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NORTH DAKOTA DEER OPENER: After all these years . . .

GALESBURG, N.D. - Orville Paulson says he quit smoking two years ago - at age 94, a guy's got to start thinking about his health - but his deer hunting habit is proving harder to break.

GALESBURG, N.D. - Orville Paulson says he quit smoking two years ago - at age 94, a guy's got to start thinking about his health - but his deer hunting habit is proving harder to break.

Paulson, who turned 96 on Nov. 4, has been hooked on deer hunting since 1945, when he shot his first buck, a 7x7-point trophy that remains his biggest to date.

And, like any good hunter, Paulson remembers the story behind that deer.

He was posting by a tree near Galesburg while some buddies walked an adjacent slough. He heard them shoot, and it wasn't long before a doe and a big buck came running.

"It looked to me like a mule and a little colt, the buck was that big," Paulson recalls. "When he got straight across from me, I started shooting. I shot and shot and shot, but he never came down."


Paulson says he got one last shot as the buck jumped a fence and disappeared into a grove of trees. He walked into the grove for a closer look and, sure enough, there lay the buck.

"This was the biggest deer I'd ever seen," Paulson said.

Another season

Friday morning, more than 60 years after shooting his first buck, Paulson was getting ready for another deer season. Hunting officially started at noon, but this pioneer farmer who grew up on hard work, the occasional pinch of "snoose" and time in the outdoors wasn't in any big hurry.

The coffee was hot, the kitchen of the farmhouse, where he still lives by himself, was warm, and there were stories to tell.

Of duck hunting excursions, big bucks in blizzards, hard times . . . and longevity.

So many stories. Enough to fill a book. Even at 96, Paulson's memory is as sharp as a well-honed hunting knife.

There'd be plenty of time for deer.


"If I get my deer, fine, and if I don't, that's fine, too," Paulson said. "The social part of it is about half of it. There's nothing more fun than to go out, pack a lunch and have coffee two or three times."

Spoken like a true hunter.

One of the oldest

At 96, Paulson's not the oldest North Dakota hunter in the field this weekend, but he's right up there.

He gets a gratis landowner tag from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and doesn't have to supply his birth date to receive a license. But for the regular lottery where birth dates are required, Game and Fish records show only two hunters - a 98-year-old from Bottineau, N.D., and a 96-year-old from Jamestown, N.D. - are older than Paulson.

Paulson says he's not sure how many deer he's shot over the years, but he's always enjoyed success. He said he never really thought about still being able to hunt at such a ripe, old age when he started.

"I knew I was going to keep on as long as I could," Paulson said. "I don't see that good any more, but I get by."

Outdoors history


For Paulson, hunting has been a way of life as long as he can remember. The oldest of six children, he was only 10 when his dad died, but he worked odd jobs and saved up enough money to buy a Model 97 Winchester shotgun and two boxes of shells from a neighbor for $25.

The family didn't have a car to get to the local duck slough, but Paulson borrowed an old Model-T with the top cut off from the local shoemaker. The next morning, Paulson recalls, he and his mom drove out to the slough, and he shot his first ducks.

Paulson still has the small game license he bought for that long-ago trip. The year was 1926, and he was 16.

In many ways, Paulson's stories of growing up on the prairie provide a short course in the history of the outdoors in eastern North Dakota.

"There were no deer around here at that time," Paulson said. "We hunted a lot of pheasants. Prairie chickens. We used to have a bunch of pheasants around here. And we'd go duck hunting."

Rabbit hunting was another diversion, especially after the snow melted and the rabbits still were white.

"You could spot them half a mile away," Paulson said. "We'd never shoot at the ones sitting still. They had to be running. I could really shoot."

Paulson says he still remembers the first time he saw deer in this part of North Dakota. It was the spring of 1943, and he had just finished doing morning chores when he saw five of them near the farm.


By the time Game and Fish offered a season in eastern North Dakota two years later, deer were more common, Paulson says.

"There wasn't as many as now, but there were a lot of big, mature bucks because there hadn't been a season for a long time," he said.

Returning the favor

These days, Paulson's son, Bill, takes his dad hunting. Bill, 64, lives near Elbow Lake, Minn., and no longer hunts in North Dakota. But he gets back to the farm near Galesburg every couple of weeks.

And making sure Orville gets to hunt is payback for all the years his dad spent teaching him the ropes.

"I remember tagging along in the late '40s, and I wasn't very big," Bill said. "There was always a group of guys that came to Dad's deer hunting from Grand Forks and all over, and I got to go along. I got to carry the knife."

And then in 1957, the first year he could legally hunt, Bill shot his first deer.

It's those traditions, Bill says, that make deer season such a special time of year.


"It goes right back to those stories," Bill said. "It's stuff we don't forget."

Orville says he's hunted with a lot of guns over the years, but these days, his rifle of choice is a .22-250 Tikka, a Finnish-made rifle.

"It's not a real big gun, but it's a real fast gun," Orville said. "It's got good knock-down power."

He shot a buck with it two years ago, and if the opportunity presents itself, he says he'll probably shoot one this year, too.

"It's hard to tell," he said. "If I see one, I'll very likely get him. If they get up and they're out in the open, they're not going to get away. I might not get them on the first shot, but they're not going to get away."

Spoken like a true hunter.

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

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