While living in a fast-paced world of the Internet, email and smartphones, thousands of hunting enthusiasts eagerly await the return of deer season each fall.
And for brothers Jess and Jake Kunkel, along with other members of their family, it just wouldn't be November without taking to the field in pursuit of the elusive whitetail and leaving the rest of the world behind.
Northwest Missouri and Iowa are both hotbeds for trophy bucks, but that isn't the only reason why Jess and Jake make the trip back to Maryville each year.
The main motivation is family and friends.
Jess moved away from home more than two years ago, first to the Manhattan, Kan., area and then to Rogers, Ark., with his wife Tanya. The drive from Rogers to Nodaway County takes a little more than five hours.
Jake also left Maryville a while back and now lives in Kansas City.
"The main reason I come up is friends and family," Jess said. "And it's basically a deer camp mentality. It's more about the experience."
Jake said the same, though he has less than half the drive.
The brothers' love for the outdoors developed early, and they both began fishing and spending time in the woods with their father, Jeff, while "still in diapers."
Deer hunting started for Jess, the older of the two, at age 13, and Jake began a few years later when he was 14. Altogether, the three men have harvested more than 100 deer in a little over a decade.
"It really is the camaraderie," Jeff said. "It's about the only time I get to spend with these two doing 'guy stuff.' It's cool to watch them step up as adults and be the leaders (when we hunt)."
Both brothers arrived in Maryville last Friday before rifle season started in Missouri. While in town, they were able to visit old friends and enjoy an early Thanksgiving dinner with their grandparents at their mother Margaret Degase's house.
Whitetail habitat spreads across most of the Midwest, and the abundant deer population in northwest Missouri gives the brothers an added incentive to come back home.
"It's great to see friends and family that you only see a few times a year, and we get fed well at mom's," Jake said. "But there are really great places to hunt up here that you don't have anywhere else."
When it comes down to the hunt, trophy bucks are sought after but not a priority. The trio considers hunting an opportunity to put food on the table, and Jeff seldom even tries to down a buck, though he said he wouldn't pass up a big one.
"I'm waiting on 'buck-zilla,'" he said. "If it's not a monster, I let it go. Eventually one will come my way."
That patience and perseverance is a big part of hunting, as is battling the weather during the chilly early mornings and late evenings.
"It takes a lot of dedication," Jess said. "And bit of stupidity to sit out there when it's sleeting and below zero."
Jess was referring to days like last Sunday when a storm rolled through, bringing rain, sleet and numbing wind.
The Kunkels admit that, these days, hunting isn't exactly a cheap sport, considering the cost of a good rifle, ammunition and cold-weather gear.
But once the initial purchases are made, the price tag drops.
After all, an average-sized deer can yield nearly 40 pounds of quality meat. That's a deal, considering that an annual buck tag costs less than $20, and doe tags are even less.
"The deer goes from an animal in the field to meat in the freezer," Jess said. "And this is without the meat touching any hands but mine. It's so much better than store-bought meat."
But the rewards of hunting go beyond camaraderie, cheap meat and spending time with loved ones. All three Kunkels say there is something very special about being alone in the woods.
"Every time I go out, I see something I've never seen before," Jake said.
"As the sun comes up you get to watch the timber come alive. You see all kinds of animals, squirrels practically crawling on your lap because they don't realize you're there. It's amazing."
Jeff said he relishes the breaking of dawn when the woods' silence is broken by animal noises and the vibrant singing of birds.
"When you see all of it going on, you can't help but think that no one will ever see what I just saw," Jeff said. "That's my moment right there."
For many, such moments linger always. And the Kunkels say they can recall almost every detail from every hunt they've had together.
"You really don't forget anything," Jake said. "You remember how far out the deer was, which way he was heading, where you were, who was with you. Everything. They're lifetime memories."
By Jesse Murphy
The Maryville Daily Forum - Maryville, MO
By Jesse Murphy
Updated Nov. 16, 2012 @ 7:54 am
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