St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Alberta Hanson 1950s with Uncle Maurice's pet deer
A couple of weekends ago, my great niece Karra and great nephew Andrew Hanson went deer hunting for the very first time under the new Wisconsin rules that set aside one weekend for 10-12 year old hunters.  They both had just finished Hunter’s Safety Training. Although their hunt was successful, it pointed up a serious problem with the Hunter’s Safety program that teaches kids how to hunt.

They used their uncle Colby’s nice deer hunting stand on our rye fields along the Old River Road.   This area is the edge of the farming areas to the east and the sand barrens woods to the left.  The woods are a bedroom community for deer who commute nightly to the corn, beans and alfalfa fields on the east side of the River Road, returning each dawn to the oak and jackpine woods and prairie remnants on the west.  

They had wonderful luck!  Andrew shot a nice 8 point in the morning and Karra a slightly larger 9 point in the evening.  My brother Marvin, their grandpa, said “they did everything right—good accurate shots, carefully placed and safely done.  The Hunter Safety classes had them prepared for ‘harvesting a deer.’”  

Harvesting a deer is the euphemism perpetrated by the DNR and sportsmen’s clubs for shooting or killing a deer.  It is like saying a person “went to eternal rest” when you meant he died.  To me it brings up an image of running a huge combine driving through the meadows scooping up deer with a big front reel and spewing out packaged meat and mounted horns on the backside.  To “set the harvest” each year the DNR and Sportsmen convene death panels to argue the numbers.

Marvin is an old time hunter and butchers his own deer and did his grandchildren’s too.  “They charge $70-80 for skinning and cutting up a deer that in the end might only have 40 lbs of meat.  And they keep the hide too!”  He can skin and process a deer in just a few hours including running it through his big motorized hamburger grinder.   “I know I get my own deer back.  At the meat markets they probably mix ones with those that hung out so long they are rotten with yours!”

Well, Everett and I drove over to look at the two deer shot by the first two hunters in the 6th generation of the family to hunt deer in Wisconsin.   Great Grandpa Hanson, who came here from Sweden, was thrilled to find that he was allowed to hunt deer—that they didn’t all belong to the king or nobles in America.  He borrowed his brother-in-law’s Civil War Spencer repeater Carbine for his first hunt in the 1870s.  Deer herds were increasing rapidly after loggers opened up the great white pine forests and left conditions that favored deer. By the time Dad was a kid in the 1920s, they had mostly disappeared from over hunting.

Andrew and Karra were helping Grandpa Marvin and their dad, Brandon, unload the deer onto the butchering table, having registered it at Stop-a-Sec in Cushing when Ev and I got there.

“t is a little too warm to keep them more than a day before we cut them up,” said Marvin.  They each had a very nice young buck; 1.5 years estimated Ev, looking at size, condition and teeth.

“Andrew, tell us about shooting your first deer,” I encouraged him.  

“He came out of the woods onto the edge of the field.  I took one shot and he fell down and died, “said Andrew shyly looking at his feet.  Uncle Everett and I waited for him to continue.

“Where did you hit him?” I prompted to get him going.  “Neck,” he replied.  And that was it.  No more story, no more details; the whole story as far as he was concerned.  Everett and I were shocked.

“Didn’t they teach you in Hunter’s Training that the most important part about shooting a deer is the story?  My gosh, you gotta do better than that to be a Hanson!  You know, a year from now the meat will be all gone; the rack of horns will be gathering dust on the wall, and all that will be left is your story.”

It suddenly occurred to us that the Hunter training folks who harvest deer with rubber gloves and ear protectors and put on a medical mask to gut them out might also have sanitized the “Hunting Story” out of the process too!

Long after Parkinson’s disease had robbed my Dad of his ability to hunt, he still participated by telling the stories of hunts of his own and his Dad and Grandpa and Uncles, some more than a century old.  If you haven’t learned how to tell a good story, by golly, you might as well go to a hunting preserve where they lead an elk out of the pen, place a pail of feed in front of him and take off the rope and let you harvest him.

I don’t blame the Hunter Safety people totally.  My brother Marvin is sadly lacking in imagination too; sort of a stick to the facts kind of guy; not able to tell a story with texture, flavor, color, embellishment, etc.  You know that kind of guy; he likes a perfectly mowed lawn, nails and screws sorted as to size and stored all facing the same direction, and the packages of meat in the freezer all labeled as to type, date, with photos of the individual deer on the wrapping paper.

Now, Everett and I learned from experts.  We first watch our Hanson great uncles sit around the parlor at Grandpa’s and crack wise.  Grandpa got too old to hunt but continued telling stories over Thanksgiving dinner.    They knew how to tell stories and passed along ones they heard from their Dad too.  They knew that good stories grew a little each year as tidbits from other stories got merged into one.  My Dad and his 5 brothers continued the tradition;  Uncles Maurice, Lloyd, Chauncey, Glenn, Erv, Ralph, and Alvin, all could spin an engrossing story of a particular hunt (successful or unsuccessful made little difference in the quality of the story).

Anyway, Everett and I have our work cut out for us.  There are already 15 members of the Hanson 6th generation aged .5 to 14, all sorely in need of story telling training.  With Hunter’s Safety people abdicating this primary function, I guess it is up to us to take over. 

I have made an outline for telling a decent deer hunting story.  Most of the points are necessary and should be expanded where possible.    1. Selecting the Gun  2.  Choosing the hunt site  3. The preparations  4.  The stealthy walk to the stand  5. The weather  6. The anticipation and false alarms and the adverse conditions  7.  I see the deer  8. Shooting the deer  9. The death scene  10.  The drag 11.  Statements of false modesty or a moral.

I include my own first kill story as an example.  It is very much abbreviated so that it will fit into this column.  The story told aloud is what my neighbor George calls a 2-beer tale.

Back in ’59, when I was 12, I bought my first deer-hunting license. I had tagged along with Dad and older brother Marvin at times the two previous years and was ready to try it myself.  The starting gun for all of us Hansons of my generation was Grandpa’s old 38-40 Winchester, fondly nicknamed “the pumpkin slinger.”  It shot a small rim fire shell that looked like a bloated 22 short.   It threw a big chunk of lead a short distance before dropping precipitously.  It held 15 shells and had a smooth well-worn lever action.  You could lay down a pattern of lead that, with luck, a deer might stumble into.

 1959 was one of those years where the Conservation Department was trying to let the deer herd grow a little.  Back in the ‘50s, deer were rare in NW Wisconsin.  Every piece of land was heavily pastured by farmers and deer were hunted heavily and never seemed to get any surplus at all.  Shooting a deer (bucks only then) was a true achievement requiring a lot of luck and skill.  That year, the season north of Hwy 70 was nine days but only from Thanksgiving on around Cushing.  Dad decided we would hunt the first day in the Kohler Peet Swamps north of Grantsburg where there was public land.

    Saturday dawned bitterly cold with wind and 22 below on the farm. We helped Dad milk the cows early and were finished well before first light.  We had long underwear that we wore all winter and rubber buckle boots to wear over our lace up leather shoes.  We put on two pairs of underwear; two pairs of wool socks, mittens with liners, our wool dull read caps and a thin red coat over our heaviest old coat. This was before the days of blaze orange, so we were red only from the waist up.  Dad took some matches “we will start a fire if we get too cold.”

    We got out of the green ’51 Chev along the road somewhere in woods north of Grantsburg just as dawn was breaking.  Cars lined the road. We uncased our guns, walked, the snow squeaking cold, into the woods. We finally found a knoll that seemed to be away from other hunters.
    Two hours into the hunt, it was light; we hadn’t seen anything, but my toes had long ago abandoned communication with the rest of me. It was really cold!  “Get a some dry twigs and birch bark and let’s start a fire,” Dad finally said.  In a few minutes, we had a small fire going; a few minutes later a nice one.  Of course, it takes just as long to unthaw your toes as it did to freeze them due to the layers that the heat needs to go through.  

 Thirty minutes later as we huddled around the fire, a couple of shots rang out nearby.  “If a buck comes through, we will have to drop him here or the next hunter will surely get him,” Dad counseled as we brought our guns up to alert.    Four deer came trotting up through the woods from the direction of the shots.  “The front one is a buck,” whispered Dad, giving us the OK to open fire.

  I think we each shot the first shot simultaneously. The big buck continued forward through brush still 100 yards away.  I shot six more times; Marvin 3, and Dad once.  The buck fell, but started to get up, so I pumped a couple more shots into him in the head area.    We rushed down and found him dead; a very nice 12 point buck. We looked and there were holes in his neck, head; front leg, back leg, hoof and a few miscellaneous nicks.  “Well ventilated” joked Dad.

  The deer had a bunch of smaller prongs around the base of the big horns that we decided made him an 18 pointer.     We drug him up near the fire and Dad showed us how to gut him out (Andrew says you “field dress” a deer now a days).
 “We need to tag him,” said Dad, “I think we all shot him, so whose tag should we use? I don’t want to use mine so I can keep on hunting.”

  Marvin agreed with Dad, and so they turned to me.  “You used the most lead!  It can be your first deer.”

      Years later, we sat around on the porch room where the mounted horns hung at home and each remembered and told the story of the “Big deer from Grantsburg.”  Each of us had our own version of the story. We can spend at least 10 minutes remembering how cold it was; another 10 minutes on how terrible the gun was; 10 minutes trying to place where the Kohler Peet swamp was; and end up arguing whether the heater in the 51 Chev was any good.

   “You know, now-a-days they tell you not to eat venison because of the splinters of lead that might be in it.  They say it messes up your brain and lowers your IQ.  I bet that Grantsburg buck was full of lead,” said Everett staring at the big old set of horns on the wall at Mom’s place last week.  “Maybe that explains why we put those horns on the bicycle in place of the handlebars the next summer, and why we didn’t realize how dangerous it was to drive around with your belly 5 inches from 18 wicked deer prongs,” he mused.