By Philip Makarewicz
It wasn’t until the age of 22, after three seasons attempted, that I harvested my first deer. He was a button buck harvested with my father's 12 gauge, bead-sight shotgun on the property of a friend. After that first deer, I took a hiatus from chasing whitetails in the fall. My passion for hunting deepened during my college years, but the deer stand was replaced by hunting from a duck blind. Eventually, I found my way back to deer hunting. At 28, I decided that I wanted to attempt archery hunting and I put forth time to become knowledgeable and proficient at that method of take. In my second season, I was able to shoot a doe. With the goal to take a whitetail with a bow realized, I set out a new target of taking a mature buck. In my fourth year of bowhunting, I sought to accomplish that objective.
It was the day before deer firearms season opened in Missouri and I awoke feeling like a child on Christmas Eve. A yearly tradition for my deer-hunting wife, Laura, this year I, too, had received an invite to attend deer camp at her family friends’ property. Not having experienced a deer camp myself, but having heard of the grandiose spectacle, it was a highly anticipated day for me. Despite the eagerness, I still had the opportunity to hunt with my bow and the possibility of taking an archery buck.
This season I was trying something new: Laura would drop me off and pick me up from the stand with the UTV. It was frosty when Laura dropped me off. I added an extra layer after getting situated in the stand. While chilly, I knew the forecast called for warming temps that would have me shedding clothes later.
Wildlife activity was high starting from shooting light until long after. It was the most deer I had seen in the four years I had been hunting the property. I saw several bucks far off early in the morning. A while after, a group of about a dozen does and fawns came by within range. As our deer camp was located across the state, I only had the morning to hunt so we could arrive in time for the traditional opening-day-eve dinner. With our time limit approaching, my wife and I began discussing my pick up from the stand.
At 11:00 am, I texted her that I had just seen a buck far off on an adjacent property walking in the opposite direction. I wanted to wait just a little longer and asked that she come pick me up in about 15 minutes.
At 11:22, Laura texted that she was on her way. Being a lifelong deer hunter herself, she had unfortunately had some hunts spoiled by her dad speeding into the field and blowing out deer on his way to pick her up from the stand. With that, she was cautious in her approach to get me.
At 11:23, she asked to confirm that I could be picked up. I responded at 11:26 that she could proceed and I would start to pack.
Laura and I had only hunted together in a deer stand a handful of times. But in those times, one thing was always constant: her (whisper) yelling at me to move more slowly. Hearing her in my head, I did one last excruciatingly slow scan. In the process, I caught a glimpse of something just across the property line, around 40 yards away in a cut cornfield. I froze and allowed my eyes time to focus. It was a buck! My stomach sank.
Laura would be coming into the field at any moment. I reached for my phone as the two sides of my brain fought against each other: “move slowly or you’ll be spotted/move too slow and you’ll miss your opportunity!” Once in my hand, I frantically unlocked the phone, found my message app, clicked on Laura’s name, and hastily typed, “Stop. Buck”
He was broadside and I swiftly looked him over and assessed, if presented the opportunity, he was a shooter buck. My bow was hanging on the opposite side of the tree and required a 180 maneuver for me to retrieve. I waited until the deer put its head down and quickly moved. With bow in hand, I preset my body position for the anticipated shot opportunity.
My stand was about 25 yards south of the property line fence that runs east-west. Additionally, there was a trail of knocked down grass where it appeared deer jumped the fence and walked, paralleling about 10 yards west, from the north-south property fence line. The line of trees I was in paralleled it, too. I silently wished for the deer to come down that trail. It worked. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught him jumping the fence. At that moment, I drew back, found my shooting lane, and watched him walk right into it at which point I released the arrow.
It sounded like a bag of air deflated. I was positive it was a good shot. I watched him run for about five seconds when he got to a tree, stopped, and I lost sight of him in an area of tall grass. I grabbed my phone.
At 11:30, I texted Laura, “I shot.” She quickly responded, “I thought I heard.” Not believing that he had escaped my view, I sent a follow-up text, “He’s down.”
“OMG!!!!!” Laura texted ecstatically. I asked that we give him a few more minutes and she stated that she would drive back to the house and get her kill kit. Not long later, I heard the humming of the UTV and saw her flying through the grass towards me. She arrived and immediately asked where the deer was when I shot. I pointed and within a few seconds she found my arrow and yelled out, “Blood!” She started circling looking to continue the blood trail as I climbed down from the stand.
I knew where I saw the deer go down but she wanted me to practice trailing. I started to search around and followed for a while and eventually got to a spot where I elected to cheat and looked ahead. Right where I saw the buck go down, I caught a glimpse of antler tine and I took off. Laura was soon behind and together we were admiring my first archery whitetail buck. After a few quick pictures, we got to work.
Being only my third deer harvest, my wife coached me through the field dressing process: “Start here.” “Cut up to there.” “Don’t cut too deep along this line.” “Take the hatchet and hit there. NO, HARDER.” “Break this apart.” “Now reach in and grab that.”
It was all second-nature to Laura. And it was something she could have done in half the time. But with her help, I was eventually able to field dress the buck. We kept the liver that I gifted to my cousin. The heart was also saved. We were able to get the deer back to the house for caping and quartering. When I questioned if I should get the deer mounted, Laura encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to best remember and cherish the deer even given the costs associated with taxidermy. So, we loaded up the cape and skull and took him with us to deer camp to show off and later drop off at a taxidermist nearby.
While the memories of the hunt and the experience before and immediately after the kill are incredibly important to me, just as special are the memories from the meals from that buck shared. Laura was adamant about keeping the ribs. We cut them out with a reciprocating saw and she prepared a dry rub and vacuum sealed them to later sous vide followed by time on the smoker. Hank Shaw’s venison dirty rice was assembled with the heart. A venison roulade was constructed from the loin plus spinach from our garden. Broth for pho was produced from shank bones. The meals benefit both our physiological and psychological well-being.
I am incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful spouse like Laura. She is a resource, a helper, a doer, and a companion. And as a result, my hunting passion and the food that comes from it are more enriching than if I were to go at it alone. I am forever thankful to have her on this journey and the ability to hunt to eat.