Wisconsin deer opener: On the family farm, the youngest generation carries on a tradition
SPOONER -- A flicker of movement caught the eye of Clarence DeLawyer. His hearing has diminished as the decades have passed, but at 93, his eyes are still sharp.
SPOONER - A flicker of movement caught the eye of Clarence DeLawyer. His hearing has diminished as the decades have passed, but at 93, his eyes are still sharp.
“There’s a deer,” he said. “No, four of ’em.”
They were moving across a cornfield toward a snow-covered pasture. DeLawyer raised his old Browning .30-06 and put his scope on the deer. It was Saturday morning, mellow and misty, opening day of Wisconsin’s nine-day gun deer season. DeLawyer, of Deronda, Wis., was right where he has been on opening day for 81 deer seasons now - in the woods.
Well, there was a year he missed hunting in Wisconsin during World War II. He was in the Army, stationed in Germany. But he did manage to hunt deer there.
“They were just little things,” he said.
On this 2014 deer opener, DeLawyer was once again patriarch of the DeLawyer clan, where five hunters from age 10 to his 93 were on their stands early Saturday. They hunt on land that DeLawyer and his late wife, Bonnie, bought 42 years ago, and where their daughter-in-law, Trudy DeLawyer, lives now. Her comfortable home is decorated with mounted elk, deer and bear taken by her late husband, Tim. The home sits on 320 acres among cornfields, pastures, white pines and oaks.
DeLawyer tracked the deer across the picked cornfield with his rifle scope and finally looked up.
“No horns,” he announced quietly.
Like most hunters across northern Wisconsin in this year of low deer numbers, the DeLawyer family was in a bucks-only zone. Any deer Clarence DeLawyer hoped to shoot would have to have “horns.”
He rested his .30-06 in the corner of the ground-level shack from which he hunts. It’s a modest shelter, 4 feet by 6 feet, carpeted, with three windows. He shot an 8-pointer from it last year.
He scanned the cornfield, the hay pasture and the oak woods, looking for deer. His blaze-orange coat had a sewn orange patch on one sleeve, several layers of duct tape on the other. A small propane heater warmed the shack.
Though he and his wife never lived on this property, they farmed the land. His son, Dave DeLawyer of Deer River, said his mom was still throwing square bales from a hay rack onto an elevator when she was 86. Clarence routinely makes the 50-mile drive himself from Deronda to the farm.
He made deer drives until three years ago. Some days now, his legs are better than others, he said. Saturday wasn’t a good day.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with my legs today,” he said. “I can’t hardly walk.”
Shots thundered through the woods intermittently, some relatively close, some distant. The deer weren’t moving, Clarence said.
“Years ago, we didn’t have all these shacks,” he said. “People would walk around more. It stirred the deer up.”
But he had already seen the four does and two more before that. Some were moving. The night before, when the family had gathered at Trudy’s, she pulled out the computer and showed everyone a photo she had taken of a magnificent buck. That’s the one everyone was looking for Saturday morning. That’s the kind of buck that most of Wisconsin’s 675,000 gun deer hunters would like to see sometime this season. But tough winters, and perhaps what some hunters say was too liberal a number of antlerless deer permits in recent years, have brought the population down. Most hunters know this is likely to be a tough year.
“That one year,” Clarence said, “we had eight of them hanging on the tractor. All bucks. We don’t shoot does.”
As one might guess, he’s had some memorable hunts. Once, hunting in the “barrens,” the sand country north of Danbury, a buck came charging from a long way off right toward the teenage Clarence.
“He was moving full-bore,” Clarence said.
The buck passed right next to him.
“I shot it from my hip,” he said.
Sitting about 300 yards away on a pail among tall white pines and younger oaks, Dave DeLawyer, 61, surveyed the neck of a swamp and a ridge beyond. He has been hunting this spot for 42 years.
“I know almost every tree here,” he said at mid-morning Saturday. “I’ve shot more than 40 deer here. They like to come down that far ridge, cross the swamp at its narrow spot there.”
To the north, Dan Seckora, 43, of New Richmond, Wis., was sitting with his 10-year-old son, Gavin. This was Gavin’s first hunt, and not long before 8 a.m., he had action.
“Me and my dad looked back in the woods and saw a deer,” he said, describing the hunt at midday. “But it came out, and it was a buck. I picked up my gun and put it on the window and I shot it.”
Just like that. The forkhorn was lying by the house when Dave DeLawyer returned that morning. He assumed the buck had been shot by Gavin’s older brother, Talon, 13. Nope. Talon had shot another buck, a six-pointer. This was his third buck in as many years.
“He was there for a while, and I was waiting for a bigger one,” Talon explained.
He was asked how long he watched the buck.
“About an hour,” he said.
He finally decided to shoot the six-pointer.
“When I shot, I thought I missed,” he said. “He jumped over the hill. I waited half an hour. I went to look for him. He was 10 yards away.”
The boys dragged their bucks to a patch of fresh snow in the yard. They held up the buck’s heads.
“Get in there, Grandpa,” someone said.
Clarence DeLawyer wasn’t sure he could make his knees bend enough to get down there with the boys, but he did it. The boys smiled. Cameras clicked.
Even at that moment, everyone knew it would be a photo for the ages. It would be one of those images that would bind together generations of DeLawyer deer hunters, from the Great Depression to the Internet, from brown canvas to blaze orange.
Horns, through the decades.