During every hunting season since 1958, Doris McKay, 85, of Neoga, has ventured into the woods in search of deer.
This weekend — the end of deer hunting season — she’ll continue doing what she loves, carrying the same gun she’s used for 60 years.
“I’m not going to sit in the house and knit,” McKay said. “I’ve always been an outside person. If the weather’s good, I may stay out there all day.”
The only deer season McKay has missed was in 1957, when deer hunting first became legal in Illinois. She would have participated, only she was busy giving birth to a baby boy at the time.
While at her property at Lake Mattoon on Wednesday, McKay almost looked ready to knit something. She wore an unassuming gray sweater, with pink hearts and green leaves stitched in.
But the nearby pictures of her next to deer she had shot told another story. And it’s an uncommon one, McKay said, because not many 85-year-old women wield shotguns.
“I don’t know of any that do,” she said.
On her wall hang deer heads. One in particular makes her proud.
“He’s a beauty,” McKay said, looking up to the biggest head. “He’s my pride and joy — until I get a bigger one.”
Since she started almost 60 years ago, McKay has witnessed an evolution in deer hunting. In the late 1950s, deer were scarce in the state. She didn’t kill a single one in the first five years that she hunted.
That didn’t discourage her.
“Oh no,” she said. “You knew it was going to take time.”
But now deer are everywhere, even in her yard.
“I see them here,” McKay said. “They eat my rose bushes.”
After eating her rose bushes, persimmons, and other plants on the property, McKay said the deer owe her.
“I figure I fed them,” she said, “Now it’s my turn to be fed.”
She uses the deer meat in tacos, spaghetti — any meal, really.
The venison seems to have improved in taste, McKay said, because the deer have better diets these days.
“They’ve got the best food in the country,” she said. “This past year, it was some of the best venison I’ve ever eaten.”
After the first part of this hunting season, McKay didn’t get a deer. But she was hopeful Wednesday that she’d shoot one down on Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
“Sometimes you get one, sometimes you don’t,” she said.
If she spends an entire day or weekend in the woods with nothing to show, McKay doesn’t consider it wasted time.
“You’re going to see God’s beauty out there,” she said. “His creation is beautiful.”
Even if she doesn’t get one this season, McKay plans to keep hunting for as long as she can.
“I’ve always been told, ‘Use it or lose it,'” she said. “If you can do it and you like it, there’s no reason not to. As long as I’m physically able, I’m going to be out there.”