PINE ISLAND, Minn. – Here’s how much Terry Krahn loves bow hunting for deer: He didn’t even draw back last month on an eight-point buck that would have dazzled any Pope and Young antler scorer.
For 15 long minutes while perched in a tree in the rolling hills around Pine Island, the lifelong archer gazed at the brute from a distance of only 12 feet. Resisting the temptation to shoot prolonged his annual quest.
“It was only my second time out this year and all I could think was, ‘I don’t want my season to be over!’ ” Krahn said. “People don’t realize how much you want to be out there. For me, I just can’t get enough.”
Krahn, 66, of rural Pine Island, is in his fifth decade of carrying a quiver into the woods to soak in the fall colors, watch the forest come alive and study deer. The living room of his meticulous home is a wall-to-wall taxidermy show. In hunts from Alaska to New Mexico to Newfoundland, he has arrowed mountain goats, elk, caribou, blacktail deer, Coues deer, mule deer, bobcats, black bears, coyotes, badgers, wild turkeys, skunks and a Minnesota bull moose that still ranks as the state’s fourth-largest on record taken by archery.
But ever since Krahn armed himself with a $10 recurve bow in 1973 to shoot his first button buck, nothing has topped the excitement of hunting whitetail deer with bow and arrow.
“To match wits with a whitetail — it really tests you,” Krahn said. “I think about whitetails every day of the year. There’s no ifs, ands or buts … seeing the whitetail rut is just fantastic.”
Gary Clancy, the late outdoors writer, called Krahn the best bowhunter he ever met. Krahn’s name is in the record books of the Rochester Archery Club. And at the regional specialty store Archery Headquarters, also in Rochester, Krahn was the first person named by store owner Marty Stubstad when asked to identify a devoted, hard-core archer, conservationist and hunter.
By the time Minnesota’s deer season opens to firearm shooters at daybreak on Nov. 4, Krahn will be in Kansas for the second leg of his 2017 whitetail hunt. He’s got nothing against gun hunting, he said, but he’d rather bask in the relative solitude of archery hunts and trust that his hand-sharpened Muzzy Phantom broadheads fly straight.
Until recently, Krahn hunted exclusively with a recurve bow. Besides the lure of simplicity, he admired the training discipline, body strength and extra hunting challenge that went along with it. He’d still be shooting one today if his right shoulder hadn’t worn down from years of work as an electrical lineman for Xcel Energy.
Recently retired, he now shoots a compound bow with a draw weight of 50 pounds. He’d go down to a draw weight of 30 pounds if his physical condition worsened. But don’t even suggest a crossbow.
Krahn is among the many bow hunting purists in Minnesota who are influencing the Department of Natural Resources to keep crossbows illegal for mainstream hunters. The state is holding its ground despite surging crossbow usage in Wisconsin, where anyone has been able to hunt deer with a crossbow since 2014.
“I just don’t understand it,” Krahn said. “Our society wants everything easy. Bow hunting season was created originally because it was more of a challenge.”
He said expensive new crossbows shoot with rifle-type accuracy at distances up to 100 yards. But bows were meant for short-range hunting, he said. Unless you are physically disabled, shooting a crossbow during the archery season is “too easy” and a “copout,” he said.
As a deer hunter in Minnesota’s southern range, Krahn lived through the state’s first big scare of chronic wasting disease when a single wild deer tested positive in November 2010 for the always-fatal neurological disease that is contagious among deer and elk. Krahn said he believed the DNR went overboard in response to the Pine Island outbreak, wiping out hundreds of local whitetails to prevent CWD from spreading.
But the local whitetail population has since recovered, and Krahn gives the DNR credit for imposing antler point restrictions in the southeastern Minnesota zone that includes his hunting grounds. Still, DNR deer management would greatly improve if the agency’s wildlife managers listened to hunters who spend time in the woods. “They could learn a lot from bow hunters,” he said.
Under the antler point rule, hunters can’t harvest an antlered buck unless it has at least four points on one side. Combined with the expansion of deer food plots on private land and a cultural shift away from sweeping deer drives by gun hunters, Krahn said, the changes have boosted overall deer abundance and given rise locally to more mature bucks.
“The numbers right here, right now are higher than I’ve seen them,” Krahn said.
Big buck syndrome
Growing up in tiny Jeffers, Minn., in the state’s southwest corner, Krahn shot pheasants and ducks with his dad, but rarely saw deer. He took up archery at age 21 on a shared impulse with a couple of buddies and never quit. He remembers every kill, and the biggest animal he ever shot was lured by his call from a hilly shore of Cede Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in fall 1994.
The bull moose appeared almost as if on cue when Krahn and his hunting partner arrived on the lake’s portage path on the first morning of their hunting trip. The moose was broadside at close range but obscured by saplings. Krahn hesitated until a breeze hit the back of his neck, carrying his scent toward the target.
“I said to myself, ‘You better do something,’ ” he recalled. “So I shot and got nothing but moose.”
They deboned the animal and paddled out of the BWCA without ever pitching their tent. They were back at the landing by 6 p.m., and Pope and Young scored the rack at just over 162 points.
Despite a house full of majestic big game mounts, Krahn’s best advice to aspiring bow hunters is to shoot a small deer while learning the fundamentals. Don’t get caught up in “big buck syndrome,” he said.
“It’s supposed to be fun,” he said. “And if you are hunting with a bow, every one is a trophy.”