Many hunters agonize over enrolling their kids in fall sports, but 12-year-old Conor Kuehl is proof that you don’t have to choose.
The sixth grader from Valparaiso attended his Saturday football game on Sept. 24, which happened to fall on the first day of Indiana’s two-day youth season. The game between the two undefeated started at 3 pm but went faster than anticipated with a blowout score of 18 to 6, according to Conor’s dad and coach, Greg Kuehl.
“Conor led us to a big win against them and had a touchdown pass or two,” Greg says of his son, who plays quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and safety. “When we got back to town, I told him, ‘Man, we’ve got 40 to 45 minutes here, we can still hunt if you’re interested.’”
Conor was eager to hunt, so his mom and sister agreed to drop him and his dad at the family farm. But he was also hungry, so the Kuehls hit the drive-thru first.
“I’m like, ‘Dude, you’re killing me,'” Greg says with a laugh. “‘Literally every minute we spend at Burger King is one less minute to hunt.”
The two were short on time and gear as they arrived at their spot. Before the game, Greg had put his Marlin .30-30 in the truck—and not much else.
“I threw the rifle in the truck with a couple orange hats even though our school colors are basically hunter orange anyway. I wasn’t thinking we’d even have enough time to hunt so I didn’t pack my hunting pack, binos, the shooting bag he normally shoots off of—literally anything.”
They didn’t have any camo, either. They looked so ridiculous heading to their blind—Greg in his coaching polo, slacks, and orange sneakers, and Conor still in his jersey, pads, and cleats—that Mrs. Kuehl snapped a photo before they headed to the blind.
Oscar the Call Buck
Conor and his dad have worked together to plant food plots and manage the habitat on their 102-acre farm. Over the years they tricked out a mobile blind (which went viral on TikTok) by rebuilding an old shed on top of an abandoned gravity wagon. The result is a tiny, insulated cabin complete with framed photos, a heater, and a urinal that can be towed around the farm with a four-wheeler. For the last few years, it’s been parked on a treeline overlooking a plot of corn.
That’s where Conor shot his first deer last year, a heavy-horned buck that turned out to be nine years old.
“He went two seasons without shooting a deer because he wanted to make sure his first buck was bigger than his brother’s buck,” says Greg of his son’s good-natured sibling rivalry.
Although he didn’t know it, Conor would soon show up his dad, too. The Kuehls had two nice bucks on their family farm this fall and planned to harvest only mature deer. They’re both “meat hunters first,” but they do their best to manage the farm for older bucks. One of the two deer was a familiar one: A buck nicknamed Oscar for the trash on his left antler. Greg had watched the buck for several years, and originally wrote him off as a cull buck.
“I showed pictures of that deer to friends who wanted to try deer hunting, or distant cousins who wanted to hunt the farm. I told them ‘If you get a chance, shoot this deer because the left side of it is all messed up,'” Greg says. “When it was a 3-year-old, I had a chance to kill it, didn’t want to use my tag on it. Then as a 4-year-old, last year, I passed him because he started to look really cool. I was like, man, this thing could be something.”
Research shows that cull bucks are more myth than reality, and dozens of trail camera photos from this summer and fall showed the 5-year-old had grown into a nice shooter.
A Fast and Furious Hunt
By the time the Kuehls reached their blind, it was already 6:15 pm “We were getting close to the food plot we had planted [when we saw] a little six-point buck there,” Conor says. “So we waited for like three minutes until he went into the corn, and we snuck into the cabin really quickly.”
The little buck reappeared, followed by a pair of does and two more young bucks on their tails. They were pushing the does around when a big buck emerged from the treeline at 80 yards.
“He followed the little bucks and he was [pushing] against them,” Conor explains. “He was trying to show the does who the alpha buck was.”
Despite their history with the buck, the Kuehls didn’t recognize the deer. Neither he nor his son had brought binoculars.
“When I saw him, I was thinking, that’s a nice deer. Its [body] It wasn’t as big as my last one, but it was big,” says Conor, who pays more attention to a buck’s body than his antlers—a good rule for aging deer. “It looked like a good deer and it looked like something I’d hang on my wall. … I did look at the antlers a little bit. When I was first counting [points]I was like it looks to be around eight [points]. And for me eight is a normal sized deer—one that I’d shoot. … So I pointed it out to my dad.”
Greg checked the buck in Conor’s riflescope—a quick glance to confirm it was a shooter—and balled his sweatshirt into a makeshift shooting support on the blind windowsill. As Conor settled behind the rifle, one of the little bucks walked in front of the bigger deer. As soon as it stepped aside, another forkhorn stepped behind the buck. As soon as that deer moved, Oscar shifted.
“Oscar turned a little bit so he wasn’t quite broadside,” Conor says. “So I waited for him to turn back just a tiny bit so I could get a better shot. And he did. And I shot him, and when I shot him, I dropped him.”
Greg texted his wife immediately to let her know Conor had shot a big buck.
She was like, ‘What? I just left, we’ve been gone 15 minutes!’ I said, ‘I know but you have to come back and get us. I don’t have my knife, I don’t have my pack, I don’t have anything.”
After a quick trip back to their house, the father-son team returned with Conor’s grandparents and Greg’s cousin, Jeff, to look at the buck for the first time.
“My cousin picks up the rack and the left side … pops out of the clover, and I’m like, you shot my buck!” says Greg, laughing.
Conor perked up at that.
“I didn’t really notice the antlers until cousin Jeff had pointed it out. I didn’t feel guilty, I don’t think,” says Conor, joking about giving his dad a hard time. “I felt like rubbing it into my dad’s face.”
After some good-natured trash talk, Greg congratulated his son on a well-earned deer.
“I told him it was a great buck. I didn’t really care, obviously he’s my son,” Greg says. “This was such a cool deer and we had a long history with it, so I was glad somebody was able to take him when he had really sprouted.”
Although the Kuehl’s had originally planned on turning Conor’s next buck into a European mount to cut down on their taxidermy bill, Greg made an exception for this deer.
“Conor’s a real good teammate,” says Greg. “He enjoys the moment. He doesn’t stress, he doesn’t panic, he just kind of lives it. He’s a good communicator and he’s super focused, and I think that’s what makes him a good hunter, too. There’s not a lot of kids—especially 12-year-old kids—who would sit there and watch three or four different bucks walk around that are all—for a 12-year-old, in my opinion—shooters. But he has the discipline to know what he wants and he’s willing to wait for it. And two years of doing that paid off for him, and he got that 9-year-old buck last year. This year he didn’t have to wait as long.”