BRAYMER, MO. – Coyotes yipped in the distance as my stepdad and I trekked to the deer blind, the predawn constellations our only light. It was a good 90 minutes before sunrise on the morning of the Missouri deer opener, and we were both buzzing.
Although the warm weather didn’t bode well for spotting game on the run, a scouting trip the day before had yielded sightings of a half-dozen does and one thick-bodied buck — at least a 10-pointer — that had us like kids on Christmas morning. We were hoping he would return.
At 33, I was experiencing only my second year in the field. But I was already in love. Under the guidance of my stepdad, Ed Ostervich, I took my first doe in 2014 from 30 yards and proudly brought home venison to my city friends. Although I still had years of experience to absorb before I trusted myself in a tree stand alone, I felt like deer hunting was already part of my identity — and this year I wanted my first buck.
It wasn’t just that. I love everything about northwest Missouri — its small towns, bumpy blacktops and wild countryside where I spent summers growing up, and where generations of my family made a living off the land and the strength of their backs. They continue to do so today, and hunting alongside them made me feel a part of that proud history. It made little difference that I was a woman. My female cousins had been in deer stands since before they could walk, and it was high time I joined them.
It’s why I jumped at the invite to join Ed in the deer blind last year. I completed a hunter’s safety course online, stocked up on blaze orange and headed six hours south to Ed’s acreage, where he taught me the basics of safety and how to shoot. My hands shook madly the first time I fired the rifle. But ever since that fall, my aim and confidence steadied. We text each other regularly about what he sees in the fields, download the photos from his trail cameras and cheer at deer hunting shows on the Outdoor Network like they’re the Super Bowl. My mom handles it good-naturedly but insists she and I take a day for pedicures and shopping in the city. I happily oblige.
The morning of the opener, I peered out the blind, dreaming of the monster buck I would no doubt bring home. Would I have it mounted? How would it look in my living room? My thoughts were interrupted as Ed cleared his throat in the dark.
“What’s an important thing you still need to do this morning?” he asked.
I took a moment, inspecting the rifle. I wasn’t sure.
Ed pointed to the box of shells. Even his finest .243 Browning BAR — and even my halfway decent aim for a novice — was of little use if the rifle was unloaded.
By 7 a.m., gunshots rang out across the countryside, and I had a button buck in the cross hairs. He was small, so I lowered the rifle. Ed and I watched for nearly an hour as he continued to tear ears of corn from a stalk, so close we could almost touch him. We listened, elated, to the sound of his chewing. In 45 years of hunting, Ed said he’d never seen anything like it. We would spend the following morning watching a half-dozen turkeys lounge near a dry pond.
By 3 p.m. Saturday, it was 68 degrees and we had shed our jackets. We were joined by Ed’s friend Phil Replogle, who had field dressed the doe I shot last year. This year he came with a gift — it was a Butt-Out device to assist with field dressing, and the news that I would be doing the work — if it came to that. We called it a day at dusk, only having seen a fraction of the deer from the year before. Ed and Phil weren’t terribly worried — they wanted to fill their tags during black powder season in December. But the weekend of the opener was likely to be my only shot.
The following morning brought the closest I’ve come to seeing two grown hunters cry. Ed, resting a recently surgically repaired knee, had his leg up in the back of the blind. Phil and I kept watch in different directions. I looked up to see an eight-pointer close enough to be a chip shot, and he looked right back at me. He was gone before I could raise my gun, and none of us had seen him coming. We kicked ourselves for being inattentive, desperately hoping for another chance.
Phil and I returned to the blind a couple of hours before dusk Sunday. Fast friends, we chatted quietly about our lives until he stopped me and pointed to a pair of does 140 yards out. I carried tags to take both a buck and a doe, and I didn’t want to go home empty-handed. I told Phil I wanted the shot. He told me to see if she would come closer. When she walked toward the tree line I realized this was my chance. I centered the cross hairs behind her shoulder, switched off the safety and squeezed the trigger. The gun boomed and she jumped, tearing off into the timber.
“Did I miss her?” I asked Phil, who was watching through binoculars.
“I don’t think so,” he said. But he was quiet, and I grew worried. If I hit that doe only for her to disappear wounded, it could be the end of hunting for me. I didn’t want her to suffer.
I wanted to look for her right away, but Phil insisted I wait a few minutes.
It was growing dark when we headed to the field, searching for a blood trail. Two minutes later Phil called for me. There was my doe, about 50 yards from where she stood when I fired. The shot was clean, through her heart. We dragged her to a clearing, and a grinning Phil handed me the Butt-Out and a sharpened buck knife.
The doe was small — Ed and Phil estimated she was a yearling — but I was elated at having taken such a clean shot from so far away. I happily field-dressed her under their close instructions, and we took her back to the garage to celebrate with a cold beer.
My buck is still out there, no doubt lurking in the timber and chasing does, more likely to come out as the air chills and winter draws nearer. Will he be mine next year? Time will tell. The only certainty is that we’ll be in the blind, watching, waiting, and in my case, daydreaming.