Note: I wrote this column in January 2009 soon after my first hunt, and face-to-face meet-up, with my good friend Doug Duren. I'm sharing the piece today, Oct. 10, on what would have been Matt Duren's 50th birthday.
Some folks might have been crawling into bed as dawn neared on New Year’s Day in 2009, but not Doug Duren. He was waiting for me in the driveway of his family’s farm near Cazenovia, Wisconsin.
We were there to hunt deer during the 12-day holiday season in southern Wisconsin’s CWD zone. After quick introductions and a strategy session over coffee and maps, our group of six walked past Highway 58 and trudged through deep snow across a cut cornfield and into the wooded hills.
Chuck Keller walked with me and Duren up the spine of a long ridge. When Duren split off to circle the hill in slow motion — a move he calls “mooching” — Keller and I continued marching. Keller stopped at a ladder stand on the next knob, and I stopped five minutes later at the property’s fence line.
To the north, Tyson Hall and brothers Greg and Tim Kiefer walked to their designated areas. Shane Marquardt would bring up the rear when arriving about 8 a.m. after his drive from Rio.
By 9:40 a.m., I had moved to a ridge overlooking a hardwoods valley, a site Duren had suggested while serving coffee and last-minute instructions. The snow down there was deep enough to reach a deer’s brisket. I knew this because a lone doe was walking my way, its chest plowing a shallow furrow through the drifts.
The doe paused occasionally to browse limb tips, and then walked broadside at 100 yards. I put the riflescope’s crosshairs on its shoulder blade and squeezed off a shot from my .35 Whelen. The doe collapsed where it stood, and Duren arrived about an hour later to hear my story and help drag my deer.
As I field-dressed the doe, I asked Duren about his cap, whose large lettering read “NBNY.” Smaller initials, “MTD,” were stenciled below.
I soon heard a far better hunting story than the one I just told him.
I also learned we weren’t alone back there in the farm’s most remote valley.
The big initials stood for “Nice Buck Next Year,” a phrase first used by Duren’s younger brother, Matt, on Thanksgiving 1994 after Doug shot a respectable 8-point buck. In fact, Doug shot that buck not far from where our group crossed Highway 58 that morning.
Doug said he jumped the buck from its bed less than 100 yards from the road. After shooting it, he watched it cross the highway and run through an open farm gate, much like the Durens’ cattle had done for years. The buck then ran up the hill toward their house and barn, passing through their yard.
Matt was in the house and heard Doug’s shot. When he looked out the window, he saw the buck crossing their yard. As he scrambled for his hat, rifle and hunting jacket, the buck trotted between their silos and fell.
Their father, Vince, soon arrived in a rush. When everything calmed down — which sometimes takes a while for the Durens — Doug finally looked at Matt and started laughing. His 22-year-old brother was wearing only long-johns, untied boots, and an orange hat and jacket.
As Doug gutted his buck, his father studied the antlers and said, “That’s a good 8-pointer, Doug.” Matt nodded and said, “Yeah, it is, but it would have been a real nice buck next year!”
Doug defended the buck’s honor, but Matt’s comment got them talking about quality deer management, and how great it would be to grow big, mature bucks on their farm by passing up young ones.
During the next few weeks Matt and Doug discussed how to launch their new plans before the 1995 deer season. But next autumn never arrived for Matthew Todd Duren. Not two months later, he died in a car accident on Jan. 16, 1995, on Highway 58 near the farmhouse, mere yards from where Doug’s buck crossed the road on Thanksgiving.
“I think of Matt all the time, especially when I’m back in here hunting deer,” Doug told me. “All these years later, I still feel his presence in these woods. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone.”
As Doug finished his story, we both grabbed a hoof to drag my doe.
I no longer need to ask the meaning of the “MTD” on his cap.
Patrick Durkin and Doug Duren pose with a doe that Durkin shot Jan. 1, 2009, during their first hunt together. Duren’s brother Matt, inset photo, died in a car accident in January 1995 at age 22. He would have turned 50 on Oct. 10, 2022. — Patrick Durkin photo