The morning had been perfect – clear skies with a long narrow blanket of fog covering the valley floor below my hillside perch, which turned pink as the sun came up. Five seconds before beginning the trek back to camp, a little motion caught my eye as I put on my backpack.

Pulling up my binos, antlers filled my vision. My butt involuntarily fell to the ground, and I felt my heart shift from fifth gear into second. After five years of hunting Washington state, this was the first legal buck I had laid eyes on. He just happened to be a doozy.

Surrounded by three-foot-tall sage brush, I worked to catch my breath. I realized, “This is a thing now,” which did not help me catch my breath.

But then I grit my teeth, “Luke, don’t screw this up.”

I grew up hunting whitetails in the farm country of Minnesota – very different from western big game hunting. There wasn’t much of a science to what we did back then: sit in a tree stand and wait. We’d perch ourselves 15 feet off the ground in stands built from scrap 2x6 and OSB, surrounded by oaks, maples and birch that stood naked above knee deep in fluffy, dead leaves that crunched like Doritos below any critter who dared to move. We were spoiled. We hunted an intensive harvest unit, which allowed five doe tags over the counter, each. I killed a few does and a buck I thought was a doe because I wasn’t in the habit of looking for antlers. Usually, I just looked for the largest body in the group. He was a nice surprise.

Around 19 years old my curiosity for the great big world turned me away from hunting. I moved to the city. I gave up milking cows and got a job serving tables. I signed up for college courses. I started shopping at REI. I changed my radio presets from country to rock. I took up hiking and backpacking. I slumped to a new low by selling my guns when pressed for cash. I never forgot where I came from but for a while I sure was trying.

A few years passed and my Midwest buddies and I decided to get back out there. Each year we planned a trip, which I began affectionately referring to as “camping with a gun” due to our compounding lack of success. We were treating the mountains like whitetail country. No doubt it was always fun. Watching the sun come up in the mountains never gets old and hanging out at deer camp is sacred, but I was losing a little more hope each year.

Then, here on the last day of the season, I got lucky.

I watched that regal buck wander up to a small stand of aspens and lay down. I snuck up behind him, under 100 yards, knelt and put him in the crosshairs.

 I pulled away from the scope and tried to slow my heart. I smiled to myself. I had forgot what this was like. For a few minutes I made myself breath deep. I put him back in the crosshairs, followed by a few more breaths. Crack!



Over the following months, something in me changed. I began daydreaming about hunting like I did when I was a kid. At night as I sat on the floor waiting for my daughter to fall asleep, my mind wandered all over the U.S. planning hypothetical hunting trips. I started watching hunting TV shows. I listened to hunting podcasts. I learned about other hunting methods like “spot and stalk.” I became interested in hunting other game: elk, turkey and waterfowl.

I joined BHA. My Instagram feed changed from pictures of people to pictures of deer and elk. I spent way too much money on new gear, and I even started reading the WDFW regulations – for fun.

Something was reactivated in me. The heart pounding experience of stalking that deer brought some of my fondest childhood memories rushing back to me. As an adult I was still trying to determine what I was passionate about. Now a clear path was delivered on a silver platter.

I would think the easiest crime for a detective to solve would be one that happened to a person while he was killing a deer; everyone can tell you, step by step, with stunning detail, how it went down, but they cannot tell you where the cheese grater is kept at home. My story isn’t to say that a successful hunt is the only way to reactivate a hunter, but I will say that 10-point mule deer bucks sure seem to help.


BHA member Luke Frontczak lives in Bellingham, Washington with his wife and two daughters.


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Backcountry Journal editor

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