First big buck, and ‘My dad was there in spirit’

Judy Mathiau has been hunting for quite a few years now, and remembers her first jaunts through the deer woods on the family’s Vassalboro land.

Judy Mathiau of Vassalboro poses with the 10-point buck she shot on Nov. 5. The deer weighed 190 pounds, and Mathiau says her dad was with her, in spirit, on the hunt. (Photo courtesy of Judy Mathiau)

Judy Mathiau of Vassalboro poses with the 10-point buck she shot on Nov. 5. The deer weighed 190 pounds, and Mathiau says her dad was with her, in spirit, on the hunt. (Photo courtesy of Judy Mathiau)

She was just a young teenager, and didn’t even carry a gun back then. But the walks she shared with her dad, Harlan Glidden, were special.

“I just walked with him, and he’d always stop,” Mathiau said. “Stop, listen. Stop, listen.”

When she was 18 or 19, she began hunting in earnest, carrying an old rifle with open sights, mirroring her father’s footsteps.

Harlan died in 2000, at the age of 68. But still, the memories resonate with his daughter.

“Every time I’m out in the garden, or down in the woods, [I think about the times with him],” she said. “He’d stop and look at a tree, and he’d point out what kind it was. It was always just a very patient walk through the woods [with him].”

Mathiau, now 56, also hunted with her brother, Randall, who continued to teach, and eventually with her husband, Rick Mathiau.

But through the years, one thing was missing: The big buck.

On Nov. 5, while hunting on the family land where she grew up, Judy’s luck changed. And she thinks her dad would be proud.

Her story caught our eye, and is this week’s featured deer tale in the BDN Biggest Bucks contest. Thus far this season, hunters have entered the contest with bucks that are far bigger than Mathiau’s 190-pounder. We also have entrants who have shot deer with bigger racks than the 10-point headgear that this deer sported.

But this week, especially, as we give thanks for the gifts that we sometimes take for granted, I think you’ll agree that Mathiau’s deer deserves special mention.

Her entry into our contest put it best: “My dad was there in spirit.”

In a phone conversation this week, Mathiau said she always loved hunting with her dad and her brother, and said that while she’s not very spiritual, her hunt on Nov. 5 felt … different.

“For some reason, I just kept thinking about [my dad], and I’d been thinking about him all [hunting season],” she said. “I was sitting in my stand that morning. I’m there all by myself … I’ve sat there for I don’t know how many years in a row. I got one small deer one year. But you just sit there and you think, ‘Something’s going to happen. Something’s going to come out.’”

On that morning, hoping for the best, Mathiau decided to have a conversation with her dad.

“I know this is really queer, but I kept talking to dad,” she said. “[I’m saying] ‘OK, dad. Show me where he is.’”

Not long after that, the buck showed up.

“That deer came out, and it was just like a magical thing,” Mathiau said. “It walked toward me from 100 yards away. I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”

Then, years of experience and lessons took over.

“I used to have buck fever,” she said, describing the nervousness that sometimes overcomes hunters when big deer show up. “I really didn’t have the patience. For some reason, [that message] just resonated this year.”

As the deer approached, she kept reminding herself to wait for the right shot.

“I’m [thinking], ‘Be patient.’ I brought the gun up, put the sights on [the deer]. And I’m thinking, ‘I’m supposed to wait until it turns. Don’t shoot.’”

Then, the deer did as she had hoped: It turned sideways, giving her the shot she had been waiting for.

Mathiau made it count, and after a lengthy search — with the help of a neighbor — she found her buck. Her brother Randall’s lessons paid off, as she remembered him telling her to expand her search pattern, loop around, and come back toward the original spot the deer was standing.

“It was 20 feet off the woods road. I walked right around it [the first time],” she said. “It was like Christmas for me. I’ve never, ever gotten one like that.”

Then she had a phone call to make.

[My brother] was the first person I called,” she said. “He was almost in tears. He was quite proud.”

As her father, surely, would have been as well.

John Holyoke can be reached at or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.