Alex Heckenrod had only been deer hunting once before when she went out with her grandfather Andrew Orwig on Dec. 9. That’s the day the 13-year-old from Pennsylvania killed her first deer, and it was one to remember: a piebald buck known around York County as “The Ghost.”
Orwig tells Outdoor Life that he agreed to take Alex hunting after a different family member who had volunteered broke their leg. He hunts a private farm property in southern York County, near where the piebald deer was known to range. The buck was born in the area, and one of Orwig’s neighbors had photos of it as a fawn with its sibling.
“I’d first heard of The Ghost last year while hunting that area. But I’d never seen it, and I hunt that area pretty extensively,” Orwig says. “On Veteran’s Day this year, I actually saw The Ghost for the first time, and that was from a distance. That was the first interaction I had with the deer to confirm it’s actually here.”
The day before their hunt, Orwig went to the farm to do some last-minute scouting. While he was there, he ran into his uncle and cousin, who told him a couple hunters had both missed The Ghost.
“They weren’t sure of whether or not they’d hit him, but they were going to come back the next day to check,” Orwig says. “It had gotten dark at that point. Then, later that evening, I received a text message from the farmer saying that someone had [tagged] The Ghost on the neighboring farm. So I wasn’t sure if this deer was actually gone or not.”
Later that night, his granddaughter showed up at his house with little more than her hunting license, so Orwig and his wife helped outfit Alex in warm hand-me-downs from their other granddaughters. They also prepared snacks for the all-day sit.
“Then we went to the gun cabinet. I said all these guns are [sighted] in, which one do you want? And she didn’t want the .243, or the .30-30, or the .308. Finally, she settled on a 12-gauge shotgun with a slug barrel,” Orwig says, chuckling. “And I was like, ‘you’re 13 years old and 95 pounds soaking wet. But if that’s what you feel comfortable with, we’ll go with that.’”
The next morning, Alex and her grandfather drove down to the farm to find the area blanketed in thick fog. They sat in the truck for a few minutes until the sun started to rise.
“As the sun came up I realized you could see a little farther. So I said to Alex, ‘Let’s get ready, we’re going to walk back in to the tree stand, and we’ll just take it slow getting back through there. Obviously we’re not going to see any deer sitting in the truck,’” Orwig says. “We got approximately 200 yards from the truck, and as we were walking back on this grass road that goes through an overgrown pasture, I happen to look off to the left toward the creek, and I see this white form off in the mist.”
Orwig peered through his binoculars and confirmed what he thought he’d seen. It was the piebald buck, standing about 50 yards away.
“I looked at Alex and asked if she wanted to take a shot, and she said yeah,” Orwig says. “She’s looking through the scope on her shotgun and she says she doesn’t have a good shot. I say, ‘okay, let’s wait a couple minutes and see if it moves.’”
Several minutes passed and the buck bedded. Alex still didn’t have a clear shot. She managed to adjust her position and not spook the buck, but she clicked off the safety, the deer looked right at her. As soon as the piebald buck stood, Alex squeezed the trigger. The buck dropped where it stood.
“I was like, ‘you’ve got to be kidding me,’” Orwig says. “We were 10 minutes into this hunt!”
Alex was less convinced of her success at first.
“I didn’t know I actually hit it, I thought I missed,” she told the York Daily Record. “I looked at Grandpa and we started walking to it and I got really excited.”
The piebald buck was almost entirely white, save for the backs of its ears and a small swirl of tan hair on its face. It has a mostly typical 4-by-4 rack, except for a small fork on the end of its right main beam, which a Pennsylvania game warden asserted made it a 9-point, Orwig says. A taxidermist will make a shoulder mount of the buck and put it on a pedestal.
The other hunters on the property, including the two men who’d missed the buck the day before, celebrated with Orwig and his granddaughter. Above all, Alex expressed her gratitude for everyone involved, including the farmer who let them hunt his property and, of course, her grandpa.