Youth Deer Hunt a Valuable Lesson

Mike Purnell, of Oconomowoc, Wisc., left, mentors Jake Yanke, 15, of Belgium, Wisc., while hunting in Richland County during the 2013 Wisconsin youth deer hunt on Oct. 6, 2013. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Paul A. Smith)

Mike Purnell, of Oconomowoc, Wisc., left, mentors Jake Yanke, 15, of Belgium, Wisc., while hunting in Richland County during the 2013 Wisconsin youth deer hunt on Oct. 6, 2013. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - Paul A. Smith)

Sextonville, Wis. — The Roost was at its normal occupancy rate during a hunting event.

When the lights went out Saturday night, bodies were plopped on inflatable mattresses, pull-out couches, beds and the floor.

Only the kitchen and bathrooms weren’t converted to sleeping space.

That’s not to mean the “no vacancy” sign was out.

“We can always find room for more,” said Mike Purnell.

Mike and his brother, Lloyd Purnell, own the ranch-style cabin and surrounding acreage in the coulees of Richland County.

The most recent get-together was last weekend, the 2013 Wisconsin youth deer hunt. The crew at The Roost numbered 14.

Logan McCarley, 12, of Oconomowoc, Wis., was hunting with his father, Steve. Jake Yanke, 15, of Belgium, Wis., was there with his uncle, Mike Morell Sr., of West Bend, Wis.

Bailey Morell, 11, of Mayvillel, Wis., was hunting with her father, Mike Morell Jr. Alyssa Morell, 10, of Oakfield, Wis., was pursuing deer for the first time accompanied by her father, Mark.

And Phalen Purnell, 15, hunted with her father, Lloyd, and Payton Purnell, 11, hunted with her father, Mike.

Bruce Ammel, of Menomonee Falls, W.s, and I were on hand to assist.

The sleeping arrangements reinforce the concepts of unity and tolerance among the hunting party.

Given the snoring talents of some, the value of hearing protection often extends to the overnight period.

Saturday night was especially long for Logan and Steve McCarley. But their restlessness had nothing to do with noise.

The weekend represented the first deer hunting experience for the McCarleys. Although Steve is an experienced pheasant and waterfowl hunter, he’d never pursued venison on the hoof.

When the McCarleys accepted the Purnells’ invitation to the youth hunt, Steve knew it could provide a positive father-son experience as well as a learning opportunity.

Rain passed through the area last weekend, and a low, dark cloud cover remained in late afternoon.

Logan and Steve hunted along the edge of a field known as “Coffin Corner.”

About 6 p.m., the wildlife of the valley started to get more active.

Logan’s heart rate spiked when, at 6:10, an antlerless deer made its way into the clearing. Logan swiveled his rifle on a rest and settled the crosshairs on the animal.

“Take your time,” Steve remembers saying.

The deer was about 85 yards away. When it stopped broadside, Logan squeezed off a shot.

The animal lurched, turned and ran.

As hunters are taught, the McCarleys waited before taking up the search. But before they could make their way out to the field, a drizzle and then a hard rain fell.

When they walked to the spot the deer was seen, no blood or other sign was visible. A search through the nearby woods where the animal ran turned up nothing.

As darkness enveloped the coulees, the McCarleys returned to the cabin to tell their story.

As surely as humans have a hunting gene, we also have common emotions in such a time. The McCarleys’ were filled with doubt.

Was the shot well-placed? Did Logan flinch? Was it too far for a young hunter? Did the animal move just before the shot? Should they have set out to look for the deer sooner?

As the rain continued, the group made the decision to look for the deer Sunday morning.

We split into six hunting groups Sunday morning. Purnell and I still hunted with Jake Yanke.

Although deer passed within 60 yards of us on two occasions, Jake exercised good judgment and didn’t fire a shot at the moving animals in the heavy cover.

At 9:30 a.m., we returned to The Roost and met the rest of the group. Purnell organized a search in the woods where the McCarleys had last seen the deer Saturday.

About 10 of us spread out and began walking east into the woods.

After a few yards, Steve McCarley spotted a deer bone from a 2012 carcass.

“There she is,” he joked. Not even the ample population of coyotes in the area works that fast.

Less than a minute later, Mike Purnell made a similar proclamation. But his words were sincere.

“Right there,” Purnell said. The group hustled over to find a 130-pound doe.

Logan’s shot was true, but the animal was able to travel about 90 yards into the woods before it died, eluding the McCarleys’ search in the rain and darkness the night before.

Logan and Steve were then introduced to the rituals of the hunt: the drag, field dressing, registering and butchering.

Ammel brushed some deer blood on Logan’s cheek.

“You’re a hunter,” Ammel said.

The experience helped highlight fundamental ethics. Hunters are responsible to find, recover, respect and utilize all game.

The Purnells encouraged the young hunters to shoot any deer they saw. It’s typical of their “open arms” policy — they are excellent models for the hunting community.

“It’s far more important for us to help bring in new hunters than for us to try to keep anyone from shooting bucks,” Lloyd Purnell said.

The other young hunters all saw deer. Bailey Morell opted to pass on a shot at a 4-point buck. She shot a 3-pointer last year.

And after passing on several fawns, Jake Yanke shot a 9-point buck on Sunday afternoon. It was his first buck.

Logan’s smile lasted for hours, even after the red streak was rinsed from his skin. The animal’s meat will sustain him and his family over the coming weeks.

The experience of his first deer hunt, hopefully, will help shape his connection to the land for the rest of his life.