The scene is at brother Everett’s deer hunting shack on “the sixty,” the rolling hills, woods and fields that formed the cow pasture until twenty years ago. Bordered on the west by Wolf Creek and ten miles of sand barrens, and otherwise surrounded by fields and other pasture, it was and is one of the favorite hunting places for my family. His shack is 16x16, built of home sawn lumber in the front yard and drug up the road on skids to the top of a hill, overlooking a large valley and opposite ridge. It has been in place for 30 years or so, sitting on cement blocks, held in place with cables and earth anchors after having blown part way down the hill in a storm years ago.
It is a wonderful hunting spot. It is high enough so you can see all the way to home looking south, to Gullicksons and the Bass Lake school to the east, to the big ridge west of Wolf creek and overlook the valley to the north. When Ev planted some trees around the shack, which stands on the only level spot around, he dug up several stone tools. Indians had appreciated the spot for camping too. Nearby, a century ago, was an old farm house and barn. John Nelson drug the house down the road to our farm using it for a granary, pulling up the well casing and leaving the only trace of the old buildings, a slight depression in the ground.
The date of this memory is somewhere in the early 1980s, after Dad sold the cattle, but before the valley grew thick with trees. Now the open pasture is gone except where Ev clears some shooting lanes.
Windows on all four sides of the shack let the hunter watch for deer while warming up inside. He can quickly step out for a shot at a deer. In one corner was an old wood cookstove for heating, cooking and keeping a coffee pot warm. There is an old couch, an easy chair, one of the old iron framed cots from the bunkhouse at Never’s dam, a table and some folding chairs for company. A gas lantern substitutes for electricity for overnight stays. Nearby, a two-holer stands on the edge of the valley. It has Dutch doors so with the top one open you get a full view of the valley and yet have privacy.
The date of this story is on a Thanksgiving afternoon, about 3:00 pm. The shack is crowded with Dad, his four sons, and a few grandsons. We just got up from Mom’s dinner table after eating turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, squash, cranberries and apple and pumpkin piessss. We are too stuffed to go out and hunt in the woods, and the 15 degree weather and north wind are too chilling after the warm house. So we fire up the woodstove at the shack and sit around looking out the windows hoping a deer won’t come too close and we have to shoot it.
“Do you remember what year it was that I shot the buck that died in Roger Lake?” I asked, hoping to tell the story of “The Floating Buck.”
“Well, I still had my ’55 Bel Aire that I bought from the money I earned at Nelson pea vinery when I was 16, that was 1960. I bought it the next spring and I got rid of that in ’64 when I went to Fortuna to teach. I remember how hard it was to clean the blood out of the trunk!” replied Marvin, “That narrows it to the hunting seasons of 61, 62 or 63. I think it must have been ’63, when I was going to PoCoTeCo (Polk Co Teacher’s College).”
“Yeah, I think ’63 sounds right. You know that was the first buck I shot on my own. I never knew deer floated until that one that died right in the middle of Roger Lake,” I continued. That was the third year I was using Uncle Chan’s old 32 special. It had that nickel steel long octagon barrel with the filed off “V” sight and the gold bead. It was a good deer gun.”
“Channy bought that from Lloyd (his brother). Afterwards, Lloyd, wanted to buy it back, but Chan liked it and wouldn’t sell or trade it back. Chan was a really good hunter. He was patient; he could sneak through the woods so quietly he got what he was after. When he turned fifty, he quit hunting. Said he had enough,” said Dad.
I continued, “I think the long barrel made it easy to aim. It was a too heavy though. You know in the ‘60s hardly anyone used a scope around here. Scopes were for long distance shooting out on the barrens with thirty-ought-sixes and our short distance through-the-brush was for open sights and 30-30’s or the specials. I really like the 30-30 carbine I have now for shooting better than the special. You know, they say there have been more deer shot with a 30-30 than any other gun.”
“Ha,” snorted Ev, “that’s right, more deer have been shot with a 30-30, but I bet you half of them weren’t killed. Not enough power. You need a 30-06, or some bigger gun to kill the deer.”
“I suppose a 30-06 it might be good to have if a mad elephant escapes from the zoo, but with a deer it depends on whether you want to turn it into hamburger with your bullets! You don’t dare shoot those big guns except downhill or the bullet might hit somebody in Minnesota. I guess if you aren’t a good shot then you gotta do what you gotta do. You remember Grandpa’s old 45-90 army gun? It had sights that flipped up and said ¼, ½, ¾, and one mile. The one mile sight must have tipped up a full inch,” I replied.
“You were going to tell about a deer floating,” reminded nephew Bryce. “Why would they float when they’re dead?”
“They’ve got hollow hairs that not only keep them warm, but make ‘em float like a cork,” noted Byron, “so what happened that he got into the lake anyway?”
“That was the year I tried bow hunting the first time with that fiberglass bow I got from Sears. I found a spot on the south end of the west ridge where I was next to the big deer trail going to Bert’s corn field. I saw a lot of deer, but nothing but fawns came close enough to shoot. I had a big stump to sit on and was pretty much hidden in the trees. It was a good spot, so I tried it on opening morning for gun hunting.”
“I bought one of those fiberglass bows too,” replied Ev, “still got it. They had 45, 55, and 65 pound pulls for the same price, so of course I got the 65—more bow for the money I figured. If I could have pulled the darn thing back, I might of got a deer with it. It wasn’t recurved, no pulleys, just straight fiberglass. I finally used it to replace the broken rear spring in the old Rambler. Even there it was a little too stiff. When did you shoot the deer?”
“It was a cold, probably about 20 degrees. We had about an inch of new snow, perfect for seeing and tracking. I was dressed warm enough so I figured I could sit for two hours. You know, buckle boots with felt liners just weren’t very warm,even with two pairs of wool socks. I had Marv drop me off at the sixty at 6:30. He went on down to his forty behind Granpa’s place. I snuck into the woods and sat down on my stump well before light.”
“How high was the stump?” asked Byron. “You know in those days they didn’t let you climb a tree or have a deer stand. I think you could sit in a tree, on a stump, or have a deer stand as long as both of your feet touched the ground. Bow hunters started going up in the trees, and sometime later they made it legal to do it for gun hunters. Can’t remember when though.”
“When I was hunting prairie dogs in ND back in ‘64, the rule was you could drive around the open range with loaded guns in the car, but when you shot you had to have one foot on the ground,” added Marvin, “you know, I only had a two year teaching degree and the salary was so poor in Fortuna, I don’t know what I would have done without Prairie Dog Stew.”
”Anyway, I was sat on that stump watching the morning light come. By 8 am, I was froze through. Hadn’t seen anything yet. I was busy wiggling my toes and shifting in my coats trying to warm up when I saw a flash way ahead on the next ridge. I watched as a deer came into a clearing about 50 yards ahead and stopped. He had come past me on the other side of the big swamp and had come back to the trail I was on, but going away from me, I continued”
“You know that big swamp must have a spring feeding it. When I had the DNR come in and make those ponds, that is the only one that stays full of water all summer,” said Everett, who bought the sixty from Dad and Mom after they quit the cows.
“That ridge you were sitting on is all gravel,” said Dad, “I was always going to open my own gravel pit there. Just too many hills to get back to it to make it worth the bother. John Nelson, who bought it back in the early 1900s said he cut enough big timber off that sixty to build the barn at home. He was surprised when I cut off enough to build the garage in 1949. He’d stripped it clean only thirty years earlier.”
“There’s some pretty nice aspen coming on the ridge in the middle. It won’t be long before it is ready to saw,” added Ev. “So where did you hit the deer?”
“I could see he had a small fork. I had a buck only license. I think that wasn’t one of those party deer years where four hunters could get a doe tag. I pulled up and aimed as best as I could. He was almost exactly facing away. He was far enough away, so I really sort of centered him in the sights and shot once.”
“Those party deer tags were a good idea,” said Dad. “When I was young, and lived on my Dad’s farm south of Barron, there weren’t any deer there at all. We all went up to Uncle Rick’s farm in Birchwood to hunt. He let us camp out in the haymow. It would have been easier on Aunt Mary if we could have shot a doe for her to help feed us. Dad told me that during the forty years he had a farm there he never saw a deer there. One time there was a deer track, and all the hunters in the area headed out after it with their dogs. They always went north to hunt.”
“Well, I shot one time at the buck. He reared up, like Silver and the Lone Ranger, and bucked around a bunch then took off running full speed over the ridge. I knew I had hit him enough to make him jump, so I beat it over to the spot. There was a little blood on the fresh snow. Not a lot. Luckily the snow was still fresh, so hardly any tracks were there but my buck. I headed out at a trot on the fresh trail, following spots of blood. He was headed north on the ridge just east of the creek. ”
“It’s better to wait a little before you track a wounded deer. If they are hit bad, they go a little ways, then bed down. Then, if you walk slowly, you can sneak up on them. If you chase them, they take of and cover a lot of territory before they die, “ said Dad.
“If you had a decent sized gun, you wouldn’t have that trouble,” said Byron. “With my thirty-ought-six you just hit em in the tail, and the shock is so big they die from a heart attack.”
“Why do they call it a thirty-ought-six? Why not a thirty-oh-six, or a 306 or something?” asked Marvin.
“Thirty is the caliber,” said Ev, “and 1906 is the date the model was patented, I think. A lot of people do call it a thirty-oh-six, just the old people use ought.”
“The old timers, like your grandpa’s, called the years 1901 to 1909 the oughts. Grandpa said “I bought the farm in ought-two, Alvin was born in ought-four, and great grandpa built his new house next door in ought-seven, you know the one that blew down in the tornado of ’29. So a gun that came out in 1906, was an ought-six model,” explained Dad. “I imagine the 2001-2009 ought to be the next oughts,” he added. “So did the deer go into Arnold Swanson’s pasture from ours?”
“His tracks looked like he was running wide open when he jumped the fence to Arnolds. He was down the hill pretty far, where Lily lake is. The lake was open all the way up to Roger, so I figured he would run along the west side. I followed him until the tracks disappeared in the tall wet cattail swamps along the south end of Roger Lake. The lake was mostly still open, just ice around the edge, so I figured I would just walk on up skirting the lake and see if I could pick up the trail.”
“I used to have an old tin boat on Lily Lake, “ said Dad. The first couple of years I was farming, Uncle Channy and I did had some good luck fishing up there and in Roger. Then I got married and had a bunch of kids to support, and never got back fishing until I retired forty years later. I should go back up in there and try it again.”
“Ice fishing is pretty good on Roger most winters,” said Byron, “mostly sunfish and crappies and some northerns. They bite better there than on Wolf or Orr. It is just hard to get back to the lake when the snow comes unless you have a snowmobile.”
“Do you remember the summer of 1965 when you and I worked at the plastic factory in Dresser,” said Marvin. “We went up there a lot in the morning. Caught sunnies mostly. Mac Fors always had an old wooden row boat on the lake that anyone could use when he wasn’t there. If I remember right, that’s how we got your deer out.”
“You’re jumping ahead in the story. Well, I walked all the way to the north end of Roger Lake without seeing any fresh track coming out. I met a hunter, one of the Brenizer’s I think, up on a ridge overlooking the whole side of the lake. ‘Did you see a deer come running up here along the lake or ridge about 10 minutes ago?’ I asked. “No haven’t seen a thing. Was that you who took the shot down south?” “Yeah, I wounded a buck and lost his trail in the cattails at the south east end of the lake. Thought he might have come out along here.” “I was watching close after you shot and didn’t see a thing, maybe he stopped in the cattails.”
I decided I was going to have to get down in the cattails, even if I got my feet wet, and take the walk back along the lake. The cattails area was pretty much frozen and gave good footing, with only an occasional breakthrough. I walked right out to the edge as far as I dared. The lake was frozen about 30 feet from the cattails and then open in the middle. I stopped looking for tracks and looked across the lake. There, about two thirds of the way across the lake from the south was a deer floating in the water, high enough so his head and shoulders were clearly out and I could see it was a buck; my buck!
I could also see Mac’s old rowboat across the lake, over on Uncle Maurice’s shore. What should I do? By that time, Dad would be out in the woods somewhere. I only knew where Marv was hunting, so decided to walk down to him, about a mile away. I followed the creek down and crossed at the old road crossing and into his 40 and found him.
To be continued
See part 2 at this link Part 2 hunting story