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Omaha Magazine

Friendship in the Woods: Hunting Game Equals Memories, Meat, and Amiability

May 28, 2020 10:05AM ● By Patrick McGee

I was sitting in a scrubby tree on a fence line, overlooking an alfalfa line. Before legal shooting time [30 minutes before sunrise], I saw a deer a couple of hundred yards away in the alfalfa. I’m looking at my watch and looking at the deer…looking at my watch and the deer...” recounted Phil McEvoy, a retiree and an avid hunter. “Then, just after legal shooting time, the deer stepped right in front of me-about 12 yards away. He fell right there.” 

McEvoy has been an avid hunter most of his life. He began harvesting deer as a young man in the mid-1970s with his father and brothers. Now, age 67, he continues taking an annual trip to the Boyd County farm where he, his nephew, and his neighbor harvest deer, and have done so for 28 consecutive years. In those years the land changed hands. McEvoy pursued a relationship with the current owners, in part to keep the tradition going. He feels bonded to the land, and so he is bonded to its custodians. “We’ve become friends,” he says. “We talk about our families.” McEvoy enjoys bringing them gifts to show his gratitude.

To McEvoy, hunting is about friendship as much as anything. Every year, he and his hunting party-regularly consisting of his nephew and neighbor-sleep in a small cabin near the Missouri River. Every year, he looks forward to spending this quality time with them. “We always fix breakfast together,” he said of each morning, adding that they split up during daytime hunting hours. In the evenings, he said, “we sit around the cabin talking about hunting, talking about life, and the different things we’ve done over the year.” He continued, “they have your full attention and you have theirs,” noting that there is little cell service, no internet, and no TV. McEvoy said it’s “back to the way it was 25 years ago or longer.” “So you sit and you talk with people,” he said with an air of nostalgia and appreciation.

Willy Horton, 56, McEvoy’s neighbor and one of his frequent hunting partners, shared McEvoy’s sentiment that hunting with others creates friendships. “It’s a good way to get to know someone,” he said. “You get to know people when all you have to do is talk-talk about the hunt, talk about everything,” he said. “You get to know [your friends’] kids. 

“If it had not been for hunting, we [Horton and McEvoy] would still just be neighbors waving at each other,” Horton said. He said hunting has been the catalyst for other friendships he has made as well. McEvoy loves introducing others to the outdoors and to their hunting party, and will teach anyone to hunt. Horton said that’s how he began hunting as well. Now, “I’ve been hunting with McEvoy for 15 years.”

McEvoy said that deer hunting allows him to appreciate the outdoors. He relishes in the stark quiet of the woods. There are no disturbances. One is alone with his thoughts and there is peace-except for the occasional woodland denizen: a rummaging turkey or coyote, or a curious fox or eagle, McEvoy said. It is transcendental. 

Horton agreed, saying it doesn’t matter if he even harvests a deer. A hunt is a success when it gets him outdoors. “It’s relaxing,” he says. Watching wildlife is a highlight of the entire experience. Even if he “fills his tags” [harvests the legal limit of deer], he likes to spend time driving around to take in the scenery.

Hunting is not all relaxation, McEvoy said. He describes hiking over untamed landscapes to reach a destination from which he can stalk deer. “The walk into the woods,” he said, “can be 200-300 yards from the truck.” He said he could walk a couple hundred yards more, but due to his age and physical condition, he prefers not to. He describes the hike as “moderately labor-intensive.”

“The real work begins,” he said, “when you actually drop a deer and have to field dress it and get it into your truck.” Field dressing a deer requires precision, skill, and muscle. This involves rolling the deer. “You want to field dress them as soon as possible,” McEvoy said, explaining that it inhibits bacterial growth. McEvoy said field dressing entails slitting open the deer’s abdomen and removing the organs within. The deer must also be lifted into the truck bed. Often, he says, deer must be dragged out. “Bucks are easier to drag because the antlers make a nice handle to hold onto,” McEvoy said.

Practicing marksmanship in advance may be leisurely from time-to-time, but it is also essential to successfully harvesting deer. “You want to practice so you can make a clean kill,” McEvoy said. “I’ve been lucky that most of my deer, especially lately, have dropped when I shot them.” He said if they are not dead when a hunter approaches, the deer may run or kick, and a buck might ram the hunter with its antlers. McEvoy practices shooting at an outdoor range once a month. His years of practice add up. “I can hit a target at 300 yards,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to shoot a deer out that far-they start looking pretty small in your rifle scope that far out.” Knowing when to shoot for a clean kill is respectful, ethical, and humane.

It goes without saying that McEvoy is a skilled and ethical hunter. He has been fortunate enough to harvest four deer annually in recent years and eats venison nearly every day. He respects the land whose deer he harvests, and he enjoys teaching others to appreciate nature through deer hunting. 

Even more than the enjoyment of nature, McEvoy’s hunting stories are replete with stories of friendship and gratitude for those with whom he spends quality time with friends and family. For McEvoy, hunting would be incomplete without this aspect of the hunt. Horton reciprocates the feeling. 

“I thank Phil every year for allowing me to go hunting with him,” Horton said.

This article first appeared in the "60 Plus" section of the June 2020 issue of Omaha Magazine.