When most people think of Hawaii, they picture the beautiful beaches and iconic sunsets of this bucket-list destination. My recent trip there was indeed a bucket-list experience, but it was more than just a vacation — it was a spiritual calling. A calling to touch the ancestral hunter and gatherer part of my soul.
Growing up, I followed my dad, Ron Schara, in a pheasant field and fished alongside him for years. My sister and I were taught the meaning of the circle of life at a young age. We developed a deep understanding that hunting is a means of providing for your family as well as an important component of conserving natural resources, habitat and wildlife. I remember tagging along one time on a deer hunt, and I found it too boring to sit still in a deer stand. I discovered other passions in the outdoors, but I never got into big game hunting until recently.
Over the past few years, I’ve had a growing desire to harvest big game. I wanted to know I could connect with my roots and put food on the table that I harvested and prepared myself. I knew it was going to be a different experience than upland bird hunting. It was going to take more effort, more hiking, more stalking — just like my ancestors used to do. I wanted to be invested in this circle-of-life experience.
When I started researching where to go and what to hunt, I set my sights on the axis deer. I have had the pleasure of cooking and tasting some of the best wild game, from elk and moose to antelope and caribou. In further research, I learned that axis deer venison is considered the gold standard of wild fare — the Wagyu beef of game meat, if you will. I also discovered that some Hawaiian islands are heavily populated with the species. An outdoor adventure in paradise? Sign me up!
Lanai is a small, lesser known island of Hawaii. There are only 30 miles of paved roads on the isle, and its only town, Lanai City, has a population of 2,700 people. It’s stunning and remote all at the same time. There are only two resorts on the island, both Four Seasons properties that are serene, beautiful and relaxing.
To make this bucket-list excursion happen, I enlisted the best of the best. World-class outfitter Pineapple Brothers was founded by one-time Navy SEAL Jack Carr and former FBI Special Agent Jon Dubin. My guide for the day was Alec Pascua, who was born and raised on Lanai and has been hunting since the age of 8.
The day of the hunt, Pascua picked me up at 5:30 a.m. It was a typical Hawaiian morning with a sunrise full of color and a mild temperature around 65 degrees. Off we went to a large volcanic crater in the middle of the island. When we arrived, Pascua told me there were thousands of deer in the field, yet you couldn’t see them with your naked eye. When I looked through my binoculars, it was eye-opening. I was shocked by how many deer I saw. I thought it was going to be easy, but Pascua explained that axis deer are very skittish. If they hear you or catch your scent, they are gone in seconds.
As we walked along the ancient volcanic crater, I started to wonder how axis deer even got to this island in the middle of the ocean. Originally from India, they landed on Lanai in the late 1800s as a gift from the emperor of Hong Kong. With zero natural predators on the isle, the population has exploded. Today, they’re considered an invasive species, with upward of 30,000 axis deer roaming the land. Hunting axis deer helps balance the deer population and the ecosystem, therefore protecting other native animal and plant species on the island. Nature, wildlife and habitat are meant to live in a balanced harmony, and hunting plays a key role in that.
Back to the action, Pascua and I watched through the binoculars for awhile, then he told me it was time to move. And by move, he meant crawl. We were stalking the deer, observing them and reading their body language. At that moment, my natural instincts kicked in and I realized this was how our ancestors survived. When the time came to harvest a deer, I made sure I was steady and accurate, as that’s the honorable thing to do.
Afterward, I didn’t know how I was going to feel. It wasn’t a moment of excitement; it was a moment of gratitude. I said a prayer of thanks. I was grateful to be able to harvest organic food in an environmentally friendly way and to be able to provide many meals for myself and loved ones. I was doing my small part to help sustain the ecosystem.
Lanai local Bob the Butcher is famous for his skills. My axis deer was processed, vacuum sealed, frozen and delivered to the airport for me to take home. Upon my return to Minnesota, I grilled my first burger. The rumors are true: Mild and tender, axis deer venison is without a doubt the best tasting wild game I’ve ever had.
I have shared my bounty with family and friends as that is part of the role of provider. Telling my story of hunting in paradise goes along with the meal. I plan on returning to Lanai once my freezer is empty. The combination of tropical bliss, luxury accommodations and a ceremonial experience of an ancient tradition will have me checking this adventure off my bucket list twice.