Want an idea of how serious Beth and Bryan Lukehart are about deer hunting?
Stroll through their deer camp in northwest Missouri, filled with an orange-clad army of family and friends. Then make your way through the woods and visit one of their favorite places in the world, a rusted old deer stand.
It was here that Bryan got down on one knee 12 years ago and asked Beth to marry him.
“This place has always meant something to us,” Bryan said. “I remember the day I proposed, it was cold and windy and she didn’t want to get out of bed.
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“I finally got her to, but she was mad at me. Then when I got down on one knee, she was just shocked.
“Tears were rolling down her face.”
Much has changed in the 9 1/2 years the Lukeharts have been married. They have two children, successful careers and busy lives. But one thing has remained the same: They still return to Bryan’s family land in northern Missouri once deer season arrives in November.
They often stay in the little cabin that Bryan and his friends built, and enjoy the rituals of deer camp. They get together with old friends and family, keep a watchful eye on little ones dressed in blaze orange and using tree branches as swords, and sit around the campfire telling stories.
They are in their element here. This is where many memories have been made.
“I was sitting right beside Beth when she shot her first deer,” Bryan said. “We both shot does that day.”
This season has only added to those memories. By the time opening weekend had ended, the group had taken seven deer. By Friday, they added three more to that total.
Bryan shot two of those deer — a small buck and a doe. Beth had to work much of the week, but was looking forward to getting out this weekend.
For the Lukeharts, who live in Savannah, Mo., it has already been a memorable season. Their 8-year-old son, Austin, took his first deer during the youth season. And their 3-year-old son, Tucker, was running around in deer camp dressed in an oversized orange vest that stretched below his knees.
For Bryan, this is part of family tradition. The land and a love for deer hunting was passed down to the generations by his great-grandfather. It once was productive farm land, but it has since been put into CRP (Conservation Reserve Program land, in which landowners are compensated for idling farm ground and providing wildlife habitat).
Today, it is a deer hunter’s paradise. It consistently has good numbers of deer roaming the woods and brush, even in years when the statewide population is down.
And during deer season, this clearing in the woods comes alive with activity. About 20 hunters have been in and out of camp since the firearms season opened Nov. 14.
“This year, I asked for two weeks off at work and I just stayed up here,” Bryan said. “This is our home away from home.”