Mis­souri huntress takes down a deer — and her crit­ics

Woman uses an an­cient tool called an at­latl.

Dayton Daily News - - NATION & WORLD - By Max Lond­berg

The deer was eat­ing leaves off an ap­ple tree when she pre­pared to throw. She’d missed the pre­vi­ous two — both throws too high — but this time was dif­fer­ent.

Dawn Wag­ner of Trux­ton, Mo., heard the bam­boo dart, pro­pelled with more ac­cu­racy and speed by the at­latl, whoosh through the air. She saw it con­nect, just miss­ing the “dou­ble lung” shot — the most ef­fec­tive place­ment aside from hit­ting an an­i­mal in the heart.

She knew it had con­nected, though, and she knew if it dropped the deer she’d be­come pos­si­bly the first woman in mod­ern U.S. his­tory to take the an­i­mal with an at­latl.

The prim­i­tive tool, which means “spear thrower” in Aztec, was first used in the Amer­i­cas around 11,000 years ago. It is a hook that at­taches to the end of a long, me­tal-pointed dart. The at­latl pro­vides ex­tra lever­age when throw­ing the shaft, Wag­ner said.

“Most peo­ple don’t give the cave­man or early man enough credit,” she said. “Cave­men were very smart. They fig­ured out how to at­tach a stick to a stick, to give it that much more lever­age and power.”

Un­til 2009, it was il­le­gal to hunt with an at­latl in Mis­souri. Now, it’s only le­gal in that state, Ne­braska and Alabama.

Wag­ner, 47, had only be­gun hunt­ing in 2013. She didn’t start with a bow or gun but went straight to the at­latl, which hunters say re­quires a high level of skill to use ef­fec­tively.

“The dif­fi­culty is so high,” said Jerry Nevins, the pres­i­dent of the Mis­souri At­latl As­so­ci­a­tion, and a hunter him­self who ad­mit­ted he doesn’t be­lieve he’s skilled enough to hunt with one. “It’s one thing to throw at a tar­get, it’s another to throw at an an­i­mal that’s watch­ing you.”

Wag­ner was on her 18.5acre farm for an evening hunt in late Septem­ber. She stood poised in a 106-yearold barn that served as her ground blind, 13 yards away from the deer.

Af­ter she hit it, the deer ran, break­ing off her 6.5-foot­long dart and leav­ing be­hind only a few droplets of blood.

Days went by. A neigh­bor on horse­back fi­nally found the deer and alerted Wag­ner. She went im­me­di­ately to it, find­ing it about 700 yards be­hind her barn. The me­tal tip of her dart was bro­ken off in­side the deer’s chest. One of its lungs had been punc­tured.

Wag­ner has taken flak for not find­ing the deer sooner, but she said she did ev­ery­thing she could to lo­cate it. The track dogs with her were thrown off its trail by the many deer in the area. It left be­hind lit­tle blood.

She’s also been ha­rangued be­cause she’s a woman. She said one man said she has “pe­nis envy.” Others say she wants to be a man.

She tries to brush it off. The at­latl has given her life a new di­rec­tion. She prac­tices daily, gives at­latl lessons to peo­ple of all ages and at a re­cent In­ter­na­tional World At­latl com­pe­ti­tion, she took fifth out of 150 women. She main­tains a Face­book page by the name of “The At­latl Huntress.”

The sport even helped her move on from a trou­ble­some mar­riage and then di­vorce.

“I was in a sad mar­riage,” she said, “had an ex-hus­band who be­lit­tled me, and (acted as though) I was a noth­ing. And this is some­thing that has em­pow­ered me and made me feel that I am who I am.”

Be­com­ing the first woman to kill a deer with an at­latl has been “phe­nom­e­nal” for her.

“I’m still try­ing to soak it all in. It’s been a crazy cou­ple of weeks.”

Her hus­band, Brian Wag­ner, is also an at­latl hunter and wrote a con­grat­u­la­tory note on Face­book: “I sure am very proud of my wife.”

Wag­ner still wait­ing on con­fir­ma­tion from Ne­braska and Alabama, but to her knowl­edge it’s pos­si­ble she’s the first woman in mod­ern U.S. his­tory to take a deer with the at­latl.

Even so, she said she’s deal­ing with that flak coming her way, re­gard­less of the feat.

“I want women to know that we have all the same abil­i­ties that a man has,” Wag­ner said. “We are able to do any­thing that a man can do. That’s the part that I re­ally like push­ing for these young women and girls — to re­al­ize it doesn’t mat­ter if you’re man or a woman, you can go out and do the same thing.”

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