe gun handling skills and accuracy. She took to it, and became a crack shot like her mother.

“My dad told me when they taught me, ‘You have to hit the target where you’re supposed to. And when you can, I’ll take you hunting,'” Laurelai said. “I really wanted to go. So I practiced a lot.”

The Winslows taught Laurelai shot placement: where to always shoot an animal to assure a quick kill. With a life-sized plastic deer in their backyard, the Winslows still quiz Laurelai.

Bocko said her young friend’s love of hunting is obvious. One time when she was turkey hunting in a blind with Tim and Laurelai and Bocko’s scope stopped working, Laurelai passed her shotgun to Bocko and told her to use it instead. And one year when Bocko didn’t harvest a deer on her farm, Laurelai gave her half the venison from her deer, to thank Bocko for letting her hunt there.

“She’s very unselfish,” Bocko said. “She has the skill, and she’s good at it. But she’s got that sense of responsibility and knowledge. She’ll let deer go by rather than go out there and wound an animal. She’s a strong young woman. And she’s an inspiration for me, to see the next generation coming along.”

Comments are not available on this story.