The 500,000 Friends You Haven’t Met
By: Tyler Lomibao
As the old saying goes, “It’s that time of year again!” This weekend marks one of the biggest holidays of the year. No, it’s not a Hallmark holiday. It’s opening weekend of Wisconsin’s gun deer season! I will join you all as 1 of the roughly 500,000 hunters that will watch the Saturday sun rise dressed in blaze orange.
Like kids dreaming of the sight of Santa’s presents on Christmas morning, we’re all dreaming of the sight of “the thirty pointer” on opening morning. We all go through somewhat of the same preparation before Saturday. We test shoot our guns to ensure scopes weren’t knocked off since last season. We make sure to add a roll of toilet paper to our packs for an all-day sit after a morning of too much coffee, and we can’t forget the fresh baked cookies and jerky from last season’s harvest. In all seriousness, as we double check our gear lists, memories of past hunting adventures tend to flood our minds. We think about the monsters that got away and the antler that hit the dirt.
This year, I found myself reminiscing on my 2017 deer season. Now anyone that knows me well, knows I’ve been addicted to bow hunting for the last 15 years. But at the end of my 2017 archery season, I realized just how quickly a season flies by. Moving to a new city, my job in the hunting industry, and spending time with friends and family, had simply left very little time to chase whitetails. To be exact, I spent the least amount of time in the stand that year out of 13 years of hunting. With that considered, it was only natural for me to look forward to the opening weekend of gun season with extra high hopes of putting some meat in the freezer. Yet opening weekend on public land near Antigo, ended with zero deer sightings. Little did I know, my season wouldn’t just turn around, but 2017 would be one of the best seasons I’ve been lucky enough to experience.
After zero deer sightings on opening weekend, my hopes for filling a deer tag were low. So when I was invited to hunt a private piece of property in the Wautoma/Red Granite area for the second weekend, I was extremely excited. I had only known Bill and Billy Breider for around 6 months when they invited me to join them on their property. Now the Breiders are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met. Yet I was still extremely shocked and surprised by their invite. I know how difficult it is to gain permission for hunting property today. For that reason alone, I was surprised. But what really shocked me, was the underlying invite.
Those of you reading this will understand there’s a natural connection between people that share passion for hunting and the outdoors. That shared passion creates a level of respect between us, where we immediately relate to each other. We understand there’s an aspect of solitude and isolation in hunting, yet we share a sense of community. Some might refer to it as a “fraternity” or “brotherhood” that all men, women, and children become a part of when they pursue the elusive whitetail. This is the underlying invite, that shocked me the most. As a dedicated hunter I didn’t see their generosity as a simple invite to harvest an animal, but an invite to share the experience; share that sense of community, passion, and share in creating memories. And that is exactly what happened.
The Breiders and I began the second weekend of gun season attending family Thanksgivings. After eating our fill of turkey, we embarked on an unseasonably warm evening hunt. We met our first fork in the trail and Billy split off to his stand. Bill and I continued together as I followed him to the first of two recommended stands. The first option was a comfortable tower stand overlooking a CRP field with long range shooting. After pointing out the first stand, Bill continued to navigate me towards his second recommendation; a bow stand set up for a 20 yard shot to a side hill, with trails running from thick brush on the back side of a lake. This was big buck territory. A perfect spot to catch a mature whitetail sneaking through heavy cover after being pressured for a full archery season and gun opener.
As I climbed in the stand, Bill continued up the hill to position himself on a food plot. After sitting in the heat for about an hour, I felt my cell phone vibrate. A text message from Billy checking if our team had seen any movement. As I typed my response to say “No”, I heard crashing in the thick brush to my left and immediately got my rifle ready. Thinking this might be one of the last times I get out in 2017, I had purchased a doe tag, and knew I’d take an opportunity at whatever stepped out. Turning up the zoom on my scope I realized it was a yearling doe, earning her a pass. A few moments later, I heard more crashing behind her. Already full of excitement, I expected to see antlers following her out of the brush. Another yearling doe appeared and they both proceeded to work up the hillside towards my stand. As the does stood 20 yards broadside, I heard crashing again from the same area they had emerged from. It must be a buck, I thought to myself.
I shifted my rifle back to the heavy brush and a small basket rack of antlers appeared. Another deer that I would pass. He quickly moved out of the thicket and worked his way up the draw on the same trail as the does. Once he was about 30 yards away, for the 4th time, I heard crashing in the exact same spot of the thicket. This time, I went as far as sliding the safety to fire, knowing a mature buck would surely follow the train of deer. To my luck, a gap in the brush revealed the right main beam of one of the largest bucks I’ve ever seen on stand. No question, he was a shooter.
The buck fever began to spread and my adrenaline shot through the roof. I watched that right main beam spin for what seemed like an hour, as he would smell in the direction of the does and then look back towards the small buck that was now circling downwind of my stand. Finally, he stepped out of the brush and began working down the trail, every step bringing him closer to a perfect broadside shot. As he stomped out of the brush, I picked a shooting lane and counted each second as I waited for my crosshair to be filled with his shoulder.
Bang!!! The .270 rang out and I watched this solid buck jump laterally off the trail into the brushy jungle. His head was held high and he spun his head, looking towards the scene of the noise. I couldn’t believe it. How could I miss this deer with a rifle at 20 yards? With the only gap in the brush exposing the area between his right shoulder blade and his rack, I worked the glass action on my Tikka and sent another Hornady down range. This time, the shot folded him instantly.
With the buck down, the rollercoaster of emotions that you fellow hunters have experienced, started to overcome me. The trouble breathing as you hyperventilate from the excitement. The uncontrollable shaking as you look like you’re doing the “YMCA” dance in the stand. You try to talk yourself through what you just experienced, but your so tongue tied you can’t speak. With the buck down, the truly best part of hunting would now begin. Somehow, I found a way to make my fingers work and let Bill and Billy know we had a buck big down. Billy quickly responded asking for a picture, but I had to wait to climb out of the tree, as I was gaining back control of my motor skills. Upon closer inspection, both shots had been true, with the first shot through the lungs and out the opposite shoulder. After hitting send on a close-up of the rack, the next message indicated this was one of the largest bucks they had harvested from the property.
As sunset approached, the most meaningful part of hunting continued to grow. I met Bill and Billy on the trail and we shared high fives as I retold the story I’m sharing with you. My worst season had not only turned around, but I was able to share my biggest buck harvest with new friends. We began the tasks of gutting and dragging as they joined me on the rollercoaster of emotions. We snapped pictures together, capturing lifetime memories that had just been created, and proceeded to head home to show our trophy to the rest of the Breider family. Arriving home, more memories were captured through cell phone camera lenses, and the text messages of the harvest began to spread like wildfire. What started as an experience of solitude, now spread through our hunting community, friends, and families, as congratulations were shared and hope of a similar fate was sparked in our fellow hunters.
The shared passion and experience didn’t end there though. I spent the next day retelling the story over and over again on phone calls and text conversations with more family, friends, coworkers, and hunting mentors. I even put some miles on the truck as I showed off, what felt to me like the new world record. My best friend joined me in caping the buck the next day, adding another chapter to this buck’s story, and another shared experience. Even after those few days following the harvest, the sharing of this experience continued.
I reconnected with an old childhood friend, Mitch Goecks, of Wild Expressions Taxidermy, to coordinate a shoulder mount of the deer. Upon entering his shop, we began to swap stories of the season and catch up on the years that had passed since we hunted together. I retold the story of the adventure Bill, Billy, and I had gone through, causing us to get lost in further hunting memory conversations. Flash forward a month later, and this buck continued to hold a place in conversations on Christmas gatherings with relatives, as we swapped stories on the season’s challenges. Flash forward even further, a year down the road, and this buck’s memory continued to linger like the tale of sasquatch.
In 2018, Billy was able to harvest an even larger buck on the same piece of property. The flurry of emotions and a new story of shared experiences, text messages, phone calls, holiday conversations, and taxidermy visits, now started with Billy’s adventure. We both patiently waited to receive our buck mounts and Bill, Billy, and I, naturally reunited to compare mounts and swap stories of the 2018 season. Yet again, adding more shared memories. What would seem like separate stories and experiences, were now shared chapters in our 3 lifetime hunting sagas.
As we all take to the woods this weekend and reminisce, I encourage you all to remember your sagas. To remember the experiences and adventures you’ve shared with family and friends in the outdoors. Remember the long drags out of the swamp with your best hunting buddy at your side. Remember the excitement you felt on your first harvest. Remember the conversations over a warm meal as you defrost next to the fire. Remember the long nights staying up late at deer camp playing cards. Remember that your connection spans farther from the woods with taxidermists that become friends.
Hunting is about much more than a harvest. It’s about the comradery, shared experiences, and shared memories, we create for a lifetime of joy. The true meaning of hunting and the definition of our passion, is not easily explained in words, but resides in the connection you have to 500,000 fellow hunters you’ve never met. Good Luck to everyone on your 2019 season and a special Thank You to the Breider family for our shared 2017 adventure!