Deer Hunting with Friends is Tradition

Scott Gerlt, of Columbia, Missouri, with his Cole County trophy.

  • Missouri Deer Magic
  • Mentoring – Builds Character, Humility 
  • Camaraderie, Friendship, Fun  
  • Organic Meat for the Freezer
Scott Gerlt, of Columbia, Missouri, with his Cole County trophy.
Scott Gerlt, of Columbia, Missouri, with his Cole County trophy.

By Jim Low

One of the things I love about deer hunting in Missouri is its democratic nature.  With 2.5 million acres of public hunting land managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the USDA Forest Service, anyone can pursue white-tailed deer in the Show-Me State.  Most deer hunters chase whitetails on private land at least part of the time, but the abundance of public land helps ensure the continuation of a vigorous hunting tradition.

While I am fortunate enough to have deer hunting property of my own, I always open the November portion of firearms deer season with friends in southern Cole County.  While not exactly a “deer camp,” the camaraderie of hunting with long-time friends, Tom and Susie Schulz, adds a dimension to the experience that I would miss even if I managed to shoot a big buck elsewhere on my own.

So, opening morning found me at Tom and Susie’s place, scanning a weedy food plot for activity.  I didn’t have to wait long.  Less than an hour into the season, a beautiful spike buck emerged from the woods to check a scrape 20 yards from my stand.  I know lots of hunters who would have passed on this yearling deer, hoping for a big-antlered buck.  But to me, taking a medium-sized buck or a fat doe is as exciting as dropping a buck with coat-rack antlers.

I freely admit to being a meat hunter.  My wife and I both prefer venison to beef, and the chance to stack loins, back straps, roasts, steaks, stew meat and ground venison in the freezer is mostly what deer hunting is about.  Don’t get me wrong.  I go weak-kneed at the sight of a massive set of antlers just as most hunters do, but I have exactly the same reaction to the appearance of a pair of 150-pound does.  If I have two antlerless tags in my pocket and enough ambition to tackle processing two deer, I’ll shoot both of them.  Then, I’ll wonder at their beauty as I prepare to turn them into a year’s meat supply.

The only thing sweeter is getting the chance to “make meat” or bag a trophy buck with friends is doing both in one day.  That’s what happened the second Saturday of this year’s deer season.

Years ago, I began mentoring a boy of 16 who had a passion for hunting but no one in his family to take him.  Scott Gerlt has matured into a fine and accomplished young man and what began as mentorship has ripened into a rewarding outdoor partnership.  After striking out in the duck marsh last Saturday morning, Scott suggested the possibility of hunting deer in the afternoon.  That seemed like a good idea, so I called Susie, got her blessing and headed out to their place.  Scott, Tom and I were in our stands by 3:30.  Susie elected to monitor events from the house via text messages.

Scott had never hunted deer there before, but he was intrigued by accounts of abundant deer, including some big ones.  At 4:30 I heard shots from Scott’s direction.  A text from Susie informed me that Scott had shot a forkhorn.  Thirty minutes later, a beautiful, mature doe came cantering toward me.  When she pulled up short and turned broadside to test the air, I put a solid copper, 160-grain Barnes bullet through both her lungs.  She was down seconds later, having conveniently run 120 yards toward the road.  “Doe down!” I texted Susie.

Tom and Scott soon arrived to help me load my doe.  That done, Scott asked if I would like to see his forkhorn.  Why not, I thought.  It ought to be as fine on the table as my doe.

OMG.  Scott and Tom had been pulling my leg.  Tom’s truck bed held not a forkhorn but a big – and I mean BIG – buck.  I don’t have much experience scoring antlers, but I would be surprised if this one didn’t gross 160.  The net score will suffer from asymmetry in the G2 and G3 tines and a ring-hanger point on the left side. But the length, spread and mass all are impressive.  It’s a deer we all will remember, regardless of whether it makes the Show-Me Missouri Big Bucks or Boone & Crockett club books.

Before the hunt, Scott told me he wasn’t interested in antlers.  He wanted a doe for the freezer.  He didn’t do anything special to “earn” this trophy. Heck, he hadn’t even thought he wanted it.  Yet there he was, posing for photos and considering how to broach the subject of taxidermy with his wife.  On the way home, he was thinking about asking the Schulz’s if he can bring his 5-year-old daughter, Maddie, hunting at Tom and Susie’s to show her what all the fuss is about.

That’s what I mean when I say deer hunting is democratic.  In Missouri, anyone can hope to shoot a trophy deer – whatever that means to them.

With the threat of CWD looming on the horizon in this part of the country, for Scott and Maddie’s sake, I hope it doesn’t come to that.