COLUMBIA — The snapping of tree limbs and rustling of leaves become louder as the sun sets on a cool and clear November afternoon.
It’s a good time to be hunting. The shifting breeze carries any sound and scent away from its source.
Fifteen feet above the ground in a tree stand, Mary Kate Puscian has a clear view of her surroundings but is unseen to her prey.
All is quiet.
Then she hears the sound of a deer slowly walking toward her. A hundred yards away, she spots the white tail and antlers. It’s a buck, an eight-pointer. She waits quietly until it is in range and then cautiously takes her stance.
He spots her. She freezes, afraid he will take off. The buck has poor eyesight, and it continues on after a few seconds. She pulls back her bow and aims. Puscian is calm on the outside, but on the inside her heart is racing. The arrow strikes the buck behind his right shoulder and pierces his flesh before he can react.
He’s the second deer Puscian’s ever hit. But just like the first, he gets away.
Puscian, 19, began hunting about a year ago after her boyfriend, Cody Hambach, took her along during one of his trips.
"I just got to watch,” Puscian said. “So I said, ‘next year, I want to do that myself.'"
She bought her own bow and began practicing with targets and life-sized, three-dimensional deer replicas over the summer. When she started school at MU this year, she also decided she wanted to get involved with something different. Because she had this new interest, she decided to join the archery team.
“Well, since I’m just getting into it, I thought, that will be really good practice for me, and now I really like it,” she said.
Among the 45 members of the archery club, 11 are female, which is something Puscian loves to see at practice and on TV.
“It’s all couples hunting now, or girls, on the shows, and that’s what I really like,” Puscian said. “I love watching those shows, and the girls are right next to the guys, and they can hunt, too, and get just as big of a deer.”
Although Puscian said she believes hunting will probably stay a male-dominated sport, she said it is not just for guys anymore. She has come up with her own way of adapting her style to hunting. She uses decorative touches on her boots and arrows and a deer-shaped air freshener hangs from her rearview mirror — all accented with different shades of pink. She says it reminds people she’s a woman and she can do all the same things a guy can do.
Puscian said having diversity in the archery club is beneficial, as the mixture of experience and skill levels gives her a variety of people to turn to when she needs help. While the men might joke with her about her pink arrows during practice, they are always willing to help with technical issues, she said, and the women can give her advice for her grip and stance because they know what it’s like for her.
But even with help, hunting is still sometimes difficult for Puscian. She is just starting, and the other hunters around her have been doing it longer. But she doesn’t let that keep her back from trying. She has become more comfortable with the techniques, and she is practicing by hunting nearly every week, even though she knows it might be some time before she makes her first kill.
“I really want to continue with this; it’s a sport that I really like," she said. "And hopefully I’ll progress and do better as I go.”
As for the buck that got away, Puscian wasn't too upset.
“He’ll live another day to be hunted,” she said.
Editor's note: The deer was found walking the next morning, and its injury appeared to be healing.