The luckiest deer hunter

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

One Minnesota family with lifetimes of deer season memories is given new reasons to savor its annual hunt.

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

Philadelphia 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
Phoenix 12:00 PM
New York
Portland 6:00 PM
New Orleans
Utah 6:00 PM
Charlotte
Atlanta 7:00 PM
Houston
San Antonio 7:30 PM
Dallas
Indiana 8:00 PM
Denver
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Arizona 3:00 PM
Los Angeles
Colorado 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Philadelphia 6:00 PM
Toronto
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Montreal
Washington 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Florida 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
NY Rangers 6:00 PM
Carolina
Chicago 6:00 PM
Columbus
Nashville 7:00 PM
Minnesota
Calgary 9:00 PM
Vancouver
St. Louis 9:30 PM
San Jose
VA Commonwealth 11:00 AM
Cincinnati
Charlotte 11:00 AM
Georgetown
SMU 11:00 AM
Michigan
Louisville 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Mount St Marys 12:00 PM
American Univ
Abilene Christian 12:00 PM
Boise State
UMass Lowell 12:00 PM
Duquesne
South Alabama 12:00 PM
IUPUI
Ohio State 12:00 PM
North Carolina
Massachusetts 12:00 PM
Providence
Syracuse 12:00 PM
Villanova
Citadel 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Belmont 12:30 PM
Fairfield
St Bonaventure 1:00 PM
Binghamton
Montreat 1:00 PM
Campbell
Delaware 1:00 PM
Fair-Dickinson
South Florida 1:00 PM
Florida State
Vanderbilt 1:00 PM
Georgia Tech
SC State 1:00 PM
Houston
Missouri 1:00 PM
Illinois
Truett-McConnell 1:00 PM
Jacksonville
Toledo 1:00 PM
McNeese State
Elon 1:00 PM
UNC Greensboro
Drexel 1:00 PM
Penn State
St Francis-PA 1:00 PM
Rutgers
Albany 1:00 PM
Yale
PSU-Beaver 1:00 PM
Longwood
Eastern Ill 1:05 PM
Indiana State
Indiana 1:30 PM
Butler
Marshall 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
Lafayette 2:00 PM
Kansas
Oral Roberts 2:00 PM
Memphis
Western Mich 2:00 PM
Northwestern
Delaware State 2:00 PM
Oregon
Fla Atlantic 2:00 PM
St Francis-NY
Arkansas Tech 2:00 PM
Stephen F Austin
Howard Payne 2:00 PM
Texas-Arlington
UMBC 2:00 PM
Kennesaw St
St Josephs (IN) 2:05 PM
Chicago State
Eastern Mich 2:05 PM
Missouri State
UCLA 2:30 PM
Kentucky
UC Davis 3:00 PM
Air Force
Houston Baptist 3:00 PM
UC Riverside
Davidson 3:00 PM
Coll of Charleston
USC Upstate 3:00 PM
Miss State
NC Central 3:00 PM
Miss Valley St
Illinois State 3:00 PM
Murray State
Louisiana 3:00 PM
Northwestern St
Oakland 3:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Detroit 3:00 PM
Rhode Island
Presbyterian 3:00 PM
UT Martin
Monmouth 3:00 PM
Wagner
Southern U 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Iowa State 4:00 PM
Drake
Wake Forest 4:00 PM
Florida
High Point 4:00 PM
James Madison
Texas Southern 4:00 PM
Michigan State
New Hampshire 4:00 PM
Sacred Heart
Northeastern 4:00 PM
Santa Clara
Huston-Tillotson 4:00 PM
Texas State
Purdue 4:15 PM
Notre Dame
Prairie View 4:30 PM
Sam Houston St
Xavier 5:00 PM
Auburn
Bluffton 6:00 PM
Akron
NJIT 6:00 PM
Central Conn St
Hofstra 6:00 PM
Columbia
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Dayton
Iona 6:00 PM
George Mason
Valparaiso 6:00 PM
IUPU-Ft Wayne
Texas A&M 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Morgan State 6:00 PM
Manhattan
Saint Josephs 6:00 PM
Marist
East Carolina 6:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Richmond 6:00 PM
Pepperdine
La Salle 6:00 PM
Towson
Incarnate Word 6:05 PM
UMKC
CS-Bakersfield 6:30 PM
Idaho State
Iowa 6:30 PM
Northern Iowa
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Long Beach State 7:00 PM
Texas
TX-San Antonio 7:00 PM
TCU
SE Missouri St 7:30 PM
Arkansas
Lehigh 8:00 PM
Arizona State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Oklahoma 8:00 PM
Washington
Utah Valley U 8:00 PM
Weber State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
St Edwards 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
NC State 8:30 PM
West Virginia
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
CS-Northridge
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Gonzaga
Fresno State 9:00 PM
Pacific
Montana State 9:00 PM
Portland
Ball State 9:00 PM
San Diego St
South Dakota St 9:05 PM
Utah State
Stanford 10:00 PM
BYU
Utah 10:30 PM
UNLV
Nevada 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Livingstone 11:00 AM
UNC Greensboro
Loyola-Chicago 11:00 AM
Dartmouth
Georgia Tech 11:00 AM
St Francis-NY
Auburn 11:00 AM
St Johns
East Tenn St 11:00 AM
Jacksonville St
Western Mich 11:00 AM
Detroit
Cal-Irvine 11:00 AM
Wright State
Gardner-Webb 11:00 AM
Kennesaw St
(7) Stanford 12:00 PM
(11) Tennessee
Alabama A&M 12:00 PM
Ole Miss
Central Michigan 12:00 PM
(1) South Carolina
Nebraska Omaha 12:00 PM
Creighton
FIU 12:00 PM
Western Carolina
Houston 12:00 PM
Nicholls
St Thomas Aquinas 12:00 PM
Army
St Bonaventure 12:00 PM
Niagara
Texas State 12:00 PM
Stetson
George Mason 12:05 PM
ULM
Grambling 1:00 PM
Kansas State
Missouri 1:00 PM
Wake Forest
Robert Morris 1:00 PM
Cornell
Air Force 1:00 PM
Abilene Christian
Hampton 1:00 PM
James Madison
American Univ 1:00 PM
MD-Eastern Shore
Texas Southern 1:00 PM
TX A&M-CC
Tenn Tech 1:00 PM
NC A&T
Presbyterian 1:00 PM
NC Central
Penn 1:00 PM
Drexel
Lipscomb 1:00 PM
Xavier
Vermont 1:00 PM
Green Bay
Charleston Southern 1:00 PM
UNC-Wilmington
Ohio Christian 1:00 PM
Akron
Jacksonville 1:00 PM
Murray State
(17) Rutgers 1:00 PM
Iona
Indiana 1:00 PM
Oakland
Indiana State 1:30 PM
SMU
Denver 1:30 PM
Purdue
TX-San Antonio 2:00 PM
Texas Tech
UCF 2:00 PM
Middle Tennessee
Campbell 2:00 PM
Bethune-Cookman
Florida A&M 2:00 PM
SE Louisiana
Northwestern St 2:00 PM
Jackson State
Lehigh 2:00 PM
Arizona State
Valparaiso 2:00 PM
SIU-Edwardsville
Toledo 2:00 PM
Southern Ill
Liberty 2:30 PM
Minnesota
Wofford 2:30 PM
North Florida
Montana State 3:00 PM
Washington St
Marshall 3:00 PM
(22) West Virginia
Morgan State 3:00 PM
Chattanooga
Northeastern 3:00 PM
Harvard
Furman 3:00 PM
(15) Georgia
(18) Michigan State 3:00 PM
(9) Baylor
Ohio U 3:00 PM
Massachusetts
Prairie View 3:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
High Point 3:00 PM
(12) Nebraska
Winthrop 3:05 PM
Wichita State
William Jewell 3:30 PM
UMKC
Louisiana Tech 4:00 PM
Utah
Southern Utah 4:00 PM
Gonzaga
Hawaii 4:00 PM
Loyola Marymount
San Jose St 4:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Northridge 4:00 PM
San Diego State
Norfolk State 4:00 PM
East Carolina
Saint Peters 4:00 PM
Loyola-Maryland
Arizona 4:30 PM
Stephen F Austin
Northwestern 4:30 PM
Eastern Illinois
Oral Roberts 5:00 PM
Wisconsin
Florida Atlantic 5:00 PM
New Mexico St
La Salle 5:00 PM
Georgia State
(16) Oregon State 5:30 PM
Nevada
Sacred Heart 6:00 PM
Villanova
Delaware 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Utah Valley U
Washington 7:00 PM
UC-Riverside
Pacific 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Old Dominion 7:00 PM
Miami-Ohio
Austin Peay 9:00 PM
Montana
Lewis-Clark State 9:00 PM
Idaho
(21) Miss State 9:30 PM
Illinois-Chicago
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