Bowhunting passion sparks year-round effort

It's a cool September afternoon, and Tony Marino is just where he wants to be -- 20 feet up a white pine on the hillside in West Duluth. He spends a lot of evenings here this time of year.

10-point buck
Tony Marino holds a 10-point buck he took in the Duluth bow hunt last fall. (Photo by Tony Marino)

It's a cool September afternoon, and Tony Marino is just where he wants to be -- 20 feet up a white pine on the hillside in West Duluth. He spends a lot of evenings here this time of year.

Marino is a bow hunter, and like many bow hunters, he gets out several times a week in pursuit of white-tailed deer.

The Hermantown hunter is taking part in Duluth's city bow hunt, as he has for the past six years. Marino is one of about 385 bow hunters in the city hunt and one of about 97,000 bow hunters across Minnesota. For most of them, bow hunting is a passion. Certainly, it is for Marino, 55.

"I'll probably hunt an average of four to five days a week," says Marino, a food equipment sales manager. "Weekdays, I'll just hunt the evenings. Weekends, I'll hunt mornings and evenings."

On a street just down the hill, cars rumble by. An occasional ore train grinds up the Duluth hillside, sounding its horn at crossings. Down on the St. Louis River, visible through the boughs of aspens and maples, a laker is taking on a belly full of taconite. It isn't hard to tell this is a city hunt.


Marino sits silently with his compound bow at his side. Camouflaged from head to toe, sprayed down with a scent-masking agent, Marino waits for a deer to come by.

"My best day, I had 21 come through here," he whispers.

Minnesota's bow season runs for three and a half months, from mid-September through December. After Thanksgiving, Marino will dial his passion back to weekends only, but he'll hunt until the bitter end.

Hunters may take five deer in the city hunt, and Marino usually does. Only one may be a buck. Marino is happy to take his buck. He pulls out his smart phone and scrolls through trail-camera photos of bucks. One is a gorgeous eight-pointer with long tines and a wide spread. Marino wouldn't mind seeing that one come by.

The early hunt

The season is just six days old on this weekday afternoon, and Marino already has taken one of his antlerless deer. He shot it opening day.

"It was seven hours before I saw a deer," he said, "and eight before I shot one."

Hunters in the city hunt are required to shoot a doe before taking a buck, and most want to get a doe early in the season so that if a nice buck presents itself, the hunter is eligible to shoot it.


Marino likes shooting early-season does for other reasons.

"There's nothing better than an early-season doe to put in the freezer," he says. "Their hair is thin, and they're lean. I want to shoot two or three early-season does because they're nicer to process. And I've usually emptied my freezer, so I'm ready to restock it."

Marino considers the city hunt a privilege, and he wants to do his part.

"I almost look at it like a job," he says. "It's a responsibility. The city has given us the right to hunt, and I take it seriously."

The afternoon is mostly overcast. A light breeze rustles the leaves of the aspen. The forest is still thick and green. If Marino is to shoot a deer today, it will have to walk into one of several natural clearings beneath him.

"Early in the season, you don't see the deer coming in many cases," Marino says. "They can just show up, like a ghost."

A family thing

Marino took up bow hunting seriously about 15 years ago, when his oldest son, Nathan, expressed an interest in it. Formerly a rifle deer hunter, Marino now has given that up.


Now both Nathan, 31, and younger son Dustin, 26, are often in the woods bow hunting when Marino is.

"Unlike rifle hunting, we can hunt in close proximity," Marino says. "Sometimes, we can even see each other from one stand to another."

Both boys shot antlerless deer on opening day, and each has shot one more, Marino said.

"Nathan and Dustin, they're adults," Marino says. "I still get more quality time with them than a lot of other parents ever imagine."

For the Marinos, bow hunting season is just the pinnacle of an endeavor that colors their entire year.

Once a Marino shoots a deer, the rest becomes a family activity.

"We get on the phone, help drag it out," Marino says. "We do everything together. Skin 'em. Process 'em. Make sausage. When one of us is successful, we're all successful."

Beyond the hunting season, the shooting continues.


"It's year around for us," Marino says. "We shoot (indoor) leagues. We shoot tournaments. We shoot 3-D tournaments all summer and hunt all fall. I've got a big investment in equipment. We don't just dust it off at the end of August."

A waiting game

When Marino climbs into a deer stand, he comes totally prepared. He is methodical and thorough. He always uses a safety harness, designed to catch him should he slip off his portable stand. He hangs his bow and a fanny pack on hooks behind him.

Then he becomes a hunter. He squeezes a fine powder into the air to check the wind direction. With a range-finder, he double-checks distances to likely shooting zones. If he thinks he hears something in the distance, he scans the forest with a pair of Swarovski binoculars, among the best made. He leaves little to chance.

His stand, like most portables, offers a modest 2-foot-by-2-foot platform on which to stand, and a fold-down seat about the size of a shoebox lid. No railing surrounds him. Twenty feet up, he has an unfettered panorama of the woods below.

He waits.

Marino has chosen this spot for his stand because he has noticed that deer tend to move up the hillside and through these woods late in the day. Most days, anyway.

Tonight, that movement is not apparent. I am sitting next to Marino on another portable stand. We have seen no deer from 4:30 to 7 p.m.


It is rare, he says, not to see one deer in an evening hunt. He sees deer on 90 percent of his hunts in the city, he says.

Still, shooting a deer in the city is more difficult than it was six years ago at its inception, Marino believes.

"They're getting more and more wary," he says. "When I first started, it seemed like they didn't have a clue. Now, they're a bit more high-strung."

The sun sets. The breeze drops. The forest takes on an expectant silence. Off in the distance, Marino hears a branch crack. He is reasonably sure it's a deer moving.

He pulls his bow off its hook. An arrow already is nocked and ready.

Marino waits and watches, trying to make the deer appear among the green branches. It will not.

Darkness seeps into the scene. A few minutes of shooting time remain, but it's a cloudy night, and Marino thinks it's too dark to make a good shot.

He removes his arrow. This hunt is over.


But for this bow hunter, there is always tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

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