Page 2 of 2 Previous

Continued: The luckiest deer hunter

  • Article by: LARRY OAKES , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 16, 2012 - 7:44 AM

They ought to call it thought hunting.

You sit in a deer stand, hour after hour, silent and still. While you wait for a deer, your mind wanders the dense and beautiful forest of its own thoughts.

In my decades of deer hunting, this is one thing I've come to value. Yes, I like the heart-pounding thrill of a nice buck approaching. I like the challenge of making a clean kill and respectable field-dress.

I enjoy putting meat in the freezer and maybe a trophy on the wall. And I cherish the annual reunions that deer hunting gives my family.

But I've noticed that the hunt's long interludes of solitude are some of the best opportunities I get all year to think, without interruption or distraction.

To take stock, reminisce and savor. To mull and decide. To mark the years and stages of my life. To worry, count blessings and hope.

Century-old tradition

For almost 40 years, my dad, my brother and I have hunted the same patch of the Chippewa National Forest in the lake, sand and pine country of north-central Minnesota.

We've hunted the same area so long we've seen portions of it logged and return again to mature forest. Sitting high in a ladder stand against a tall pine you stepped over as a teenager has a way of compressing the years and making you see your life in bigger chunks.

Lately my grown son has joined us, learning to shoot his uncle's old .30-30 and continuing a tradition that's been in our family since before my paternal grandfather and his brother built a windowless log deer-hunting shack northwest of Duluth almost 100 years ago.

They got there by pumping a railroad handcar, and they felled whitetail on the edges of a massive bog in an area they called Mount Hope.

Some of our best family memories are from our hunts. One year, dad shot a handsome eight-pointer right at sunset near his stand next to a giant Norway pine, a mile on foot paths from where we park.

We'd heard wolves yowling earlier, so we thought we'd better walk back there together and do a nighttime drag. Dad broke trail as my brother, Greg, and I slid the animal over fresh snow and low windfalls, each of us straining on an antler.

On one of our rests, we noticed that the brilliant full moon was dimming. We looked up, expecting to see snow clouds moving in. Instead, we realized with a shock, the rounded shadow of the earth was sliding slowly across the moon -- a lunar eclipse. One of us remembered one had been forecast.

We turned off the flashlights and stood in the forest's inky blackness. Hushed and awed beneath a canopy of achy-bright stars, we waited for Earth's disk to complete its journey across the Sea of Tranquility or whatever vast, sterile plain lay between those chalky lunar hills.

We continued to gaze through the bare treetops as our planet's shadow finished its moon-crossing, revealing first a sliver of the other side, then a crescent, and ultimately its full, beaming orb.

Basking in the luster of its restored light in the snowy forest, we passed a hip flask and drank a "hunter's toast" to dad's buck and to this rarest of moments, an old woodsman and his sons sharing a priceless, unforgettable experience.

Reason to reflect

Such memories are all the sweeter when a hunter is given reason to reflect on the fragility of life.

Last year, a couple weeks after I killed a broken-tine eight-pointer on the last day of the season, I was finishing a routine workout when a blood vessel in my head suddenly ruptured in a wave of searing pain.

I was in the hospital 16 days with a tube inserted deep into my head. It was a major brain hemorrhage, but I escaped the disabilities -- difficulty walking and talking -- that many stroke victims suffer at least temporarily.

The reason is a little bizarre.

According to the neurosurgeon who studied the CAT scans and MRIs of my head, a malformation of blood vessels had starved a portion of my brain of oxygen and prevented it from developing properly, probably before I was born.

Luckily, the fetal and infant brain is highly adaptable. The good parts simply assumed the prescribed functions of the part that didn't develop -- the part that remains to this day, in the words of the neurosurgeon, "silent."

And it was into that silence that the same malformed cluster of vessels bled when I was 51 -- inundating, pressurizing and starving the one and only portion of my brain where there are no vital functions being performed, no thoughts to kill.

That bullet whizzed right past my head. That thought still takes my breath away.

Another scare

Then, this fall, dad's 76-year-old body took its turn to scare everybody.

Blood work from a routine physical showed abnormal results, and eventually specialists determined he has cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

Dad matter-of-factly explained that it can't be cured but that chemotheraphy conceivably could knock it into remission.

We feared that the chemo, if not the cancer, would make him really sick, make his hair fall out and all that. But it didn't.

He says he might be a little more tired at times. But he's kept working two days a week as before and kept things up around the house, yard and garage.

Once again he helped put on the lutefisk dinner at church, and he's kept telling corny jokes. And when November came, he and mom hosted the annual hunt as usual.

On opening morning, he was out of bed at 4 a.m., and when the sun rose on another deer season, he was in his stand by the big Norway, where he sat in a cold wind until lunch, bundled in wool, alert for his next trophy.

Stealing a phrase he's used to describe certain memorable people over the years, I'll say this: My dad is tougher than a boiled owl.

Later in the deer season, his oncologist called with fantastic news: The latest tests showed the chemo is reducing evidence in his blood of the cancer, making remission seem more likely.

Maybe we both should start playing the lottery.

Measuring luck

In terms of deer hanging from the pole outside dad's garage, this season wasn't one of our best. For days we had blustery weather that made it hard to hear and might have spooked a lot of deer.

Greg shot a fork horn late one afternoon when it walked up on him from behind, a warm-up to a trophy whitetail he shot a week later in Pennsylvania. Dad and Mike didn't get a shot but enjoyed their time in the woods and together, a patriarch getting another chance to share his experience and time with a grandson eager to soak it up.

I might have had a nice-sized fork horn myself, but he spotted me before I could get my rifle off my lap, and then he ducked into some thick brush. He made a fool out of me, as many of his kind have done before. He left me shaking my head and smiling.

So I didn't get a deer, but as usual I got a lot of time to think. To remember and appreciate. To marvel and savor and worry and hope.

To decide that you can fail to fill your tag and still be the luckiest damn deer hunter in the whole north woods.

Larry Oakes • 612-673-1751

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.

ADVERTISEMENT

Toronto - D. Hutchison 12:05 PM
NY Yankees - M. Tanaka
Washington - S. Strasburg 12:10 PM
Miami - N. Eovaldi
NY Mets - J. deGrom 12:35 PM
Atlanta - E. Santana
Boston - J. Kelly 12:35 PM
Baltimore - M. Gonzalez
Milwaukee - W. Peralta 12:35 PM
Pittsburgh - V. Worley
Chicago WSox - J. Danks 12:40 PM
Tampa Bay - N. Karns
Cleveland - C. Kluber 1:10 PM
Minnesota - A. Swarzak
Detroit - R. Porcello 1:10 PM
Kansas City - J. Guthrie
Seattle - H. Iwakuma 1:10 PM
Houston - C. McHugh
Los Angeles - J. Wright 1:20 PM
Chicago Cubs - J. Turner
Texas - N. Tepesch 2:35 PM
LA Angels - C. Rasmus
Philadelphia - A. Burnett 3:05 PM
Oakland - S. Kazmir
San Francisco - R. Vogelsong 3:10 PM
San Diego - I. Kennedy
Arizona - W. Miley 3:10 PM
Colorado - C. Bergman
Cincinnati - A. Simon 7:05 PM
St. Louis - L. Lynn
San Diego 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Columbus 12:30 PM
Carolina
Buffalo 4:00 PM
Washington
St. Louis 5:30 PM
Columbus
Calgary 7:00 PM
Edmonton
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Calgary
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
North Carolina 41 FINAL
East Carolina 70
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
Virginia 33 FINAL
(21) BYU 41
(6) Texas A&M 58 FINAL
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 FINAL
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 FINAL
Kansas 24
Utah 26 FINAL
Michigan 10
Florida 21 FINAL
(3) Alabama 42
Louisville 34 FINAL
FIU 3
Fla Atlantic 19 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Indiana 31 FINAL
(18) Missouri 27
San Jose St 7 FINAL
Minnesota 24
Texas State 35 FINAL
Illinois 42
Massachusetts 7 FINAL
Penn State 48
Georgia State 14 FINAL
Washington 45
Appalachian St 20 FINAL
Southern Miss 21
Miss State 34 FINAL
(8) LSU 29
Northern Ill 14 FINAL
Arkansas 52
Middle Tennessee 17 FINAL
Memphis 36
Utah State 14 FINAL
Arkansas State 21
Miami-Ohio 24 FINAL
Cincinnati 31
Idaho 24 FINAL
Ohio U 36
Ball State 23 FINAL
Toledo 34
(14) So Carolina 48 FINAL
Vanderbilt 34
(4) Oklahoma 45 FINAL
West Virginia 33
Ga Southern 28 FINAL
South Alabama 6
UNLV 14 FINAL
Houston 47
Miami-Florida 31 FINAL
(24) Nebraska 41
New Mexico 38 FINAL
New Mexico St 35
(22) Clemson 17 FINAL
(1) Florida State 23
California 45 FINAL
Arizona 49
San Diego St 7 FINAL
Oregon State 28
(2) Oregon 38 FINAL
Washington St 31
Louisiana 9 FINAL
Boise State 34
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Chivas USA 2:00 PM
Toronto FC
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close