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Deer shack serves up Old Guard stories

Deer season is a memorable time of year, a tradition that brings friends and family together. But it also can be a sad time. I thought about that the Sunday night of Minnesota's deer opener as I left a cousin's deer shack. I'd stopped by the shac...

Deer season is a memorable time of year, a tradition that brings friends and family together.

But it also can be a sad time.

I thought about that the Sunday night of Minnesota's deer opener as I left a cousin's deer shack.

I'd stopped by the shack that night to shoot the breeze and have a bump or two with the hunting crew. Inevitably, the conversation turned to deer hunting stories, tales that involved the Old Guard my dad, Gilmore, and his two brothers, Clarence and Mervin.

All three of them lived for deer season.

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All three are gone now. Clarence died in 1986, and Dad passed away shortly before Christmas in 1992, a year the deer hunting license he'd purchased went unused.

Mervin, the last surviving brother, died last December at age 87.

A diabetic as long as I could remember, Mervin still died suddenly, it seemed. Barely a month earlier, he'd shot a deer in his 75th year of hunting and I wrote a column about his accomplishment.

I didn't realize at the time that it also would be a eulogy, of sorts, but I'm glad I took a cousin's suggestion to heart and wrote the piece.

I'm even happier Mervin had a chance to read it.

It's too bad we don't have the Old Guard's stories on tape because no one told them better than they did. Stories such as the one from an opening day in the 1960s, when Mervin shot five deer, filling the tags of four other hunters in the process, in a field east of "the creek."

That's all we need to say "the creek" and everyone knows the spot.

No one, perhaps, misses the Old Guard this time of year more than my cousin Darryl. Now in his early 60s, he was there for so many of the stories we talked about that recent Sunday night.

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Darryl told a classic about the time he and my dad were hunting together, and a buck came running at warp speed.

Darryl started shooting.

One shot. Two shot. Three shots. And still the deer kept running.

That was too much for my dad.

"Gilmore hollered, 'hit that sonofa*****!'" Darryl said, imitating my dad's trademark Norwegian brogue.

Figuring he better take the old guy's advice, Darryl connected, and the deer dropped.

I couldn't help but laugh as Darryl told the story. Especially the part about my dad telling him to "hit that "sonofa*****."

That's the kind of thing he would have said, alright. The guy lived for deer hunting.

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A crack shot in his own right, Darryl says he shot 50 deer in 50 years a streak he was able to achieve because of Minnesota's party hunting system. Having my dad yelling at him from the sidelines that long-ago day probably didn't hurt, either.

Darryl lives in Arizona now, but he still makes it back to Minnesota for a couple of days to hunt deer. It's a chance to spend some time with his sons and grandkids at the deer shack, but at the same time, he says, it's hard to come back.

It's just not the same anymore, he says.

I know exactly what he means.

It's been 14 years now, but for me, it's hard not think about Dad as he was that last deer season. Less than two weeks before opening day, he suffered a stroke that had resulted from complications after colon cancer surgery.

He survived that stroke, but he wasn't the same. The stroke affected his thinking. He was in the hospital, and later rehab, for nearly a month.

He knew it was deer season, but he couldn't grasp the fact he was in Grand Forks and not northern Minnesota. Every morning, I'd stop by his room before work to see him. And every morning, we'd have the same conversation:

"Are there many hunters out there today?" he'd ask.

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"No Dad," I'd reply. "No hunters today."

In that context, it was good to hear the stories we swapped in my cousin's deer shack that recent Sunday night. Stories of the Old Guard at their finest.

Just a hunch, but I'm guessing a lot of deer camps out there shared similar stories and laughs and perhaps shed a tear or two over their own Old Guards.

That's how it should be. Remember the stories. And keep telling them.

Because in the end, the stories are all we have left.

Reach Dokken at 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 148, or bdokken@gfherald.com .

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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