(Editor's Note: This special series features hunters who have shot above-average-sized deer. Stories will be published on an ongoing basis, and hunters who would like to be included may submit their photos for consideration. Call 570-326-1551, ext. 3116, for details.)
By JESSICA WELSHANS
hen Adrienne Steppe, of Nippenose Valley, headed out to her tree stand on the opening day of rifle season this past fall, she expected to sit for hours in the cold and not see much of anything.
Her husband, Adam, 35, was in his stand a little more than 100 yards from her, also waiting on a deer.
Little did Adrienne know, a small window of opportunity would score her a nice, heavy massed, nine-point buck, the largest deer she has harvested to date.
Adrienne, 32, is an occupational therapist and has been hunting deer since her early teens. She said it's something her family has done as a tradition.
Adam said Adrienne is more of hunter then he is. He grew up on a farm and hunting provided food for the freezer. He's just now getting back into it as a recreational activity.
The two don't necessarily hunt together, but this year they were together in the same area.
"I think it's neat. I like seeing the excitement in her eyes and the want to (hunt). I think it's really cool she likes it and she likes to shoot," Adam said of his wife.
"Our second date was on a gun range. She outshot me," he said as they looked at each other and grinned.
Adrienne said hunting together this year worked well for her.
"He gutted it and (dragged) it out for me," she said.
There wasn't any pre-scouting for the two. They hunt on a private, family property.
"I hunted that tree stand before and it's been very hit or miss. Mostly miss," she said. "So you kind of go up there expecting, 'OK, I am going to sit here and freeze and see nothing.' "
Adam said the area gets a lot of hunting pressure from the properties that surround it and is a very unpredictable area.
The stand Adrienne usually sits in is in the midst of a pretty thickly wooded area. Adam's stand was about 100 yards from hers.
Both hit the woods before dawn. Adam heard a shot close to the designated shooting time from his stand. Adrienne said she was hearing deer not far off to her left soon after light.
"I am looking down there and it's really thick. I didn't see anything. I kept looking and looking," she said. "I did see some antlers, but it was so far away I couldn't tell if it was legal or not."
A couple of does came out to her stand and she kept her eye on the buck she saw, trying to determine if its antlers were within the legal range.
Then another buck walked into her line of sight. This time, she confirmed its size - it was bigger and definitely legal.
"I didn't see him long because it was so thick back there," she said.
Realizing her window of opportunity was going to be small and quick, Adrienne pulled up and followed the buck with her scope, but not for very long.
"At the end of the clearing, there is a bit of a shooting lane, at the end of that it's 90 yards," Adam said.
The buck walked into a very small opening that Adrienne described is in the thick area, a little beyond the end of that lane.
She was thinking, "If you are going to take a shot, do it now, or you are not going to get a shot."
She squeezed the trigger on her 260 Remington Model 7, downing the deer at more than 90 yards. It was 8 a.m. and she had tagged out.
"It just happened to step into that perfect hole," she said.
Adrienne took a breather before getting out of the tree stand.
Her shot to the buck's neck had folded its legs and took him down where he stood.When Adrienne got to him, he still was kicking a little.
"I didn't really look at the antlers. He was kicking and I actually started getting a little emotional. I shot him in the back of the head. I didn't want him to be in misery," she said.
Adrienne uses custom handmade loads her father makes for her gun, which he bought for her and which she has been using for rifle season ever since.
"I was so emotional about the deer, I didn't really look at the antlers or anything. I went up and got (Adam) and he asked what it is I said, 'I don't know. It's legal,' " she said.
Adam heard Adrienne's first shot from his stand and contemplated whether it was indeed hers. He heard her second shot and thought it may have not been her after all.
The does with Adrienne's deer came up by his stand and, as he watched them, he heard something or someone coming.
"I heard her coming up. She wasn't jumping up and down. I motioned a thumbs-up and she nodded her head. When I got down there, I was amazed," he said.
He then looked at her shot.
"Actually, when you look at it, it was a pretty good shot. It was a very small opening," Adam said. "I was looking around for her stand and I couldn't see it. I had to almost get down close to the ground and look up the hill. She shot through a little window."
"I told myself, 'You don't have time to sit here and think about it.' I was more focused on the first buck. I was getting mad because I couldn't tell if it was legal. I was kind of getting frustrated with that," Adrienne said.
"I am not a trophy hunter, and we don't get many opportunities to kill a deer in that area," she said.
Adam convinced his wife to get a shoulder mount made of the buck.
"It's only a 15-inch spread (but with) its shape and mass, I think it looks bigger," he said. "It's a nice looking deer."
"It will probably be the largest I will ever get," Adrienne said.