Alexis Martinez, 13, Hazelhurst, took her first deer Saturday, Oct. 6. Before that, there was the practice and anticipation. After, the venison. And along the way, she’s gained a love for the hunt.
Alexis’s successful hunt came during the youth gun hunt sponsored by the Northwoods Youth Deer Hunting Challenge. Her mentor, Marv Smith, is a longtime hunter and NYDHC committee member.
“We went at 12:30 or one o’clock and we stayed out there until 6:05. That’s when the one I shot came out,” Alexis said.
Alexis was posted in a tower stand on Hazelhurst property owned by Steve Metz. She was accompanied by Marv and her father, John Donald. The early part of their vigil was relatively uneventful.
About 3 p.m., Alexis was cold, so Marv suggested a brief hiatus. Equipped with another layer of clothing, Alexis was soon back on the stand. That’s when the action that led up to Alexis getting her buck started.
Of course, there was other interesting activity besides deer in the woods that day.
“We saw some grouse, we were looking at them through binoculars,” she said. Marv took the opportunity to teach Alexis a little bit about the ruffed grouse.
“Then the spike buck I missed came out,” she said.
The first deer had shown, but Alexis’s shot was off the mark. Alexis and mentor Marv attribute the miss to nerves. A little buck fever.
Marv encouraged Alexis after the miss, telling her he’d missed deer, too. He assured her there was still plenty of time left.
When two does showed about 10 minutes later, Marv asked her if she’d like to take one. Alexis was willing, but never got a shot.
“They didn’t stop at all, they just ran across the field,” she said.
The does ended up near the stand, but nearly straight down. So close that Alexis couldn’t see them to shoot. The does moved on, but the best was yet to come.
Soon, two bucks approached the clearing the stand overlooked from timber to their left and entered it. Marv coached Alexis. He told her to take her time and shoot the lead deer, which was completely out in the clearing.
Of course, Alexis was nervous.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m going to miss this one and I’m not going to be able to shoot anything for the day,’” she said. “I was thinking about the past few days — how excited I had been, how much I couldn’t wait.”
She felt like she had made a good shot when she squeezed the trigger of the .243. She saw the buck’s reaction.
“It jumped up in the air and then it ... started running,” she said. “We waited a second watching it, and then it went out of our view, so we had to go down there and start tracking it.”
Alexis found the first drop of blood when the trio began looking for the buck. She was pleased to see it.
“Then I was sure that I hit it,” she said.
Alexis was really focused on the blood trail. Her father and Marv let her work on her tracking skills. The buck hadn’t gone too far.
“Marv and my dad [saw] it,” Alexis said. “But they had me go ahead and follow the trail of blood. And then ... it was right by me. It was like one-foot away from my foot. I’m looking at the ground, and then I see it out of the corner of my eye.”
Intent on the trail, Alexis had nearly stepped on the downed buck.
“I was just still shaking. And kind of surprised. I thought it’d be up farther,” she said.
Marv field-dressed the buck, which turned out to be a four-pointer that’s nearly a five-pointer. One of the points is a bit short.
Marv teased her that she had missed the earlier, smaller buck on purpose. Alexis didn’t mind.
“It was fun going out there. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s definitely something I’m going to do again.”
Of course, preparation goes into any successful hunt. For Alexis, it meant some time at the range to get zeroed-in.
“The first shot I was really, really excited but I wanted to do good ... I was surprised when I was able to hit the paper,” Alexis said.
Her mentor was very pleased with her efforts at the range.
“Her very first shot ever — very first time she ever fired a gun — she was only three inches to the left on the target,” Marv said. “I said, ‘This is going to be OK.’”
Alexis was sighted-in quickly.
“Her second two shots she had an inch group,” Marv said.
The shot that downed her buck was delivered right where you’d want it to be.
“She took the shot at about 60 yards and got a lung shot, so the deer ran probably about 60 yards and dropped,” John Donald said.
Of course, Marv had expectations of his mentee, and he let her and her parents know right away.
Foremost was that every possible safety precaution be taken, every rule observed. Second, full attention in the woods. Marv said this meant no cell phones, iPads, Angry Birds or the like.
He told them, “We’re going to hunt.”
Fun for family, fun for mentor
The Donald family moved to the Northwoods from the Wisconsin Dells area recently, and saw the mentored hunt through NYDHC as a way to get Alexis into something she’d shown interest in while familiarizing themselves with the community.
Her dad, John, is an angler but not a deer hunter. Yet. The mentored hunt was a learning experience for him as well. And the success was a thrill.
“I’ve never seen a deer shot, so she got my heart racing,” he said.
He is very thankful for the chance his daughter got, and embraces the idea behind the mentored hunts.
“It’s been a great experience, and from a parental standpoint, every kid should have the opportunity, whether their parents have ever hunted or not,” John said.
He said the family was celebratory in the wake of his daughter’s success. And they’re glad to have the meat. Alexis and her younger brothers got involved in processing the venison.
“When I was cutting up the deer, her and the boys were washing up the meat and putting it all aside,” John said.
He noted that they enjoyed a meal of tenderloin from the buck Sunday.
Many phone calls to and from happy family members were made after Alexis got her buck. John said one of his sons even wrote a story about the deer hunt in class.
Of course, he was especially thankful for the mentor.
“You can’t have a better mentor than Marv, in my opinion, for a girl getting out there,” he said.
Marv Smith enjoyed the experience himself, from watching Alexis’s excitement, to her nearly tripping over her own buck while she was so intent on its trail, to teasing her about missing the spike buck. The whole preparation and hunt.
He helped after the deer was down, too.
“I gutted it for them and then helped them. We took it up to Kurt’s (Island Sports) that night and registered. Then we took it up to their place and hung it up,” he said.
Marv said there was another important benefactor in the mentored hunt — Steve Metz, who allowed the use of his property for the hunt.
“The Deer Hunt Challenge appreciates someone like that donating private land for youth to hunt on,” Marv said.
Of course, the hunt was fun for Marv because it was fun for Alexis. He’s pleased with the success and the story around the buck.
“She’ll probably never forget a first one like that.”
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.