‘Can’t really believe it’: Liberty woman brings home trophy buck

Liberty woman brings home trophy buck

PHOTOS PROVIDED Abby Heatley, 18, shows off the large racked white-tailed deer she shot on Dec. 2 in Tioga County. She fired a .308 bolt-action rifle, shown at top, just once at the buck, whose presence she was alerted to by a group of about 10 does. Heatley comes from a family of hunters and also uses a bow to hunt.

LIBERTY — When Abby Heatley went into the woods this hunting season, she wasn’t going specifically for a trophy buck. She walked out on Dec. 2 with the monster of a lifetime — an 18-point Tioga County whitetail.

“I don’t expect to get anything like that ever again,” she said.

Hunting is so deeply a part of Heatley’s life that she doesn’t remember when she first started — literally. She was out in the woods with her dad as early as 2 years old.

“I grew up in the woods,” Heatley, now 18, said. “My family are all big hunters.”

Bagging trophies

Like a lot of young hunters, Heatley began practicing for big game using a .22-caliber Crickett rifle.

When she was able to hold larger guns, it was her turn to start bagging trophies.

She shot her first turkey at 9 years old and her first buck at 11. And she does it all, including archery.

“I really like archery because you feel the adrenaline of it,” she said. “You have to wait until the deer get within 20 to 30 yards. It’s a real buildup of excitement.”

She got her first archery buck in eighth grade. This most recent buck makes three with a rifle and three with a bow.

In October, Heatley went to Wyoming where she got two antelope — a buck and a doe.

She said that experience was good for her as a hunter.

“It was interesting to hunt in a completely different area,” she said.


Heatley typically hunts at a cabin a short distance from her house in Liberty. There are about 30 members.

“I had been out all archery season with no luck,” Heatley said. “I’d come home and sit out back with the bow any free chance I had.”

On opening day of rifle season, she was out from dawn until dusk and then after school throughout the week.

Her dad Bryan, mom Brandy and brother Dalton all had already gotten nice-sized bucks for the season, she said. On Dec. 2, her luck changed.

That Saturday morning, she and some of the other members of the cabin were setting up a drive. Many of them already had gotten their bucks for the season, so they were walking through patches of forest, trying to stir any bucks in Heatley’s direction.

The drive started about an hour after daylight.

“I was out there by myself watching all the scenery and enjoying the woods, and the deer just start running all over the place,” Heatley said. “I thought I was in the middle of a stampede. There were doe running back and forth.”

Seventy yards to Heatley’s right, she saw about 10 does. Figuring a buck was nearby, she scanned the field.

“I looked to my right and saw antlers standing in the bushes,” she said. “They towered up over the sapling so I whipped the rest of my gun over.”

In a panicked second, she couldn’t find the buck in the scope. But when she readjusted she saw him and took a single shot at about 50 yards with her .308 bolt-action rifle.

Right after the shot, she worked the action to put another cartridge in and waited a few anxious minutes.

“It happened so quick I didn’t have time to react,” she said. “The adrenaline didn’t kick in until after. I was crying because I knew I just shot that big one. I couldn’t contain it, but I had to try because the drive was still going on.”

When she saw the other hunters’ vibrant orange move closer, she put on her backpack and started to walk to where she had hit the buck.

“I couldn’t find any blood, but I knew I hit him … I saw that I hit him. So I was panicking a bit,” she said.

When the other hunters met up with her, she told them she hit the big buck and where it went.

“We all lined up and started walking towards where it ran and I heard someone say ‘There it is,’ “ Heatley said. “I had a big smile on my face and ran up to it. I saw the antlers sticking up off the ground. I was shaking so bad. The guys with us were standing around it and were speechless … I still can’t really believe it.”