Marathon girl fighting cancer takes down trophy buck
BY KEVIN O’BRIEN
When a 17-point buck bounces into the air like a scared kitten, it’s the kind of moment you want to capture on video.
Luckily for 13-year-old Madisyn Lang of rural Marathon City, her older brother, Dawson, did just that when she landed her first-ever buck on Nov. 1 at a hunting reserve near Irma.
Dawson, 16, was in the blind with his sister, recording the whole event with his smartphone, while their father, Rod, helped guide Maddy through the experience. Her mom, LeAnn, was waiting back at a nearby cabin, along with her parents, who were able to hear Maddy’s shot ring out.
“We got pretty excited back at the lodge as we heard the gunshot,” she said. “We were all waiting for a text to see if it was a hit or miss.”
Once it was confirmed that Maddy had landed a kill shot, the family erupted into celebration.
“We went out onto the deck and screamed and cheered,” LeAnn said.
The successful hunting trip was made possible by Central Wisconsin Fin, Fur and Feather (CWF3), a group of local hunters who sponsor an annual excursion for those who may not otherwise get the opportunity.
Maddy was one of three nominees for this year’s sponsored hunt, and was chosen by a vote of the CWF3 board members.
The excitement of taking down a monster buck was a welcome diversion for Maddy, who was diagnosed with leukemia on June 25, just four days before her 13th birthday. After four and a half months of chemotherapy, the cancer has gone into remission, but she’s still facing more high-dose chemo, with frequent doctor’s appointments and hospital stays, in the future.
“It’s looking very promising at this point, but there’s still a long road ahead,” her mother says.
Maddy hasn’t actually missed much school due to her illness, and St. Mary’s Catholic in Marathon is doing what it can to make sure she stays caught up with her homework.
“She’s been doing very well in trying to keep up with her grades, and only misses on chemo days,” LeAnn said.
When the family was contacted by Eric Totzke, president of CWF3, about being chosen for the annual hunting trip, Maddy’s initial reaction was mixed.
“I think at first she was nervous and excited at the same time,” LeAnn said. “Her brother’s a big hunter, so it was kind of an exciting thing.”
Maddy had gone through the hunter’s safety course, but unfortunately, because of her small body size, she was unable to pass the test that requires students to hold and handle a gun.
“That kind of turned her away for a little while, but she’s watched her brother and grandpa and uncles all hunt over the years,” LeAnn said. “It was a neat experience for them to do this together.”
The hunt took place at Little Lakes Memories, a 105-acre deer farm that caters to hunters who require special accommodations. Maddy is the fourth person CWF3 has taken there for a hunt, but she’s the first child to do it.
“They weren’t sure how it was going to go with a kid — and a girl — but she rocked it,” her mother says proudly.
The deer blind she hunted from was set up for people with special needs, and Maddy was given a modified rifle to shoot.
“She has a port in her chest, so she can’t have anything hitting against there,” LeAnn said. “They had a really good setup for her to do it.”
The lodge owner’s eight-year-old son even served as an unofficial hunting guide for Maddy and her family.
“He knows the ins and outs of that deer farm,” LeAnn said. “It’s pretty cool.”
The family got there at about 2:30 p.m. on that Friday, and they were out in the woods by a little after 4 p.m. Rod said it only took about 10 or 15 minutes after they set up before the deer started coming out of the woods.
Dawson said several does and a smaller buck were gathered around the feed pile before the big one showed up.
Rod said his daughter was really nervous at first, and decided not to take a shot the first time the 17-pointer crossed in front of the blind.
“Maddy was looking, but she wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger on it,” he said.
It was starting to get late in the day at that point, but they knew they had all day Saturday to hunt if it didn’t work out on Friday night.
But, then, the big buck came back into their line of sight for a second time. Rod says it was as if the massive whitetail was “just standing there, waiting for her to pull the trigger.”
Dawson’s video captures a remarkable moment after Maddy takes her shot, as the deer goes leaping several feet into the air before running off-screen. If you’re not watching closely, you might think the buck just got spooked by the sound of the shot or clipped in the rear end.
Rod said Dawson and Eric Totzke knew right away that Maddy had landed a good hit on her first shot.
“It was a perfect shot, right through both lungs and part of the heart,” he said.
In fact, Maddy’s single shot nearly claimed another buck right behind the one she hit.
“If you watch the video, she almost got a two-for-one,” Rod said.
There’s still some debate whether that second buck was a six or eight-pointer.
“I think it was six,” Maddy says.
Dawson has just one word to describe the moment his sister got her first buck: “amazing.” He’s got the footage on his laptop computer and is planning to post it on YouTube after editing it.
Maddy and the rest of the party tracked the deer’s blood trail about 40 to 50 yards before finding the body. Rod said that’s when his daughter really started smiling.
“It was a good experience for her,” he said.
Excitement was high back at the hunting cabin, where LeAnn and Maddy’s grandparents were waiting to congratulate her. The family continued to relish the big moment for the remainder of the weekend, which included some more deer watching and a big steak dinner on Saturday night.
“It was a relaxing, celebratory weekend,” LeAnn said. “We all stayed until Sunday.”
Rod and LeAnn were impressed with all the work done by Little Lakes Memories and CWF3 to make sure their daughter enjoyed and cherished the experience. That includes getting a taxidermist to make a mount of the rack and paying for the venison to be processed.
“The F3 guys were amazing,” LeAnn said.
Even after they returned home from the trip, the afterglow did not fade right away.
“She’s like a rock star right now in Marathon,” LeAnn said last week. “Everybody came up to her at church on Sunday and said ‘Nice shot!’ Nice buck!’” Rod said his boss emailed him, ‘I hear your daughter got a nice buck. You want to show me some pictures?’” LeAnn said she’s happy that her son and husband got to be there to see Maddy’s moment of glory. Dawson has bagged a couple of bucks himself, but he admits that none of them were as big as his sister’s.
Rod and LeAnn acknowledge that the odds of repeating their daughter’s experience are pretty slim, but they urge Dawson to keep waiting for his own monster buck to appear.
“Your turn is coming,” LeAnn tells her son. “Patience is a virtue.”