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A 13-year-old student unexpectedly was called out of study hall and into the front office Thursday at North Scott Junior High School in Eldridge.

A patient Mason Herrington sat quietly, twiddling his thumbs, until the secretary’s phone rang. It was for him. The caller informed him he won the Best Deer Photo Contest, an online competition for archery, muzzleloader and shotgun hunters sponsored by R&R Sports of Bettendorf in conjunction with the Quad-City Times.

“Oh my gosh,” Mason responded, heaving a collective sigh of relief and excitement. “I thought I was in trouble.”

He hung up the phone, eager to share the news with his buddies in study hall, then in the cafeteria during lunch and later in language arts class. After school, a few of his teammates on the basketball team heard about it.

A total of 40 hunters from Iowa and Illinois submitted photos of themselves with their deer, and viewers voted for their favorite image Jan. 11-17. The contest, which began Oct. 20 and ended Jan. 10, garnered close to 1,000 votes. Just three contestants registered and weighed their field-dressed bucks last year at B&B Shooting Supplies in Bettendorf for the Big Buck Contest.

“I didn’t think I’d win because there were a lot of big bucks on there,” said Mason, who urged his friends and relatives to vote for him at qctimes.com/deerphotocontest. “It’s still processing through my mind.”

Rudy Morgan, owner of R&R Sports, will award the champ with a $500 gift certificate to his hunting and fishing goods store at 3250 Fields Drive. Morgan initially hoped to see 100-plus registrants in the contest, but he was glad a young individual, who represents “the future of hunting,” finished at the top.

Mason harvested his 13-point buck Sept. 23 during youth deer season on private land north of Maquoketa in Jackson County. He shot the animal, his biggest yet, with his .20 gauge shotgun. 

Mark Herrington accompanied his son in the woods. The duo positioned themselves behind a 4-foot-high camouflage burlap blind atop a ridge overlooking a ravine. Following a quiet, uneventful start to the hunt, Mark decided to stretch his legs. Shortly thereafter, the deer appeared, walking in the direction of their hideout.

"I was just sitting there by myself," Mason recalled, replaying the experience. "It turned broadside, and I shot him."

Mark said he watched the scene unfold while standing silently behind his son.

"He (Mason) was dialed in and focused," he said. "It was all on his shoulders."

When the buck dropped, about 40 yards out, the young hunter began to cry.

"It was awesome," Mason said. "I hugged my dad when I saw him."

Mark, a proud father, now has seen his son harvest three deer, two of which were bucks. Mason, then 9 years old, shot his first deer, a doe, in September 2014. The following autumn, he killed his first buck, an eight-pointer, which since has been mounted on the wall of the family's basement. For Mason's 13th birthday this past October, his parents vowed to mount the 13-pointer, too. The deer is undergoing the preservation process at a taxidermist in Andrew, Iowa. 

Mark, 44, has been hunting for more than 25 years and has yet to harvest a buck.

"I still haven’t put one on the wall," he said. "That shows you he's (Mason) lucky, or I'm just not."

Immediately following their hunt in September, the Herringtons transported Mason's deer to Edgewood Locker, a meat processor in Edgewood, Iowa, about two hours north of the Quad-Cities. 

The family considers venison a treat.

"He's not the type of kid that just goes out shooting something just to shoot something," said Mark, a package delivery driver for UPS. "What he does hunt, he hunts for a reason, and we put it to good use."

Angie, Mason's mother, runs a daycare out of their home. The couple also has a 15-year-old daughter.

Mason first learned to hunt alongside his maternal grandfather, who took the boy rabbit hunting at an early age. Mason brought his BB gun along on those occasions, memories he may forever cherish.

Said Mark about his son's progress since then:

"We’re both tickled that he’s had this much success."

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Jack Cullen covers health and the outdoors for the Quad-City Times.