Women of all ages hunt deer in Michigan
By MICKEY ALVARADO
No longer a place of escape just for men, the woods have become a safe haven for women of all ages who have taken to the great outdoors in pursuit of Michigan's elusive Whitetail deer and they are proving to be quite successful.
Thirteen-year-old little league softball pitcher Emily Maves transforms with the seasons when November rolls around, turning into a deer hunter with the rest of the boys. She tagged a buck this year, a hefty fellow, a would-be eight-pointer with a one-sided four-point rack. It was an initiation of sorts for the youthful Tecumseh girl being her first buck ever taken. The animal weighed in at 135-pounds field dressed and was truly a trophy for the young hunter. It wasn't the first buck of the season she took aim at. A little earlier during the second day of firearm deer hunting season she lifted her sights to see a six-point but said, “I got really nervous and my gun was like going in circles.” That one got away despite being grunted in five times. The sound of Emily's deep breathing eventually scared the deer away. The next buck wouldn't be so lucky. Emily felt so bad about not being able to get a clean shot off on the first one that when given another opportunity with her 20-gauge Mossberg shotgun about a half an hour later she made her one and only shot count. She had a direct hit on the second buck with a slug from approximately 75-yards away, right in the heart and just knew she got her first deer.
“I didn't want to let it go again,” said Emily. “ I didn't feel very well after the last one.”
Her hunting partner and father, Dan, was sitting right next to her and he wasn't so sure she hit it. That is until he watched his daughter track down the blood trail and find the buck lying on the ground from the shot about 100-yards away.
“I'll never doubt your aim again,” he told Emily.
Last year Emily also took aim at a buck but when her gun wouldn't fire in the rain she shot it with her video camera. The gun was repaired by the manufacturer and the downed deer of this year is currently in the Maves' freezer. While mom doesn't join in the hunt she prepares a wonderful meal with the venison provided. Emily's older sister chooses not to hunt but her younger nine-year-old sister, Grace, has already taken interest and practices shooting with a BB gun.
Dad inspires the thrill of the hunt but ultimately the girls make their own choices. Emily decided to also hunt for turkey, geese, duck and pheasant.
“When she got that deer it was more exciting than any hunt I've ever been on,” said Dan. He got Emily comfortable shooting the shotgun through a local pheasant youth hunt instructor named Jack Hill. She's also taken Safety Hunter classes at the Lenawee County Conservation League.
A friend of the Maves family, Sharon Kanous has been hunting since she could walk with her hunting partner and father Laurence Ost. Those early lessons in the great outdoors led her to many years of enjoyable hunting. She took a hiatus from the sport for many years before retiring nine years ago as an art teacher in Clinton. Now that she has the time she hunts in Tipton, with the help of her son, Larrie Henkel, and the Maves family, at the age of 73 and feels comfortable in seclusion. She carries a cell phone just in case of a problem.
“I'm very much protected and taken care of,” she said. “I watch the fields from the edge of the woods. Your security blanket is your cell phone.”
She's out there at least three times a week. The Tecumseh resident and artist has been fortunate more years than not and this season downed a big doe with a crossbow that will put meat on her table. Last year she bagged a big-bodied buck with a 20-gauge shotgun and says that while she prefers dropping the boys, she had her last one mounted, either a buck or doe will do just fine. It's the experience and thrill of the hunt that excites her.
“I love it,” said Sharon. “I thoroughly enjoy being out, watching the snowflakes, looking at the birds, watching everything around you and being so aware of the outdoors.”
Sharon could have taken a shot at a big-racked buck this season with her crossbow but all it offered was its rear. Being the hunter she is, she would never take such an uncertain shot at a deer. Her niece, Cheryl Westbrook, lives in Onsted, and is also a respected hunter and artist. Sharon offers nature paintings in watercolor at galleries including the Susan Whitney Studio in Tecumseh.
Probably the finest example of a tough outdoors lady would be the following female hunter who after only three weeks of giving birth to a boy was out on opening day of the firearm deer season on her parent's 60-acre property. Julia Westgate, aged 34 of Tecumseh, has been a firefighter and is currently an EMT for Lenawee Community Ambulance so she's witnessed a fair share of excitement. She hunted since her youth and got her last buck about 12 years ago. She hasn't gone without venison, she tagged a large doe six years ago but success has eluded her until this year. She and her mother Judith Holcomb were on opposite sides of the property hunting on opening day and she took a shot at a buck, hit it but was unable to track it down. So, she took her daughter Brianne Snyder (16) hunting for the first time the next day while her mother took to the other ground blind. When a doe arrived within sight of Julia and Brianne they perked up but their adrenaline really got pumping when a buck followed right behind. The deer were too far out of range for a clean shot so the two patiently waited. When the nine-point buck strolled within comfortable shooting distance about a half an hour later, Julia awoke her daughter from slumber in the cozy ground blind – it was her very first deer hunt – and quickly pulled the trigger of her 20-gauge shotgun and dropped the deer in its tracks about 65-yards away.
“She almost fell out of her chair,” said Julia. “I was laughing so hard.”
A smoke was in order to calm her nerves so Julia stood fast while enjoying the moment. The doe that was being followed by the buck stayed in the area and shortly after moved within 75-yards. Julia just couldn't let the opportunity of tagging two deer on the same evening slip by so she let 'er rip and dropped the doe as well.
“I was geeked,” she said. “I got a lot of food. You know I don't care if I get one or not but when I do I always thank God for putting food on my table.”
Soon after the ladies field dressed the deer, Julia called her husband Nick, who was hunting up north with his son, and excitedly told him of her success. He was just thrilled.
“Cool,” was all he had to say. So far this season he's not had any luck. Julia refers to the boy's weekend as the beer weekend, not the serious deer weekend. Her 170-pound buck was turned into venison sausage sticks while the doe will be used for steaks.
Tiffini Snyder is Julia's youngest daughter and at 13-years-old she chooses to only shoot the animals with her camera and that's fine with her mom. Her newborn son Lucas will also be given the opportunity to join in the hunts as soon as possible.
“Probably as soon as he can walk he's going to be pushing us small game,” said mom with a laugh. “My great grandfather, my grandfather, my mom, my uncles, hunted. It's tradition in the family.”