A Kid’s First Deer Hunt


Back in early October, writing about whitetails and hunting I know doesn’t appear in MidWest Outdoors until December’s issue. Yet I know most hunters, still vividly recalling November hunting here in December, would enjoy a good yarn about deer hunting.

Well, here’s one for you:

Back in the 1940s, all the country schools in northern Minnesota where I grew up closed during deer hunting seasons because most boys and some girls would be absent. The usual age for a country kid to begin hunting whitetails was 10. After hearing the latest round of spiritedly told tales of past hunting adventures by his father and uncles on the eve before his first deer hunt in 1945, one 10-year-old boy found it nearly impossible to fall asleep.

But minutes after finally closing his eyes, someone was calling up the stairs.

“Get up! It’s time to get ready to go hunting!”

Within minutes, the excited boy was sitting at the breakfast table, fully dressed in his hand-me-down buffalo-plaid garb. His gleaming-new Model 94 Winchester 30-30 costing $32—partly purchased with money earned by trapping weasels (ermine)—was standing cased in a corner in the porch.

Thirty minutes later, he and 11 other hunters, including his dad, his uncles, cousins and neighbors, were all climbing into cars out in the yard to meet at the usual spots for the traditional first drive of the season.

It was tough for the kid to keep up with the line of adults tromping ahead through 8 inches of snow that dark, cold morning on the old logging trail to the starting line.

Suddenly, the men ahead halted.

“You start from here,” Jack, the boy’s uncle, instructed. “Keep your compass in your hand and walk straight north until you come to the clear-cut where the standers will be waiting. Don’t rush; it’s about a mile. Wait until it’s light enough to see before you start.”

An hour later, the boy spotted a familiar figure standing at the edge of an opening ahead. It was his uncle Jack. As he drew near, a doe bounded into the opening, about 50 yards away on his right.

After the deer disappeared into the timber on the far side of the clear-cut, Jack turned to him.

“Why didn’t you shoot?”

“I don’t know,” the boy answered. “I was just thinking about how beautiful it looked while it was bounding.”

Later, back at the cars, the boy overheard Jack talking to his father.

“Worse case of buck fever I ever saw—he froze as the deer ran past him. We’ll have to use him only as a driver this year.”

In the backseat of the car on the way back to the farm that evening, one of the boy’s grinning cousins occasionally tittered and whispered, “Buck fever.”

Those hated words were again heard the following morning while the gang was riding a hay wagon being towed by a tractor along Pike Creek west of the farm, the boy’s familiar trap line. Beginning about five miles into the woods, hunters were let off at regular intervals to act as standers. Soon there were six left, including the young boy.

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With his uncle leading the way, the remaining hunters silently trailed single file across a frozen beaver dam toward a distant tamarack bog.

About 20 minutes later, they turned due east, drivers dropping off along the way. The boy was the third hunter instructed to stop.

“Walk straight south, beginning in 15 minutes,” he was told.

About 40 minutes later, figuring he was getting close to the logging trail, the boy heard voices 100 yards away on his left. He recognized one, that of his father.

Right then, about 50 yards straight ahead, four whitetails walked into a small opening in the dense timber and halted, staring and with ears cocked forward in the direction of the voices. The nearest deer was a mature doe. Just beyond it stood a smaller doe, a fawn and an 8-point buck.

Without hesitation, the boy silently cocked his rifle—as often practiced—took aim at the big doe, and fired.

The four deer immediately turned and began bounding north on a deer trail leading directly toward the boy, likely believing the shot had come from one of the hunters heard talking on the logging trail instead.

The boy saw his second, third and fourth shots harmlessly kick snow into the air beneath and beyond the oncoming deer while they were at the tops of their bounds.

Upon finally realizing why this was happening, he waited to touch off his next shot while the lead deer, the smaller doe, was about to land on the ground. After levering in a fresh round, the boy noticed the fawn had taken the lead and was now only 15 feet away, launching itself into another towering leap when he fired.

The fawn tumbled to the ground and slid to an abrupt stop against the boy’s legs, knocking him backward into the snow.

While he quickly scrambled back to his feet, levering in a fresh cartridge, the oncoming buck veered to his right. As it bounded past, only 10 feet away, the boy aimed at its chest, swinging his carbine, and squeezed the trigger.

All that was heard was the metallic click.

His gun was empty. Around him, however, lay three deer.

The entire gang soon rushed to the scene, amazed by all the shooting and what they had found.   Shortly, Jack knelt down and pointed at the snow and the spent cartridges next to the fawn.

“Look here,” he said, grinning in astonishment. “He was lying on his back, shooting in self-defense.”

Everyone had a good laugh, but never again was that boy ever accused of suffering from “buck fever.”

This incident took place 71 years ago. I remember it well, because that boy was me.