For veteran Saukville hunter Bill Meloy, sharing the experience is the biggest reward of his annual deer hunt
Perhaps nobody loves deer hunting more than Bill Meloy.
The Saukville resident beams with passion in discussing his 60 years of hunting and nearly 50 years teaching hunter safety classes. He has seen how people’s attitudes and techniques toward deer and hunting have led to new standards and laws through the decades, and the impact those have had on deer population and behavior.
Of his 60 annual hunting trips over Thanksgiving, his memory of shooting his first buck is as clear as if it happened yesterday.
“To this day, it’s my favorite sport,” he said. “That was something I couldn’t wait for … It was the trip up north, the bonding, weeks leading up there, planning.”
But Bill has found one thing he loves even more than deer hunting: passing down the tradition to his family. Like their dad, Bill’s three sons have each bagged their fair share of deer.
“I had more fun when my kids shot the deer than when I shot the deer myself,” Bill said.
The tradition continues as granddaughter Madison participates in her second deer hunt this year, and the eighth-grader has some success behind her. She bagged a turkey in her first hunt, and she was efficient about it.
“I didn’t expect to get one in the first five minutes of the season,” Madison said. “And he (her dad Terry) was more excited than I was.”
Bill had warned his granddaughter what to expect.
“I said you could see one in the first five to 10 minutes or in five days,” he said.
Deer are a different story for Madison, and she continues the family tradition of no beginners’ luck. Last year on her first hunt, Madison saw two deer and went through the typical emotions of a rookie.
“I was very excited to see it,” she said. “I was shaking for five minutes after I saw it.”
She shot and missed, but her father got one of them.
“She’ll remember that for the rest of her life,” Bill said. “And it’s a learning thing.
“Her father did the same thing,” Bill said, adding he, too, shot and missed in his first encounter. “You’re 12 years old and you get a little excited. That’s all part of the hunt.”
Terry said it took him three years to shoot his first deer, “and all of that was just nerves.” He has been hunting since 1987.
“I still get excited for it,” he said. “I think things slow down. The first few years you couldn’t even breathe when you saw a deer.”
Bill said hunters go through three stages. The first is shooting and bagging a deer. The second is getting a bigger, trophy deer. The final stage is appreciating the opportunity to see and shoot at deer. Missing is OK.
“It’s the camaraderie,” he said.
Bill, who retired as Saukville police chief in 2013 after 40 years on the job, is the youngest of his hunting group at age 72. Many of the 12 to 14 people have stopped hunting for health reasons. He remembers two excursions up north per year, once for hunting and once for fishing.
“It was a treat to go up there and see ’em,” he said of his fellow hunters.
He used to hunt with one family in Forest County, which knew the woods and were excellent trackers. Their house didn’t have running water or electricity, and they used an old wood stove and kerosene light.
“All these things really were part of the deer camp,” Bill said. “I’m glad my dad gave me the opportunity to do those things.”
Seeing other wildlife is part of the experience. Bill said chickadees would land on the barrel of his gun or on his hat. Occasionally, a bear would run by. Terry said a weasel once sat on his boot and looked up at him.
“You don’t know what you’re going to see,” Terry said.
Madison’s hunting experiences may be a little different. Her grandfather won’t take her where he hunts since the deer population there has declined.
“I would love to have her up north,” he said. “But she would be bored to death up there. I don’t want her to become disinterested.”
Instead, Terry takes Madison hunting in the Town of Fredonia with his father-in-law.
Bill said he likes that the state Department of Natural Resources is encouraging young people to hunt, and he likes that more girls are hunting than ever before. But they need deer.
“If she (Madison) gets cold standing there and isn’t seeing anything, she’s going to lose interest,” he said. “When I was her age, I knew what deer looked like.”
The herd is being impacted by the fact that does have been harvested for 25 years, wolves has been introduced and protected, and bears and coyotes hunt fawns, Bill said. The lack of logging has also impacted the deer’s food supply. Where he would see tens of deer up north, he now is lucky to see a few, he said.
“I’m not complaining. I’m just picking out what my observations are,” he said.
Bill said he hopes hunting will remain a sport for everyone. He sees more and more quality management of herds on private land.
“I hope we don’t get to a paying society where you’ve got to have money (to hunt),” he said.
Regardless, shooting a deer is shooting a deer. Bagging an antlerless deer can be just as good as scoring a buck if the hunter enjoys venison.
“A trophy is what you make it,” he said.
Madison hopes to shoot deer period, but it comes with a caveat for dad.
“If I get one this year, he’ll be doing the gutting of it,” she said.
She tried it once already, she said.
“I’m not ready for that.”
Three generations of hunting are continuing this year for the Meloy family as (from left), Terry, daughter Madison and father Bill are on hunting excursions.
Photo by Sam Arendt