To hear Marieke “Rieke” Kuchenbecker talk of home in Berlin, Germany, might give most outdoors men, women and children shivers, or worse.
It should give us an appreciation for what we have.
“We can’t hunt unless we’re in some type of club, and then it’s mostly hunting preserves,” she said. “We can’t have guns to hunt or target shoot.”
Rieke, 16, is here for the remainder of her junior year in high school. She’s staying with Cindy and Gregg Sikora, and their daughter, Pearl, 16, and son, Jake, 18, near Stoddard.
“I had no idea where I was going to end up,” Rieke said of the process that places students with host families.
At home, Rieke sees very little animal life; she had never hunted or fired a gun until she set foot in Vernon County. She is attending De Soto High School, along with Jake and Pearl.
“This is the fifth exchange student we’ve had,” Gregg Sikora said. “She just took to nature, learning about wild edibles, morels, ginseng, and seeing animals every day for the first time in her life.”
Sikora became her mentor, just as he was for their son, Jake.
“It was different with someone who has never fired a gun,” Sikora said. “They seem to listen better if they know almost nothing about shooting a gun. Her first two shots with a .243-caliber rifle were an inch high at 80 yards. Her next shot was at a deer 100 yards away and she dropped it immediately.”
It was because of the holiday hunt, Dec. 24-Jan. 1, that Sikora was able to take Rieke out one afternoon after a snowfall. They found a small patch of standing corn where deer fed each afternoon.
After several hours, Rieke said it felt like she had a false nose; she couldn’t feel it with her finger. But she waited a bit longer, and a doe walked out of the woods, followed by several other deer.
Sikora told Rieke to wait for a broadside shot. The deer was looking directly at them and didn’t move.
“I told Rieke if she was on the deer and thought she could hit it, to take the shot,” Sikora said. “She nailed it.”
Sikora processes his own wild game and makes jerky.
“I’m a burger person so I hope there is some ground to make cheeseburgers,” Rieke said.
Sikora said there are only nine or 10 girls in the De Soto High School junior class, “So it was good to have another one attend the high school.”
And Rieke already has plans to test more of Wisconsin’s outdoor opportunities.
“I’d like to try fishing, maybe ice fishing, and want to hunt morels with Pearl this spring,” she said.
But what happens when Rieke returns to Germany? Will she be able to enjoy the outdoors and hunt?
“Maybe if I come back here, but not likely in Germany,” she said. “I like going outside; it’s exciting.”
Rieke is learning a great deal about Wisconsin and our great outdoors. And we learned things from her, too.
Jerry Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.