Greg Koelker


Last week we went deer hunting. I was getting my stuff around and Ellen drug out her heavy blaze coat and coveralls and told me, “I want to go too.” The plan had been for her to hang out with her sister Kathy and help bake Christmas cookies. I guess no one asked her. Anyway, we loaded up the F150 with our deer hunting boxes, a cooler with some food, my rifle, half-a-dozen pairs of boots, and high hopes for success, and drove south Grant County and the Wright farm. (Bo got to stay at a kennel for four days. I think he loved it and got lots of exercise. He slept all afternoon after we picked him up.)

On Friday afternoon we stopped at our stand at The Bench and put up a blind with our chairs in it before heading on to Barb and Chuck’s. As usual, we made French Toast Casserole for opening morning breakfast. We awoke to sounds in the upstairs kitchen and an aroma of cooking. It was good, normal after missing much of last season’s deer hunt with the family. Barb had put the casserole in the oven and gone out to do her chores. Ever mischievous, Ma Nature toyed with us, frosting the ground with some 2 inches of snow during the night. We dressed warm and then locked in the four-wheel drive to motor down into Chaffie Hollow and our stand. On our way, a deer ran across the road in front of us. Superstition — and past experience — says that we wouldn’t see a deer while hunting now. Give me a black cat any time. Anyway, it was cold, in the teens. The morning dawned near perfect — clear with only a little breeze. It was quiet with only the sounds of an occasional passing motorist. I quit counting gunshots after 30. We didn’t see any deer.

We met the bunch at Burton and had a sandwich and a cup of coffee to warm up. The Fure boys were hanging up Brian’s dandy buck. Then they hung up his brother Jordan’s critter. Jordan joined the Fure Seal Team this opening morning. You see, he crosses Rattlesnake Creek in chest waders to get to his stand. He shot this dandy, heavy-antlered specimen there. After field dressing it and sawing off its legs to facilitate dragging, he did drag it to the creekside. He backed up his truck to the crossing and took a rope over to the buck. As he was towing the buck across the creek, the rope snapped! The buck escaped, floating down river and disappearing. Jordan finally saw some white on the surface and was able to get a hold of the now waterlogged deer and get it out on the truck side. Jordan’s brother Doug once peeled to his long underwear to retrieve a deer for me from Grant River, and their dad, Dave has crossed the river to get in a a buck as well, thus the Seal Team moniker.

Chris, Doug and Jordan made the plan for the first drive up Burton Hill. El and I would be on stand in a field at the top. We drove the hill up because the river bottom cornfields have not been picked yet due to extensive flooding this fall. I understand that as soon as the ground is firm enough, Bill will pick the waterlogged corn and it will be sent to a “toaster,” a process of killing any mold, making the crop or at least some of it useful for “corn purposes.”

Anyway, El and I stood — and shivered — in the field in a cold breeze waiting for the drivers to climb the hill with hopes of moving some deer. After what seemed like a long time, I spotted a deer trotting uphill. Thank you snow. It didn’t come to us. I did see a nice buck come from behind us and run by niece Angie who didn’t see it in time to get off a shot. Anyway, near the end of the drive with blaze orange clad drivers coming to the edge of the field from each hollow, two bucks broke out, bounding and running across my field of fire. I found the bigger one in my scope and then, well then I put my rifle down as there was just too much blaze orange to take a chance on a shot. Anyway, El and I both got excited.

By the end of opening day, the group had six bucks hanging along with five coyotes in a pile outside the shed. In the end, we killed 12 deer on opening weekend and butchered them up on Monday as is tradition as in, “We always butcher on Monday.” Ellen pitched right in trimming back strap alongside her sisters. We were home by 8 p.m. We went out hunting here at Grouse Hollow on Tuesday afternoon, but the wind was so nasty we ended up watching a flaming orange morphing to red sunset over the river from our truck.

On Thanksgiving morning, I lied to my wife. I told we had to leave early and drive to Onalaska to pick up our nephew so he could ride home with us. She seemed skeptical, when I said he was going to meet us at the cellphone waiting lot near the airport and then we’d drive south along the Iowa side of the river. After a few moments in the lot, she was looking around for Jason’s truck, when I said I had to use a restroom over to the terminal. We parked and I didn’t get out. She was definitely like, “What the heck?” She looked back at the waiting lot and at me like, “Hello?” Anyway, she didn’t see Mark until he was almost on us. Yup. I am a pretty good surpriser. She was ecstatic. Me too. After hugs and hellos we drove down the Iowa side, crossing at Prairie du Chien in pursuit of a Thanksgiving dinner. Oh, no one else knew he was coming either — except Jason. We had a great dinner at sister Kathy’s and a raucous afternoon filled with euchre, football, and tykes.

Until next time, get out — on Saturday, El, Mark, Bo and I went up on our ridge to the Christmas Tree Meadow in search of a tree. After some searching and debate, Mark sawed down a tree he and I planted some 25 years ago. We only needed the top 10 feet or so. He drug and then carried out our beautiful blue spruce, while El, Bo and I brought up the rear. Enjoy.

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Greg and his wife Ellen Koelker are retired and live on Grouse Hollow Farm near Stoddard. He is chairman of the Vernon County Chapter of Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

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