March 5, 2024 By: Scott Murdock
Scott Murdock of Wisconsin (left) got his second deer ever while hunting with mentor Zach Hanson at an NDA Field to Fork hunt.

Click, click, click.

I typed in my DNR login and held my breath. Waiting for chronic wasting disease test results feels like checking your grades at the end of a semester. In 2022, 8.7% of deer sampled in Wisconsin tested positive for CWD. In the county where I hunted the following season, that number was 26.9% in 2022 and significantly higher among bucks than does. The buck I shot – my first deer ever – was only a year and a half old, though, so he probably hadn’t been exposed to the nasty CWD prion yet, right?


So much for making room in the freezer. Seared backstrap, venison chili, and venison tacos would have to wait. But was the hunt a bust? Not by a long shot. And thanks to NDA’s Field to Fork program, I’d still get a chance to make room in the freezer before my season was over.

I was lucky enough to spend my first deer hunt with the likes of Doug DurenRyan Callaghan, and Jordan Budd. It was a two-day crash course from some of the best hunters in the country, complete with hands-on testing of the new Weatherby 307 MeatEater Edition. The rifle came chambered for the screaming fast 6.5 Weatherby RPM and topped with a Vortex Viper HS 4-16×44.

Scott, an experienced shooter and shooting writer, got his first deer while also testing the new Weatherby 307 MeatEater Edition in 6.5 Weatherby RPM. Photo by Aaron Davis.

Advice for a New Deer Hunter

The most valuable part of this year’s whitetail hunt was getting access to the MeatEater crew and picking some of the best brains in the business. Surprisingly, the advice I got had nothing to do with cutting-edge gear and trophy animals—quite the opposite.

“The saddest thing that I run into is people who are like, ‘Yeah, I can’t wait to do this, I’m just saving up to buy this first,’’’ Callaghan said. “Go try it first and then start worrying about buying the stuff.”

“Experience is key, definitely,” Budd agreed. “You see any of us wearing a certain piece of gear or using it or whatever, it’s easy to be like, ‘That’s something that I can control. I can buy that.’ But you can’t buy experience. I think it’s an intimidation thing, too, like people are intimidated to go do it so they’re like, ‘I’ll do it when I can buy this thing because it’ll fix it for me or it’ll help me.’”

One of the points they stressed is managing expectations. Social media might tell you that every deer shot this year was a 250-pound monster with a rack like a French monarch’s chandelier, but that’s a gross misrepresentation of reality. It’s up to us to set reasonable goals and be honest about them.

“I think there’s some household expectations that I see a lot, too,” Callaghan warned. “Busy families, it’s like, ‘Oh, if you’re gonna go do this you better be coming back with something.’ Some folks have a hard time with their significant other if the thing that they’re coming back with is a great experience.”

Whether you end the season with a buck for your wall, a doe for your freezer, or a great memory, Doug Duren’s farm is the place to make it happen. His 400 acres of wooded hills and rolling cornfields in the driftless area of Wisconsin are an obsessively curated example of modern conservation – part of the reason he recently earned NDA’s Deer Manager of the Year Award. The Duren family and aspiring conservationist volunteers work year-round to cultivate healthy habitats for deer, small game, fish, and natural vegetation.

Doug Duren of Wisconsin, the host for the hunt, talks with the author before a morning in the deer woods. Photo by Aaron Davis.

Duren’s approach to deer hunting has evolved. He used to protect young bucks long enough for them to mature. Now he encourages hunters to shoot immature bucks to fight the spread of CWD—but his guiding philosophy remains the same.

If you ask Duren about our responsibility to the land we own and hunt, he’ll tell you that, “It’s not ours, it’s just our turn.” That mindset is good for this season’s hunters and generations to come.

Field to Fork Fills the Freezer

As luck would have it, that wasn’t the last time I hunted Duren Farm. During a Field to Fork event hosted by Sharing the Land and the National Deer Association event a few weeks later, I ended up shooting a healthy, CWD-free deer and filling my freezer with some of the cleanest, most delicious meat I’ve ever tasted. The whole experience was a lesson in hunting, processing, and patience. The worst part is the long wait until the next deer season.

I’ve done plenty of shooting through the years, but this was my first time killing a deer. I’ve heard some call people like me “adult-onset hunters” and I take no issue with the term because it’s true. I expected the first-time jitters. I knew the experience would be full of unknowns and feeling like a rookie. What I didn’t anticipate was how supportive everyone was of a new guy bumbling around in the woods.

Doug Duren, Ryan Callaghan, and Jordan Budd aren’t influencers or TV personalities—they’re the real deal. They know more about hunting than most people hope to figure out in a lifetime and they’ve done things the rest of us can only dream about, but that isn’t what makes them great hunters. They’re special because, despite all the skins on their walls, what really gets them psyched is teaching a newcomer to love hunting as much as they do.

You and I might never fly around the world hunting exotic game in fantastic landscapes, but being good stewards of the land, wildlife, and hunting is entirely achievable. Save up your money for a Weatherby rifle if you want—just don’t wait until you own one to start hunting. Get out there with what you have. Enjoy the hunt. And bring someone new with you, because if you go a year without creating a new hunter, you’re wrong.

The author (right) with NDA’s Wisconsin Field to Fork Coordinator Brock Rosenkranz. Photo by Aaron Davis.

About the Author

Scott Murdock is a freelance writer, photographer, and new hunter based out of Wisconsin. After working in the military and firearm spaces, he joined the hunting community through the NDA’s Field to Fork program. Hunting alongside NDA mentors inspired a passion for contributing to the visibility of ethical hunters and conservationists. His work can be found at Outdoor Life, Free Range American, Military.com, and Pew Pew Tactical.