Deer

Local hunter shares her secrets

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Cheryl Westbrook, an art teacher in the Onsted School District, is an extremely successful hunter.

By Steve Linenfelser

Fall is officially here. The leaves are changing, football games are playing, and we hunters are in search of Odocoileus Virginianus. I am speaking of course, of the much sought after white tailed deer. And while many of us will harvest does to put meat in the freezer, there is nothing quite like harvesting a nice big buck. According to a study in 2006 by the DNR, the population of hunters has decreased overall, but another study in 2013 shows that young hunters, under the age of 17, and female hunters, have slowly increased. They also did a study and found that of the deer harvested, about 30 per cent were bucks, but only about four percent of hunters shot two bucks that year.

Recently, I met a local art teacher that was in that four percent. She has been teaching art class at Onsted middle school for 27 years. Her name is Cheryl Westbrook, and she and her husband Tim were gracious enough to talk with about the success they’ve had hunting deer.

The Westbrooks live on 80 acres out in Onsted, and when I pulled up to their driveway, I noticed a sign that read: ‘Caution: Keep Out, Firearms In Use.’ It made me wonder for a second what reception I would receive, but when I pulled up I was greeted by warm smiles and a very friendly, magnanimous couple.

Their home was decorated with enough mounts that made me feel like I was in Cabela’s. Wow! There were many bucks, numerous deer antlers circled together, a bear, an elk, and even a couple of wild pigs. Tim even had his first deer that he ever shot, a small doe mounted on the wall, right next right next to his biggest deer, a huge buck. You can see them below. I loved it.

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I sat down with Cheryl because I wanted to get her story and how her success all came about. She is originally from Adrian, and although her parents were not hunters, her grandfather, uncle, and aunt were. In fact, her Aunt Sharon, who is in her 70s, still gets out and hunts deer. Her Uncle Larry would take her out squirrel hunting when she was quite small, around 12. She admitted she got a late start hunting deer, after college, after she married Tim. I asked her about her first deer hunt.

“I was young and inexperienced, and was with my friend Kelly on her parent’s property. I sat down in spot that I thought looked good,” she explained. A year and a half old 8 point walked 30 yards broadside and Cheryl shot her first buck with a double barrel shotgun.

The next five years she didn’t get a buck, but she didn’t get discouraged. I asked her what are the keys to becoming a successful deer hunter.

“Patience, perseverance, and you got to want to be out there, “said Cheryl.

The following years were quite successful, and with the help of her husband Tim, who planted food plots and welded some ladder stands, they eventually put up 20 stands on their property. She has shot over 40 bucks since. The year she shot her biggest deer, Cheryl saw an 18 point buck during bow season, but was unable to get a shot. She managed during firearm season to harvest the 198 pound monster.

I asked Cheryl if she hunts with a bow, a muzzleloader, a firearm, or all of the above, and she said “All of the above, but I love my bow.” In fact, three days ago she shot a coyote with her bow. She shot a 200 pound bear with a bow in 2006, and a 425 pound cow elk in Vanderbilt, Michigan with a 30.06 in 2005. She has also shot wild pigs down in Florida, near Tampa.

The Westbrooks own property in Panama City, Florida, where they hunt deer and wild pigs in the winter, and catch salt water fish like grouper, snapper, even shark or barracuda.

One could say that she is very lucky, but her husband Tim pointed out  that it takes skill to get big bucks year after year. “If she had shot two or three bucks, that is one thing, but when you shoot this many bucks, it takes skill.”

So what are some of the keys to success?

“Hunt alone. If you want to be with a buddy, watch football,” she explained. “It’s serious. I de-scent my clothes. You want to look for signs, like droppings, rubs, and scraps.  I follow the wind”, she went on.

I know from personal experience that she is right. Deer have a tremendous sense of smell 100 times greater than that of a human being. I have had deer scent me from 60 yards or more when the wind was blowing towards the deer.

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Cheryl added that just being out there is important. “I hunt every day. I have the luxury of doing that,” she added.

Cheryl told me another secret to her getting big bucks year after year. “We have a rule. The buck must be at least an 18 inch, eight point. We are hunting for that three year old or older buck. I’m a deer snob” she said with a meaningful grin.

While it may be hard to let that 6 point walk away, it will pay off in the end. Her wisdom makes sense.

Cheryl is very modest, but she has won many prizes, including a white muzzleloader, a deer mount from Knutson’s, several hats, scents, and even a dinner from the Big Buck Brewery up in Gaylord. She and Tom process their own meat, and she does all of her own taxidermy. Amazing. She can kill it, grill, and mount it.

Another thing Cheryl pointed out that bait piles were for does and small bucks. “No self-respecting big buck has been shot over a bait pile, ” she insisted. You know what, all of the big bucks I ever heard harvested, none were shot over a bait pile. This gal is on to something.

She went on to explain their passion for being self-sufficient by saying “We don’t buy store bought meat.” They hunt and eat squirrel, wild pig, deer, and if she wins another lottery, elk.

“Squirrels are yummy” she smiled. Add in the chicken eggs they harvest and salt water fish that they catch, and these folks are totally self-sufficient.

“We even hunt (Florida) in August,” said Cheryl.

I could spend hours listening to the Westbrook’s stories of how they shot this deer or that elk and what happened on hunts for wild pigs. Then I realized something: It was still light out! I was keeping Cheryl away from her next big buck, and like the sign says, “Firearms in use.”

They certainly are at the Westbrook home, along with that bow she loves.

I believe Cheryl will bring down that next big buck.

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