While growing up in Wisconsin, hunting has always been a tradition in our family, not a choice, but a heritage born within you. It’s what my Great-Grandfather taught my Grandfather and he passed it down to my dad.
My dad then began educating my younger brother on the skills needed for hunting at a very young age, perhaps assuming that he would be the only one carrying on the tradition in our immediate family, despite many of my Great Aunts taking interest and being my female role models. During this time, I helped in the “Bullshed” (a remodeled chicken coop used for “shooting the bull”) to prepare food, package deer, and clean up after everyone left for the woods. My mom had always chosen to be a member of the support staff vs. hunter, when it came to rifle season.
Although, while I was growing up, hunting was never a gender specific tradition within our community, it was a male dominated culture. By 12 years old, every member of our close-knit group was well-educated on the difference between a trophy hunt, a managed hunt, and a hunt to provide food for the table. We learned to pursue responsibly, ethically, and selectively by harvesting mature deer, using them as sustenance for our families. Many delicious venison recipes have circulated by exchanging hands throughout the years. When my dad’s younger sister began spending time in the woods, my interest was sparked because we had a close relationship.
Once I expressed interest in hunting, my Dad and Grandfather began imparting their knowledge to me. I started by participating in rifle season and after a few successful hunts I realized rifle season wasn’t long enough.
Along with the initiation of my interest in rifle hunting, came an obsession that transferred to other aspects of my life. For example, my dogs are named Remington and Oakley (as in, Annie). As I grew and matured, so did my love for hunting and the excitement became so unbearable that I began to embrace any challenge with focus and determination, persevering and finding improvements with every extreme hunt. Hunting season brought even more commitment, responsibility, and fun into my life. Escaping a busy work schedule and home life by donning camouflage or orange relieves stress and leaves my mind at ease. My passion for using my dad’s 7mm Winchester Magnum to harvest whitetails quickly expanded to an avid interest in using a shotgun and bow.
My bow (Pink Accented Black Mathews Jewel) was a gift from my Dad, as a token of his enthusiasm regarding his daughter sharing his passion for archery. The opening of archery season leaves me giddy with anticipation of the years’ upcoming hunts. When the season finally arrives, I try to hunt or partake in activities that will assist future hunts every day that work doesn’t interfere.
The 2013 Archery season began, as usual, by preparing to hunt in Montello, Wisconsin at our family farm. After hunting there for several weeks, I wrapped up the season in a non-typical way at an unusual location.
This is how it began…
Sunday, Nov. 3 at 10:00pm: Upon returning to my home just South of Mount Horeb, WI (after a weekend of hunting an hour and a half away) I pulled into the driveway and spotted an impressive buck bedded down with a doe on the side of the yard, approximately 100 yards from my bedroom window. They rested and grazed near the house for about an hour then relocated to the nearby CRP field within the 40 acre parcel.
Monday, Nov. 4: Work day
Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 11:00am: At the back of the horse pasture along the horizon, “Ace” (affectionately named for being my Ace in the hole) was 40 yards from my horses, looking over the property with a doe close by. I immediately took a few photos and posted to Facebook.
I quickly camo’d up, grabbed my ground blind and headed to the woods adjacent to where he had stood. Once I had everything set up, I sat all day long. The buck I believed I had seen two nights prior and two young six point bucks came in with the doe. I watched as the large 12 point buck bred the doe 100 yards out from my blind and contemplated relocating to a closer location where a shot could be more successful at closer range.
I held my position and marveled at this rare sighting! When he was finished and she began to leave the pasture area in front of me, he started to follow. I grunted at him and he stopped and stood. This happened multiple times but he was definitely more interested in the doe and left me. The smaller bucks followed suit, keeping their distance from Ace. Dusk was on its way, so I left my blind around 4:30 p.m. and walked to the top of the hill in hopes of spotting activity in the other pasture, where I had seen him earlier.
I saw nothing so I went back to clean up the blind and loaded my gear into the bucket I had been sitting on. Looking over my shoulder, as I began my descent toward home, I saw his silhouette along the horizon with a sunset behind him. I hastily set the bucket down and immediately ran toward the top of hill to where I anticipated our paths would intersect, grunt call in mouth and bow and arrow at hand. As I crested the hill, I drew back and there he stood facing me at 15 yards. I blew a short grunt call and thought to myself “Why???” then answered, “I DON’T KNOW!”
As I stood there shaking from adrenaline, fear, and fatigue, I compared his size to my own as we had a face off. I knew that a shot to the chest is not lethal and would not be ethical under the circumstances. He stomped his foot like thunder, blew a loud snort, turned, then bolted. I released my draw while holding my arrow as he departed.
Standing there for a few moments, I caught my breath and turned for home once he was out of sight, retrieving my bucket en route. I walked in the back door, ran the days hunt through my mind as I stared at my bow, and called my boyfriend to discuss what I could do to improve the rate of success in future endeavors. Together, we came up with a plan that wouldn’t ensure success but would give the possibility of a better opportunity.
Wednesday, Nov. 6: I worked in the morning and went home on my lunch hour (1:00 p.m. to 2:45p.m.) to move my blind closer to where I had seen him breed the doe during my prior day’s hunt. I slowly walked the well-worn horse trail along the fence line that divides the two pastures. Approaching the grove of oak trees, I looked up to see him barreling over the hill, perpendicularly heading in my direction.
As I reached the first tree, I froze against it trying my best to camouflage my existence. He intersected my path approximately 30-40 feet from my tree and I intently watched as he effortlessly cleared the electric fence, and then continued up the other side of the hill into the next pasture over. With no bow in hand, I helplessly watched and maintained my position. Upon reaching the crest of the hill, he saw my horses, whipped around and began to charge back down the hill, once more, in my direction. He jumped the fence 30 feet from me, continuing up the side of the pasture retracing his original path.
I moved forward with my mission to relocate my stand, convinced that it needed to better positioned. Wishing I could have stayed to utilize the new location, I returned to work with my head held low. On my way home, I stopped at Farm & Fleet and purchased a deer decoy. That evening, after I practiced shooting at my target, I posted a picture to my Facebook page of the nightcap needed to calm my nerves due to anticipation of the next day’s hunt.
Thursday, November 7: With the best of intentions, I posted a status update to Facebook with a photo of my prior nights’ target practice along with a confident yet optimistic comment about killing my buck with a pretty pink arrow during my morning pursuit. At daybreak, I headed to my blind, set up my newly purchased doe decoy, poured some estrus scent on her, and saw nothing for three hours. At 8:09 a.m. the field in front of me exploded with action as a doe appeared from seemingly nowhere, flying across the pasture with Ace chasing behind her within 50 yards of my camouflaged blind. Oblivious to the decoy, they continued onward maintaining their quick pace.
This sighting of “my buck” was bittersweet since it wasn’t an ideal opportunity to harvest him but it was still nice to see him. Around 9:15 a.m. a flock of Hens and Polts passed through and I left the blind around 11:00 a.m., due to being scheduled at work throughout the afternoon until dark.
Friday Nov. 8 at 7:30 a.m.: I posted a picture to Facebook of two deer in my field as I left for work. I wistfully commented regarding the need for more flexibility at work, wishing I could stay at home and hunt all day.
Saturday Nov. 9: Nick (my boyfriend) and I headed to the blind early and hunted all morning, despite the 25 mph winds. At about 10:30am, I could see he was beginning to get antsy, as he commented that he wanted to come in for food and to get out of the wind. Once inside, we saw a large bodied 10 point buck making his way down the field across the street. We watched out the window of the house with frustration growing, as he crossed the road and continued down the field that we had just walked in on. We had a family gathering to attend in the afternoon making it impossible to hunt that evening.
Sunday Nov. 10: I hunted in the morning and saw nothing. During the evening, I sat in the ground blind and saw a small doe and a 6 point buck come out on other side of the field. I let out 3 short grunts and the 6 pt came trotting in as I shot video. I also had two very nice sized Tom’s come through the field at 4:17pm at 60 yards, which is out of range for my bow.
Monday Nov. 11: All day work day.
Tuesday Nov. 12: I commuted to my second job in the a.m. and rushed home to hunt the last two hours of the day. Through my binoculars, I spotted 17 deer across the road in their recently cut rear corn field. I had a doe and fawn in my lower pasture when I walked in at dark.
Wednesday Nov 13: All day work day
Thursday Nov. 14: I hunted in a.m. and spooked a doe/fawn near my riding arena on the way to my ground blind since I was late getting to the woods! I saw 8 deer across the street in the field however I didn’t see anything while in my blind from 6:45am to 10:45am. I had to leave for work at 11:30 a.m. and was in the office, frustrated for the remainder of the day.
Friday Nov. 15: All day work day but I took the time to schedule sighting in my rifle in my day planner and also wrote “shoot a big buck” in the agenda for Saturday.
Saturday, Nov 16: I went out in the a.m. and saw 8 Tom/Jake Turkeys in the field near my ground blind. Since I shot my first Turkey on my 25th birthday this fall, I considered taking a turkey with my bow as well. I nocked an arrow and attempted to attach my release to draw back, only to find that I had left my release at the house. Fortunately, I figured this out while eyeing up a Turkey instead of my buck! I quickly ran down to the house and retrieved my release.
On the way back out to my ground blind, I decided to quietly walk the woods instead of taking my usual route along the edge of the field. During my hike I found the remains of a large shed from the previous year, perhaps from the same deer I was currently pursuing. I hunted for a few more hours, with no sighting of “my buck” or any other deer for that matter! Discouraged, I returned to the house and pondered whether I wanted to go out for the evening hunt since the weather had become less than ideal.
Despite the wind and rain, I attentively watched out various windows of my house all afternoon, glassing for any sign of deer. Finally, after checking every 20-30 minutes from 12pm to 4pm, I sighted what I thought was several doe in the field across the road. I dressed quickly and ran out the door toward the barn for a better vantage point, armed with rattle bag, grunt call, doe bleat, binoculars, bow w/arrows, AND release. Once positioned next to the platform alongside my barn, I saw five doe, three fawns, and the buck I had been calling “Ace”. I gathered myself and mindfully created a plan. I started rattling and watched him lift his head, as he moved forward in my direction. After a few steps, he resumed his grazing. I rattled again and he lifted his head, proceeded in my direction and again, stopped. After four or five cycles of this cat and mouse game, he ignored my attempts before disappearing into the tall marsh grass. I lifted my binoculars searching for any glimpse of him in vain.
Conscious of the time, I anticipated his harem progressing toward their normal bedding ground on the other side of the property. Choosing to relocate, I sprinted across the property while being blocked and protected from sight by the outbuildings. I passed between the house and pasture, to a better location near their routine path. As predicted, the doe and yearlings all paraded past me, one by one, as I hid among the brush. I couldn’t see anything with my field glasses due to the inclement weather, so I patiently waited. I was situated behind a bush, bottomed by thick marsh like grass, with my back against a medium sized tree trunk.
Suddenly, I could hear something crashing through the brush upwind. At this point, I held my breath and sat as still as ever, with my heart racing 100 miles per minute. I catch a shadow of something in my peripherals, seeming to be moving through the ditch nearby. I cautiously turned my head, recalling the advice my dad often reiterated while hunting together, “Look with your eyes not your head”. I carefully looked only with my eyes as far to my left as possible, until I spotted antlers within the heavy brush about 30 yards away. He was making his way down the tree line in my direction. I fought to hold back an uncontrollable smile knowing this would be the moment that I’ve been waiting for. At 15 yards, almost directly in front of me, he stood rubbing his antlers in the branches of the bush thrashing them like twigs this way and that. I slowly rose while he had his head down with his antlers in my direction.
Feeling accomplished by going unnoticed already, I watched as he started to progress seemingly with no direction. I drew back my Mathews Jewel while he continued forward with his head low. I reminded myself to stay calm and breathe as I felt my heartbeat increasing rapidly and my hands shaking with anxiety. He looked amazing as he heavily walked broadside. Knowing, through prior practice, that my verbal grunt calls sounded nothing like a deer, I let out a pitifully shaky attempt at a verbal doe bleat and received no response.
I tried again a bit louder….and again…and again… My attempts were ignored and I decided to wait for my opportunity, knowing that I wanted him standing before letting my pink arrow fly. Approximately 20 seconds passed that felt like 5 minutes as my adrenalin peaked. Finally he stopped and quartered a step toward me, gracefully turned his head and seemed to look right through me. I released my arrow at the targeted kill zone. He did not seem to notice the penetration from my arrow but trotted back toward the road. Along the ditch he slowed and seemed to waver as I watched, thinking that he may go down right there 50 yards from where my arrow sliced through him. He then, very slowly, walked across the road to where I lost sight of him in the tall marsh grass. After seeing a satisfying blood trail, I went inside and waited while watching the clock the entire duration of the longest hour and a half of my life. I called my dad around 6:00 p.m., unsure if I should wait until morning.
He listened to the information I gave him and suggested that try to recover him that evening. While on the phone, I began to follow the ample trail of blood. At the road, the trail widened to 18 inches, as if someone had spilled a can of paint. At this point, I realized there was a vehicle coming that was shining for deer. Concerned because I was alone, my dad suggested that I not flag them down for help.
We ended our call just as their spotlight highlighted my silhouette. Around the corner they came, slowing to a stop alongside me with their window down. The driver questioned, “Can we help you with something?” Thinking they may have been the property owner of the land across the road, I explained that I had a deer down and they offered to help me locate it and exited their vehicle upon my acceptance. They asked, “Is it a doe or buck?” and I hesitantly responded, “a buck”. Next, they questioned how big it was and I responded with a shrug modestly stating, “eh, it’s a decent size”. I took the lead, trudging into ditch until I spotted his antlers. Immediately, an elated feeling of accomplishment surged through my entire body.
We approached him and they cried out “HOLY SH*T!!!” GOOD JOB GIRL!” seeming astonished and happy for me. Jumping up and down, high fiving and hugging me as tears of joy ran down my face. (Remember: Complete strangers, hunting brings anyone close). We each grabbed an antler, leaving one of the guys with a leg and drug him across the road into my front yard.
We propped him up against the base of a large Oak Tree in the front yard and took a few pictures. Previously, I stated that my dad and brother were en route, so my new friends continued on their way after some small talk. Since my entire family was an hour and a half away at our family homestead town of Montello, I texted some photos to my Dad and he immediately called to congratulate me and advised of a location to register him in Pine Bluff, WI.
In the last 8 years, my life has revolved around hunting, but for my family, it has always been about more than the game we take each season. Spending quality time together partaking in an activity that we all love is of utmost importance to us. I feel that the ultimate hunter is not measured by the size of their trophy or the cost of their best hunt, but participating in every aspect of this lifestyle from education, preservation, management, and promotion.
The result of my hunt was extremely rewarding and despite being mentally demanding, emotionally trying, and overall challenging, I wouldn’t change anything about the story of my first bow kill. My passion for hunting runs through my heart and my drive goes deep into my soul as if this lifestyle was bred into me. I dream of being in the field any time I’m not, constantly wondering what I’m missing.
I feel blessed to have had this once in a lifetime experience and hope that my success has earned the respect of every hunter that continues to think, “Girls Can’t Hunt”. I am a women’s advocate when it comes to proving that talent presents itself in both genders and all ages! Every opportunity I am given, I encourage children to explore the outdoors with their family. I strive to educate and positively inform those who are opposed to hunting about the critical role hunters’ play in the health and balance of nature regarding the importance of population control by maintaining and appropriately managing stability between predator and prey.
At some point in your life, I hope that you can enjoy the sense of accomplishment and excitement of locating the deer you’ve been so dedicated to obtaining. It’s truly an unmatched feeling that I have never found in any other activity. I am looking forward to learning and expanding my hunting knowledge by hunting different species in diverse habitats. Moving forward, I would be honored to represent a company by promoting a brand within the outdoor industry and inspiring others to preserve our hunting heritage while educating future generations of the importance of hunting ethically, sustaining our families, and focusing on conservation.
Hunt or starve!