Dennis Anderson
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On Tuesday, through the kitchen window of his home near Brainerd, Bill Marchel watched a pair of chickadees and a blue jay peck at a block of hardened deer tallow and fat he had placed on one of five bird feeders in his backyard.

The suet was a byproduct of a deer, a buck, he had arrowed on Oct. 29. A wildlife photographer, Marchel had in his freezer other remains of the hunt, among them steaks, roasts and chops he had carved from the animal's bones, and the trimmings he had ground into hamburger.

The animal's skull and antlers were nearby, too, which he will fashion into a wall hanging to commemorate not him nor his bow or arrow or marksmanship, but the animal and its memory.

The deer's hide, meanwhile, had been donated to a conservation group to benefit deer habitat.

"I try not to let any part of an animal go to waste,'' he said.

The day Marchel shot the buck, a Sunday, he had arrived home in the afternoon from Camp Ripley near Little Falls, Minn., where each year the Department of Natural Resources manages a three-day archery hunt.

Years ago the hunt was one of the premier events of its kind nationally. But it was a bust again this year for Marchel and his friends. Few deer were seen and none killed — certainly nothing like the 240-pound buck Marchel had dropped at the military compound in 1998 or the 218-pounder he took there in 2003.

So when he departed for his home from Ripley, where he has bow-hunted for 54 years, Marchel was bummed by the past few days. Yet he was hopeful, on the cusp of the whitetail's rut, that from a bow stand on his 70 acres he would see a mature buck that evening, meaning an animal at least 2½ years old and preferably older.

Marchel had decided days earlier on which of the numerous bow stands he has sprinkled around his property he would sit. In an ash tree, near a clover food plot he nurtured through the past summer's drought, the stand would place him 17 feet above the ground, an ideal perch, if for nothing else, to view the setting sun.

Arriving home, and en route to the stand, Marchel was encouraged by two fresh scrapes he found, and also an aggressive buck rub on a nearby tree. The scrapes, with a "licking branch'' overhead, were 3 feet across and bore the tracks of a large deer. The rub was lengthy and tore at an aspen 4 inches in diameter.

"I've seen big bucks make small rubs, but never small bucks make big rubs," Marchel said. "To catch any bucks that might revisit the scrapes and rub, I placed a trail camera overlooking them."

Fifty yards from the scrapes, beneath Marchel's ash-tree stand, was another scrape, this one a fake. Bucks sometimes can be fooled by imitation scrapes into stopping to take a look, and to make this one, Marchel had scratched the ground with a stick until it resembled the real thing.

"For me, a dream bow-hunting season would be one in which I could hunt all fall, enjoying my time in a stand, then kill a good buck on Dec. 31," Marchel said. "But because the deer population in my area is low, mostly each fall I watch does and fawns and, sometimes, small bucks. I can sit entire seasons without drawing back. That's not ideal. Then again, being able to watch geese migrate overhead, and foxes, coyotes, fishers and mink scamper about the countryside, is worth the price of a hunting license."

Though Bill Marchel, who lives near Brainerd, intently manages his 70 acres for wildlife, including deer, he rarely sees mature bucks such as this one.
Though Bill Marchel, who lives near Brainerd, intently manages his 70 acres for wildlife, including deer, he rarely sees mature bucks such as this one.

Photo: Courtesy of Bill Marchel

Settling into his stand, Marchel strapped his safety harness to the ash tree and hung a grunt call from a nail protruding from the tree. Almost always nothing happens in these first few minutes of a deer hunt. But just then, Marchel saw his buck, perhaps a 3½-year-old, approach the two scrapes he had just visited.

Dragging his right front hoof across the scrapes, the buck alternately thrashed his antlers and brushed his forehead glands against the overhead licking branch, while also tickling the branch against his preorbital glands, or those beneath his eyes. Cloaked in mystery, these scent markings allow deer to communicate with one another and perhaps signal their intentions.

This deer, of course, couldn't know its picture was being taken by Marchel's trail camera.

"I needed the buck to come to within 25 yards for me to take a shot I was comfortable with,'' Marchel said. "As I watched, the buck left the two scrapes and walked directly toward me, offering no shot."

Shooting from almost directly overhead, Marchel knew his kill zone would be small. His arrow would have to miss the animal's spine, while also avoiding only grazing its rib cage, wounding him.

The buck drew nearer. As he did, Marchel reached for his grunt call, thinking he might need it if the animal veered in another direction. Instead, Marchel dropped the call, and it clanged noisily onto the stand's footrest.

"Surprisingly, the buck didn't care," Marchel said. "He was only thinking about finding a doe."

Finally, Marchel drew back, and when the buck was nearly directly beneath his stand, he loosed his arrow, watching then almost simultaneously as the buck bolted into the woodsy ether.

End at the beginning:

The other day, watching the two chickadees and a blue jay peck at the deer's ground tallow and fat, in his mind's eye Marchel could still see his arrow entering the 180-pound buck's back, where it pierced one of its lungs and sliced its heart in two.

Now nuthatches also gnawed at the suet, joining the chickadees and blue jays, and pileated and downy woodpeckers arrived, too.

The birds, Marchel thought, would survive the coming winter, as would he, with a freezer full of venison.

"I try not to let any part of a deer go to waste," he said.