By Lynn Burkhead
For southern Ohio resident Beka Garris, bowhunting whitetail deer each autumn is a way of life.
So much so that a few days ago, Garris went on a hunt in the Buckeye State, overcame some interesting challenges, and downed a big whitetail doe in a traditional bowhunt that has quickly gone viral.
Like many, Garris can trace her journey in the deer woods to deep family roots in the sport, in this case, because of her father Joseph.
“My dad was always a bigtime hunter,” said Garris, who noted that her father has enthusiastically subscribed to North American Whitetail magazine for many years. “When I was little, he took me hunting with him. I started out gun hunting and did that only a couple of years. When I was 16, I decided to try bowhunting. I like it, it seemed challenging, and I discovered it was fun. I was soon bowhunting all of the time.”
Growing up in the whitetail-rich Midwestern state, Garris—now 30, married, with a one-year old daughter named Isabella—usually found success each fall with a punched deer tag or two.
While that success was sometimesin the form of big Ohio buck antlers destined for the wall, it was always seen in the form of meat headed for the dinner table.
“We always processed our own venison,” said Garris. “My dad taught me how and I first started helping process it when I was 11 years old. I loved doing it, loved learning how to break down the hindquarters, how to get the different cuts of meat, getting it into the freezer, and then enjoying it on the table.
“I enjoyed doing that as a kid,” she added. “It was a family affair, and everybody helped.”
As Beka’s young hunting career continued to blossom, her father once again brought inspiration as she made the switch to bowhunting.
“My dad started bowhunting when he was young,” said Garris. “He started with a traditional Bear bow, then went to a compound, and I can only remember him gun hunting a couple of times.”
But after bowhunting for several years, Beka found herself at a crossroads of sorts when a Buckeye State whitetail came in several years ago as she clutched her modern compound.
“I remember sitting in the woods just after I had shot the doe with my compound and I thought that this was just a little too easy,” said Garris. “I thought then and there that I wanted to try a traditional bow.
“I had always thought that traditional archery was cool,” said Garris. “I remember my dad talking about Fred Bear, I remember the books he had about Fred Bear’s archery hunting, and it was something that I just wanted to try.”
After getting a custom-built recurve bow built for her particular draw weight needs, Beka made good on the switch to traditional archery gear, taking her first deer with a trad bow on Christmas Day 2016.
“I had worked so hard for that,” she said. “It was such an amazing feeling to take a deer with traditional gear, and I was instantly hooked.”
Also hooked on chasing Ohio whitetails is her husband Alex, a police officer near the community they live in. Like his wife, he enthusiastically pursues whitetails in the fall and turkeys in the spring, the latter an endeavor that Beka actually introduced her husband to as they dated.
All of that backstory helps explain Beka’s amazing whitetail hunt a few days ago as she loaded her Jeep up with her recurve bow and her DSG fleece gear and went bowhunting as the rut unfolded in the Midwestern woods. Oh, and she also had her one-year-old daughter Isabella along too, mother and daughter seeking to discover what the day’s hunting action might bring.
“My husband works 3rd shift, so a lot of times now, if I want to get any hunting time in, I take Isabella with me,” said Beka. “I’ve hunted with her a couple of times in a ground blind this fall, but she’s been kind of loud and that hasn’t worked out too well.
“It’s hard to hunt deer when your one-year-old wants to climb out of the blind,” she said with a chuckle.
Like any resourceful young mom, it didn’t take Beka long to figure out a win-win scenario that gets her into the deer woods, allows her to take care of her daughter, and have a chance at bowhunting success. The solution? A child-carrying backpack and spot-and-stalk hunting through the woods!
“When I put her in the backpack and start walking slowly and softly through the woods, she gets lulled to sleep by the rocking motion,” said Garris. “After a while, she ends up just going to sleep.”
But even with a sleeping child in the backpack, that doesn’t mean spot-and-stalk hunting is an easy endeavor. In fact, despite her resourceful solution to finding time in the deer woods this fall, Beka admits that the process isn’t an easy one.
“It’s very difficult,” said Garris. “I never thought I would have any success doing this. Obviously, my hunts can’t be very long because when Isabella wakes up, she’s making some noise, sometimes she was loud, and (the deer wanted no part of that).”
While Beka knew the hunting process this year would be harder, she also kept believing it would not be impossible either. But as the hunting weeks began to accumulate during the fall of 2019, the young mom’s confidence slowly eroded away.
Knowing it was November and anything was possible, Beka took another opportunity to hunt a few days ago, loading up her gear and her daughter, and heading for her nearby hunting ground.
An hour later, she began to make her way back towards the parking area, disappointed that another fruitless hunt seemed to be the day’s inevitable outcome.
But that’s when everything changed, almost as if divine intervention had suddenly shown up in the Ohio deer woods as a huge doe eased through.
“As I was spot-and-stalking my way back towards my Jeep, I saw this doe,” said Garris. “It was pretty dry, and I actually heard her first, something walking through the woods. Where I was still hunting, there was a big field, some brush, and a bunch of hardwoods [nearby]. The way it all came together, I knew she would pop out of the woods and come across the trail I was on.”
When that exact scenario unfolded, Garris quickly moved her Bear Super Mag recurve into position, pulled the 45 pounds of draw weight back, briefly anchored and took aim, and then let the 10-yard shot go as the big doe paused briefly on the trail.
When the 3 Rivers shaft and 125-grain Woodsman broadhead found it’s mark, it wasn’t long before the woods were still again. After the near-perfect bow shot produced a quick recovery, Garris was left to ponder her bowhunting journey from being a kid in the Ohio deer woods with her father to taking her own young daughter into the woods with her and continuing to live out the whitetail hunting and bowhunting passion that started so many years ago.
Somehow, even if she had to overcome steep odds to find her deer hunting success this fall, the effort was worth it, and the result made the circuitous journey almost complete.
“Basically, for the last month and a half, I have emotionally exhausted myself trying to figure out how I was going to get this done,” said Beka. “I’ll admit, I hit a wall that day and thought to myself ‘This is never going to happen, and you need to accept that.’
“But 10 minutes later, it actually happened, and it was awesome.”
Ever the resourceful bowhunter, Beka field dressed the deer and then pulled the drag rope from her backpack to get the doe to the Jeep. But when she got there, the big whitetail was too big to fit in the back of the vehicle. So, she called her sleeping husband, woke him up, and got him to bring the pickup truck to get the fresh load of venison home and in the freezer.
“He was happy to do that because we’ve both really been wanting some venison,” she laughed. “Now I’m just hoping that one of us will get at least one more deer this year for our freezer.”
Beka is also hopeful her young daughter will grow to love the whitetail bowhunting game as much as she does, one day perhaps following in her mother’s footsteps.
“She was so excited by it all,” said Garris. “Isabella is so aware of her surroundings now, and she is obsessed with looking at the animals on our wall.”
As a dedicated traditional bowhunter—and public land bowhunter too—the young mom is committed to raising her daughter to respect the ancient art of stick-and-string hunting. From the passion necessary to get out of bed in predawn hours to developing the shooting skills necessary for a successful hunt to the process of gathering, preserving, and cooking the venison, she hopes to pass the hunting legacy on to Isabella the same way her father did for her so many years ago.
If there are critics to that desire, so be it.
“Why hunting?” Garris asked rhetorically. “It’s not any different really than going to the grocery store. If someone eats meat at all, they can’t really say anything to me about hunting because it’s literally the same thing…except I’m the one going to get it instead of paying someone else to do it for me.
“Hunting used to be a way of life, although not as much anymore. But I choose to be involved in the process. If our ancestors hadn’t hunted, we wouldn’t be here. And if my daughter wants to do it one day, that’s great. If she doesn’t, that’s great too. But I want her to form that opinion on her own.”
Garris hopes that her bowhunting success this fall might encourage other moms out there that like to hunt too.
“I hope this helps put a different perspective on all of this for moms out there,” she said. “A lot of times you think when you have kids and raise a family that you have to stop or curtail things like hunting because you just don’t have the time to do it anymore. But you can.”
As long as you have something like a bow, a backpack, and an hour to get into the deer woods.
If you do, anything is possible. Just ask Beka and her daughter Isabella.