Heads or Tails?
but it makes perfect sense when you consider the evolution of their attitudes. Nick has taken more than two dozen deer with archery gear, and probably twice that many with modern rifles and muzzleloaders over the years. Rick has lost count of the deer he has taken.
When they were teenagers and new to deer hunting, they didn’t hesitate to shoot the first deer that came along. Gradually, they became more discriminating as they refined their standards of what constitutes a trophy.
Two years ago, for example, they both passed up opportunities to shoot does and average-sized bucks early in the season in hopes of bagging trophy bucks. They were tempted to settle for average deer, and they empathized with a family member who shot a doe early in the season who later recalled, "All I could see was tenderloins."
For the brothers, however, rewards other than venison steaks kept them from thumbing the hammers of their muzzleloaders. Their driving desire is to harvest a mature buck with antlers of exceptional quality.
"If I never get a shot during the season, I’m perfectly happy," Nick said. "Sometimes I pass on a shot at a nice buck because I can see that he will be a really good deer later on. Just knowing there are big deer out there is really important."
To him, harvesting a mature buck with big antlers is a challenge that pits his highly developed hunting skills against the advanced survival instincts of a wary and adaptable forest creature.
"It’s just the horns," he explained. "You don’t get a chance at a deer like that often. You see them through the summer, when they’re in velvet, and into the fall. Then on opening day, they disappear."
Knowing he wouldn’t be able to hunt the following day, Nick finally settled for a doe one day before the end of the 1998 muzzleloader season.
Like so many trophy hunters, Rick never fired a shot that year, but he enjoyed the season for other reasons.
"It’s a complete escape from work and your daily routine," Rick said. "There’s no timetable. It’s a whole different world when you’re out there."
Both men said the highlight of the season was helping their daughters bag their first deer. Rick’s 8-year-old daughter, Alyssa, shot a small doe. Nicole Hilkemeyer, then 9, harvested a button buck under Nick’s supervision. Both used muzzleloaders to bring home their venison.
For the Hilkemeyer brothers, however, the goals are much