Three women from the Bemidji area are preparing for rifle season, which begins Saturday at dawn.
For these hunters, preparing for a hunt is not so much a routine - it's a ritual.
It starts with a list
George-Ann Maxson, 58, was not raised to be a hunter. In fact, she grew up in Chicago.
"I was totally an urban kid growing up," Maxson said. "But I liked nature; I read my share of Jack London novels."
Eventually, Maxson and her husband, Stephen, from Park Rapids, found jobs in the fields of wildlife and plant ecology in Bemidji.
"It was a family tradition for Steve to go hunting at his uncle's camp. Only males went to the camp and I would wait for him to bring back a deer," Maxson said.
It wasn't until 1985, after she and her husband bought a 40-acre parcel of land, when Maxson went deer hunting for the first time.
"My mother was a Chicago city girl all her life and she could not imagine her properly raised daughter was in the woods hunting deer," she said.
Throughout her hunting experiences, Maxson says she's never been hesitant to remove the entrails from a deer by herself or help butcher the deer.
"We eat a lot of deer meat," Maxson said. "Hunting my own deer is a way for me to be in total control over what I eat. I know where my food comes from and how it was processed."
The hunting ritual for Maxson starts with an "ancient" yellow piece of paper with a list of things to do on it.
The list includes all of the essentials needed for hunting, such as a knife, a compass, hunting licenses, scarves, etc. But close to the bottom, the list reads:
- Leave house at 6 a.m.
- Get to stand by 6:30 a.m.
- Shoot deer at 7:05 a.m.
- Go home.
While her list sets somewhat high expectations, Maxson said, "Some years, it has worked out that way."
Waiting for a deer to come into her view has tested her patience at times, but Maxson said being alone in the woods has enabled her to see other wildlife, as well.
"A couple years ago I saw a male wolf about 20 yards away from where I was sitting," Maxson said.
Today Maxson continues to hunt with her husband on land near Turtle River Lake. Many of her hobbies include being in the outdoors throughout the year, so for her, hunting is more about using her senses.
"To sit quietly and have that stillness, focus, and alertness on the same level as the deer, that is what makes it novel," she said.
Books, candy, deer
Chris Weir-Koetter, now in her mid-fifties, has more than 30 years of hunting experience. Growing up, her parents never hunted, but her brother found interest in it.
She recalled her first hunting experience when she was 22 years old and hunting on county land in Hubbard County.
"I remember it being really cold. I was also getting a little sleepy," she said. "I had my .30-30-calliber rifle with me, which I named Bessy."
After she got married, she and her husband bought a piece of land in Turtle River Township, where they hunted.
"After I got my first deer, I got more serious about hunting deer. I found good spots and was patient," Weir-Koetter said.
She says she and her family eat venison all winter, and usually have enough of it to last them all year.
"My mom was always very proud of my hunting," Weir-Koetter said. "She was always keeping tally of who was successful in the family. As a family at the end of the season, we help each other out by cutting the meat."
Weir-Koetter's hunting ritual begins by going to the book store with her best friend, whom she often hunts with.
"First we go to the book store. You have to get good books to read to combat the boredom," she said.
Her next stop is for candy.
"We buy chocolate to eat in the deer stand - it's instrumental in getting a deer. We usually find the cheap candy left over from Halloween," she said.
Last on their list of things to bring to the deer stand is a sleeping bag to keep their legs warm.
"I've spent a lot of time sitting in trees. I used to stay out all day. But now, I take a break around noon. It's a lot more casual now," Weir-Koetter said.
Weir-Koetter says there are a variety of factors as to why she hunt, but one of the main reasons is doing her share to control the deer herds in heavily populated areas.
"There's nothing about hunting that says it's a male thing. It's meant to be a fun activity and a way to get meat," she said.
On the lookout
Kelli Montgomery, 16, can't remember the first time she went hunting.
When she was little, she remembers tagging along with her father. At the time, she said, she cared more about the chance to sit with her dad for a day, than shooting a deer.
"I would go and sit with him," she said. "I'd be really cautious about being quiet because I didn't want to mess it up for him."
Since she's been old enough to hunt alone, Montgomery says she has depended on her dad to find her spot. Months before the hunt, her dad spends weeks scouting for signs of deer, and eventually assigns a spot for her, she said.
"He knows where the deer are," Montogmery said.
Montgomery's hunting ritual starts early - whether she wants to or not.
"My dad is always up at 4:30 a.m. He can't sleep on opening day, so he turns on radio really loud to wake me up," she said.
After getting their clothing and equipment ready, Montgomery, and her grandfather, father, both uncles and a few others meet at Country Kitchen for a hearty breakfast.
"Over breakfast we look at maps, and we are told where we are going to be hunting," Montgomery said.
As the only girl in her hunting posse, she said she likes it that way.
"It's also good to learn from seasoned hunters," she said.
Throughout the beginning of the rifle season, her family holds a friendly competition to bag the biggest buck. The later part of rifle season is dedicating to harvesting antlerless deer.
Although she hasn't had a good shot at a buck yet, Montgomery is hopeful she will see one this year.
"I usually fall asleep out there," she said. "Porcupines always seem to walk up to me while I'm out there. Four or five times now I've woken up and had them walk across my feet."
The greatest challenge about deer hunting for Montgomery is controlling her excitement of seeing a deer while concentrating on getting a clean shot.
"I anticipate the kick of the gun, and I'm nervous, which is hard," she said.
When asked why she enjoys hunting, Montgomery answered by saying, "It's really about the family thing."
She also mentioned she enjoys eating venison jerky and homemade stew her father makes.