Listen: Mainstreet Radio - Deer Hunting Weekend (stereo)

Mainstreet Radio’s John Biewen shares account of his of first deer hunting trip. With the help of hunter Don Wig, Biewen’s weekend includes a cabin, stories, cards…and a long solitary wait in a tree stand in the woods near Emily, Minnesota.


1987 Minnesota AP Award, first place in Sports Reporting category


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DON WIG: Oh, I think we got everything, as long as we got ammunition and food. That's all we need

JOHN BIEWEN: It's 4 PM Friday at the home of Don and Ruth Wig on Rice Lake just outside of Brainerd. Don Wig is what you think of when you hear the word North woodsman. Large framed and ruddy cheeked, he looks supremely at home in boots and a flannel shirt. Wig, who teaches industrial arts at a Brainerd Junior High School, has been deer hunting for about 20 of his 50 years. He's agreed to take me along on what will be my first deer hunting trip.

DON WIG: We're going to hunt up in the Emily area where we have a cabin back in the woods. Four of us got together and bought it about four years ago, bought a 40 acres. The 40 acres is surrounded by a lot of county land and state land. And we set up stands, some on our own property and some on the public property. And we've got stands we go to and we look forward to it every year.

JOHN BIEWEN: Ruth Wig has packed Don's cooler with sandwich fixings and salad and pop and beer. And now she and the dog Shadow will stay behind for the weekend. Ruth says that suits her just fine.

RUTH WIG: They're very dirty. They sit-in a tree freezing to death. They have a good time.

JOHN BIEWEN: I've got my deer license. Don Wig has equipped me with a 12 gauge shotgun and shells and a blaze orange jacket and cap for safety.


It's a 40 mile drive North to Emily. Most of the vehicles on the road are campers or pickups and more than a few drivers are wearing blaze orange. The quarter mile driveway to the hunting shack is rutted and so narrow that brush scrapes against both sides of the car.


DON WIG: Gentlemen, brought a friend along.

JOHN BIEWEN: When we arrive, five other men are already there talking outside the log cabin. They're friends of Don Wigs and their sons, most of them up from Saint Cloud. Wig does the introductions then says that while there's still some daylight, he'd better show me around the place. I'll be on my own for the hunt tomorrow. We walk some trails and he shows me two deer stands.

DON WIG: Well, this stand we call Jeff stand because he was another son of mine. He was the first to hunt out of this one. Kind of on the edge of a swamp in the big woods but near a little swamp. Why don't you climb on up there?

JOHN BIEWEN: The stand is simply a wooden platform with a seat built about 9 feet high against the trunk of a tree. There are deer tracks in the trail below. Next, to the log cabin.

DON WIG: And this is our Taj Mahal right here. We've got about four sets of three bunks high over here each one of the partners put in. Got a barrel stove in here and a nice little gas stove with a gas bottle outside. Hey, looks like--

JOHN BIEWEN: The one-room cabin is also equipped with a hand pump built into the counter by the sink. A generator hums outside, providing electricity for the television and for three light bulbs strung on a single cord from one end of the cabin to the other.

DON WIG: We got a few chairs around, nice table. Well, we've got all the comforts of home.

JOHN BIEWEN: The Friday night supper for this all-male group of 8 has been made for the most part by women. The hunters' mothers and wives made the hot dish and salads. Nor do these men plan to spend much time washing dishes. We eat with plastic plates and forks and everyone is issued one styrofoam cup which we are to use all weekend for whatever we drink-- coffee, hot chocolate, Martinis.


After supper, a cribbage game gets going at the kitchen table. At the other end of the cabin, the men sit in soft chairs by the barrel stove and tell stories. Most of the stories are hunting and fishing stories but there are other kinds, thanks to Dave Winter, also of Saint Cloud.

DAVE WINTER: No, but I do have a story about Cinderella, the actual story of Cinderella.


I don't think it's fit for microphone though.


DON WIG: OK, you do everything now. Take out one shell to start out with.

JOHN BIEWEN: 9 PM, we're outside the cabin under a light bulb powered by the electric generator. Don Wig is teaching me, the beginner, how to use a shotgun. He places heavy emphasis on safety, for which I'm grateful. This whole gun business is new to me. Wig is a very patient teacher, even when I try to load a shell backwards.

DON WIG: No, no.

JOHN BIEWEN: Oh, the other way? OK, we're getting right down to the basics here.

DON WIG: Oh, man, I'll say. Shove it forward and it'll click.


JOHN BIEWEN: 10 PM, the whole hunting party is outside now, getting some fresh air and talking about tomorrow's hunt.


Two of the younger guys get in the inevitable wrestling match on the ground.


Del Gilles Ruud of Saint Cloud says he doesn't really care if he shoots a deer or not.

DEL GILLES RUUD: I'm here because of the camaraderie of the hunting camp and the fact that we're sitting outside right now with a nearly full moon and the anticipation of the hunt tomorrow. When I'm sitting in the stand, I just enjoy the sounds of the woods. Solitude, that's beautiful. Dress warm. Prepare to sit absolutely still and wait for the deer to come down the trail.

JOHN BIEWEN: If a deer comes down my trail, I admit to the hunters, I'm not altogether sure I'll want to shoot it. Jim Anderson of Saint Cloud who's 18 says he understands.

JIM ANDERSON: Well, I guarantee you, if you see a deer tomorrow, it's a totally different feeling. It's like somebody asking you to fight or something. I mean, it just scares you. It's weird.

JOHN BIEWEN: Saturday morning, 6:15, John Anderson and I are the last ones out of the cabin. Deer hunting season opens at 6:29, a half hour before sunrise. The sky is just beginning to lighten. The tops of the trees are completely still. The thermometer on a tree says it's 19 degrees. Anderson walks with me to my stand. I climb up and he walks on to his stand further down the trail.

JIM ANDERSON: Good luck, John.

DON WIG: Good luck. You gotta be careful up there.

JOHN BIEWEN: I sure will.


I load my gun and lay it across my lap. The sky turns gray then blue. Every minute or so throughout the morning, I hear a rifle blast, some of them from several miles away. Sound travels well in air this cold. My heart pounds the first few times I hear movement in the brush. Then I get used to the sound of squirrels and relax. At one point, a woodpecker pounds on an oak 20 yards away. Two nuthatches come flitting about my tree just a few feet above my head. There's wildlife around me all morning but I don't see a deer.

It's almost noon. Ross Gilles Ruud has come with the news that Dave Winter shot a big buck from his stand about a quarter mile away.

ROSS GILLES RUUD: That's a dandy. Wow, that's a great one.

JOHN BIEWEN: The deer's carcass lies in the trail. Dave winter is in the process of gutting it. His hands and wrists are red. Dave is trembling. He looks like he just hit the game-winning homer in the bottom of the ninth.

DAVE WINTER: I listen. I hear, [VOCALIZING] I hear a jump and he comes running at me right underneath the stand. First shot, I thought I hit him. I don't think I did. And he stopped broadside to me and looked at me and lined up the crosshairs and that was it.

ROSS GILLES RUUD: Oh, dandy. That's great.

JOHN BIEWEN: The deer has a substantial rack. It's an 8 point buck. Guesses at its weight range from 160 to 180 pounds. It's the first deer Winter has shot in four years. The deer is dragged back to the cabin, tagged, and hung from a tree.



JOHN BIEWEN: Dave Winter rinses out the carcass with a bucket of water. Everyone stands around and admires Dave's deer for a few minutes. He hopes its meat will be ready to eat in a week. Then most of us go in to take a nap before heading back out to our stands. I sit in my stand until sundown at 5 PM. The afternoon is warm and pleasant. I see nothing but birds and squirrels.

DON WIG: How long did you sit--

JOHN BIEWEN: Back at the shack, Dave Winter's buck has turned out to be the only kill of the day. About half our party saw deer and have stories to tell. Don Wig.

DON WIG: About 7:15 this morning, about 10 minutes, I heard the deer coming up. But it just turned at 60 yards and didn't see the head so couldn't shoot without a doe permit. Had to decide quick if I could see horns and I didn't, so had to let it go. But I was 11 straight hours without getting out of the stand. Now can you guys match that, hey? 11 straight hours. Where's you guys' patience?

JOHN BIEWEN: Supper on Saturday, according to tradition, is steaks or hamburgers on the grill. My appetite is enormous. After supper, some of the younger guys go into a bar in Emily and don't get back until midnight. I'm sound asleep by 10:00. Sunday morning comes.

DEL GILLES RUUD: Well, fellas, good luck, sir.

DON WIG: Good luck.

JOHN BIEWEN: Thanks. You too. Knock 'em dead. All right. It's 30 degrees, warmer than yesterday. But the wind is blowing and it feels colder. The moon has waned a little but it's still big and so bright, I can walk through the woods without a flashlight. The sky has just begun to turn from black to a deep blue. I climb up into my stand and settle down on the wooden seat.

Last night, we drew cards to see who has to bring a cutting board next week. There isn't one in the cabin. I lost, which means I'll have to come hunting again. I don't mind. I'm feeling well rested this morning and figure I ought to be able to stay out here all day.


In the woods near Emily, Minnesota, I'm John Biewen.

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