By Mark L. Nash
If Norma Essex has learned one thing in 40-plus years of deer hunting, it is that patience and perseverance usually pay. The Cedar County, Mo., native has been chasing deer around the southwest Missouri county since the first legal hunting season in 1959. Since then, there have only been two years that she hasn’t shot a deer, and many in which she has taken more than one.
Before 1959, she traveled with her husband, Joe, to hunt in Camdenton County in northern Missouri. In fact, her hunting experiences date back to when she would accompany her father and grandfather on trips to Camdenton County. She didn’t hunt on those outings, but that’s when the urge to do so began to grow.
Hunting has been a way of life for the mother, wife, farmer and factory worker. Her hunts have taken her to Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and British Columbia. She hunted for the first time in Colorado for deer and elk in 1963. In subsequent years, she harvested Colorado mule deer, elk and pronghorn antelope. In 1970, she harvested a mule deer doe with velvet-covered antlers in the Centennial State, which made for a rare trophy indeed.
In 1966, Norma and Joe packed horses into the remote back county of British Columbia. She harvested a large elk and a mountain goat. Norma confided in me, “If you ever want to go on a true wilderness hunting experience, you must go on a pack-in hunt sometime.” Now 68, Norma limits most of her hunting to the pursuit of deer, turkey and the occasional squirrel in Missouri. She still enjoys an out-of-state hunt for pronghorn antelope, usually in Wyoming. She has also hunted antelope in Colorado in recent years. Joe is always with her.
If all these accomplishments seem mind-boggling, none quite compare to the buck she harvested in 1974 in Cedar County. It was a clear, sunny day with a slight breeze in the middle of the nine-day deer season. Only one antlered buck was legal back then and this veteran hunter wasn’t hunting just any buck. “I had passed up a small buck earlier in the season already,” she recounted. “I wasn’t necessarily holding out for a record-breaking buck – just a nice buck would do.”
Around noon, she spotted an 8-pointer and attempted a shot with her trusty .243. To her dismay, the bullet struck a wire on a fence and deflected for a clean miss. Not to be discouraged, Norma stayed on the hunt.
Norma’s preferred method in those days was to still-hunt, but since it was dry she knew that her best bet was to find a good looking spot and remain seated. She picked a spot overlooking an oak ridge where deer liked to dig for acorns, which were abundant that year.
Patience and perseverance were about to pay off. “The sun was starting to get low in the western sky,” Norma recalled. She was thinking of starting her long walk out of there when she saw a large buck making its way to her. Norma found it in her scope as it fed on acorns. She couldn’t tell just how large the antlers were, but she knew they were plenty big. When the buck lifted its head, the .243 barked and her prize dropped.
When she got her hands on the rack, she could hardly believe her eyes. This was the biggest buck she had ever seen in these parts. Later, Norma and Joe had a difficult time dragging the buck under a fence as they struggled to get the deer out of the woods. The buck created quite a stir at the check-in station.
It was entered into Missouri Big Bucks, a local record-keeping agency, at 165 1/8. It was the first deer killed south of the Missouri River, by a woman, and entered into said agency. Thirty years later, the buck is still No. One in Cedar County. The rack has 19 scorable points according to BTR. Regional director Jack McConnell put the tape to it and arrived at 155 5/8 Irregular.
This article was published in the December 2004 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.