Local hunter shares his passion
Matt Housworth had never hunted or seen a deer until he was 13 or 14 years old. But once was all it took.
Living in Ohio at the time, Matt said his father was not a hunter, but was invited to go deer hunting once with some friends, and Matt went with him.
“I liked it so much that I told him I wanted to go back,” Matt recalls. “So my dad gave me a gun and took me out and put me in a tree and I saw one deer. It stood there and I watched it, mesmerized. I was so mesmerized that I never picked up my gun. I just watched it and thought, ‘This is me.’”
So, his father’s friend, Jack Sharp, became a mentor and continued to take Matt into the woods to hunt and teach him about wild game.
“I loved the camping, the smell of fall, walking in the woods, cutting dead trees out of the road, I loved all of it,” Matt says. “When I got old enough to drive myself, I started going out on my own.”
When he moved to Putnam County in the early 1990s, Matt met Martin Ledbetter, who picked up where Jack left off. “Martin taught me how to find bedding areas and what the deer do when they get up out of their beds,” he explains. “I soaked it all up. And I have a memorial set up in my man cave to both Jack and Martin because they made me a successful hunter.”
“Anybody that knows me, knows I hunt,” he adds. “I hunt deer and turkey and, every now and again, squirrel. I used to be passionate about duck hunting, but not anymore; now just deer and turkey.”
Ethical hunting and conservation
Many years and hunts after that first time, Matt is still just as mesmerized at the sight of a deer. And although he has bagged quite a few and has the wall trophies to prove it, he has probably let go just as many. Some he watches for years but chooses not to ever shoot.
“I love the animals and respect them,” Matt says. “But at the same time, I am a hunter so I feel attached to them and like I’m part of the natural process. … Last year, I went to Alberta to hunt, and saw some deer, but didn’t see one that I wanted to take.”
Matt says he never shoots a doe that he knows has a fawn. “The mother teaches the fawn where the fences are, where it’s safe to cross the road, things like that,” he explains. “If I take her, then that fawn has no future. I feel like preserving them is my responsibility just as much as hunting them is my privilege.”
Matt’s family owns quite a bit of acreage in Putnam County on which he hunts; he also has some in Kansas, and he has belonged to other hunting clubs. Ever since his early days with his mentors, Matt has studied deer behavior, conservation, and land management.
“We’ve got 50 acres that we hardly even walk in,” he says, and notes “We don’t have any deer stands in it. We just let them (deer) be.”
Back to his earlier statement of moral connection with the animals, Matt says, “There’s been a few of them that I watched so much that I became emotionally tied to them and don’t shoot them.” He goes on to describe some of those and how he recognized them, and the regret he felt when he no longer saw them, which meant they had died naturally or at the hand of another hunter or other predator.
Matt’s land management practices serve the multiple purposes of showing respect for the wild animals; ensuring their reproduction, growth and health; and providing the sportsman an ideal environment to hunt the free-ranging animals.
“My parents own the property and I invest a lot of time into managing it through timber cutting, control burns, and managing grasses,” Matt says. “I fertilize them for good crops and don’t cut them back, but let them grow for fawns to hide from dogs and coyotes, and they also make good places for turkeys.”
For the deer’s dining pleasure, Matt plants forage oats and clover in 10-acre plots. “You can usually get five years out of clover and the deer eat it all year long,” he explains. He also plants Egyptian wheat for them to eat, and alternates it with Switchgrass for the animal’s protection so they can hide from animal predators.
The layouts of grasses create natural walls for the animals. The walls also benefit the hunter because the taller grasses shield the deer from seeing each other so if one gets spooked and sticks his ears up, the others don’t see it and don’t get spooked. Grass walls planted along the deer bedding sites prevent the deer from getting up and running when the hunters drive in or walk to their stands.
Matt says he is in the woods from the first week in October until the third week in November. “The last two weeks in October are the best in Putnam, at least that’s when I seem to be more successful,” he says. He hunts with bow, rifle and muzzleload. “My muzzleload buck is No.5 or No. 6 in Putnam County,” he says proudly. He primarily hunts from a tree stand, but occasionally stalks them if needed.
“I killed my biggest deer by going out of the stand and moving after it,” he notes. For one particularly large buck in Kansas, Matt climbed in and out his stand three times, “and the third time, I got to take a shot, but I missed. So, I flew home, then flew back out there the next weekend to get it.”
When he went back, Matt said he had to move the deer stand because the “food moved in season (acorns, persimmons), and they moved to get it.” And like the previous weekend, Matt saw the buck, but following ethics, he climbed down from his stand to get within range. “For two to three hours, I was on my hands and knees, even belly crawling in some places. Finally, he (buck) got interested in some smaller bucks that were sparring and he stopped to watch them. So, I crawled over there within 125 yards and got him. It was worth it.”
Sharing a common bond
Matt’s wife, Heather, doesn’t hunt but is fully supportive of him doing so and she knows enough about it to carry on a conversation. Matt bragged how she discusses the deer scores and understands the meanings.
His daughters, Haley and Hannah, are now busy teens, but they enjoyed hunting when they were young. Haley shot her first deer when she was 9 years old, and Hannah bagged hers when she was 6. They both continued to hunt for several years. When Hannah shot her first turkey, they smoked it and while they were eating, she said, “I’m so glad this is not our National bird because this is good meat,” Matt says with a laugh.
Matt has a wall full of trophy bucks and a freezer full of meat. In Putnam, he uses The Meat Shed and Big Jim’s processors. “I love that they add seasonings and make specialty meats out of it,” he says. He also contributes venison to the Hunters for the Hungry organization.
And he continues to learn from others. Talking with Georgia DNR Biologist Charlie Killmaster helped him learn how to judge a deer’s age by its body shape, so he can be more selective and help the conservation efforts.
“The thing I love about hunting is the people,” he says. “No matter where I go or who I see or if we know each other or not, we can talk about hunting. When I meet other hunters, that common bond always brings us together.”
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Story by Lynn Hobbs, photos contributed by Matt Housworth, printed in the 2020-2021 Outdoors magazine issue, published by Smith Communications, Inc.