On the hunt: Deer hunting big part of local heritage

LAKE COUNTY — Deer rifle season is a highly anticipated time in the local north woods, with area hunters and visitors searching out their prize buck, or just extra meat for the winter. 

Hunting is largely a tradition passed down by generations of families in the area. Lake County has often been picked as choice hunting grounds before the county was even organized in 1871. 

The pages of local history, as documented in past area newspapers, tell of many deer hunting adventures, some amusing, some anything but amusing. 

For quite a few years, to protect the deer species, regular deer hunting season was closed in Western Michigan, not to be reopened until 1936. During the closed season, some area hunters would make deer camp in the northern region of the state. In one instance, during the Great Depression, a few of these local hunters were accused of being drifters. 

The headlines from the Nov. 19, 1931 issue of the Osceola County Herald read, "Irate Ontonagon County Superintendent of Poor will bill Osceola County."

The article continued with a letter drafted by Gus Oleson, superintendent of the poor for Ontonagon County, dated Nov. 16, 1931. 

"Dear Mr. Editor, Will you kindly publish a notice in your paper telling your city, township and county authorities to stop sending their extra tramps into the north woods disguised as hunters. There is a whole bunch here now in some old camps that we are afraid will just stay there all winter, and if the county has to feed them, we will just send the bill to Osceola County. 

"And the fellows that have seen them report that they look like a lot of fellows that don't do much else but eat. There has been a bunch of them coming up here for several years that we was a little suspicious of and we tore down their camps this year and stopped them coming up here and shooting around the woods and flirting with our women folks. However, they never did much damage to the deer, and it may be some of that same bunch in this crowd.

"One thing is sure - we have all the poor we can take care of now. If we have to feed this new bunch, we will send your county a bill that will look like the German reparations. Yours very  truly."

The Nov. 26, 1931 issue of the Osceola County Herald responded with the headline, "Tramps" return from north woods. Four in party of eight succeed in shooting bucks which each brings home." 

The article stated, "Worry caused to Ontonagon County officials because of the "Osceola County tramps" hunting up there has now been eliminated. 'Tramps' B.J. Montague and Warren Wooster each succeeded in bringing home a deer, as did Clyde and James Montague of Paris."

In another account dating from Nov. 24, 1932, the Osceola County Herald headline read: "Shoots deer in self defense." 

The article related, "'I shot in self defense,' Henry Laura, of Monroe County, told the judge when he was arraigned on a charge of shooting the deer during the closed season. Laura said he and two girls were husking corn in a field when the deer charged. He said he thought the deer was mad and he shot. He was placed under probation for a year."

By 1936, hunters were undoubtedly jubilated when they could hunt in the local woods once again. 

"With hords of deer hunters taking to the fields, woods and swamps in this vicinity for the first time in the past 18 years, scores of bucks were shot on opening day," the Osceola County Herald reported. The article continued to relate Lake County's first hunting accident of the 1936 season when Jess Brown, of Peacock, was shot in the shoulder while "dressing out his buck."

Brown shot his buck that afternoon near the town of Peacock, and hurried to a lower spot to dress out the venison before dark. While doing so, another hunter thought he saw two bucks in deadly combat, took careful aim and pulled the trigger. Hurrying to that spot, he found Brown with a badly wounded shoulder and in "near danger" from blood loss. Brown was taken to Camp Sauble, where Dr. Lorenzo Nelson gave him first aid. He was later taken to Reed City and listed in fair condition. 

Other hunters weren't so lucky that season. Walter Draminski, a Chase Township farmer and veteran of WWI, was killed by his own gun in the "Big Swamp," when he leaned on his gun as he bent over to look at a doe which he shot. The deer, not yet dead, kicked the gun, discharging a slug into Draminski. He was dead when his brother-in-law reached the scene. 

Lester Paine, 18, of Hersey, who was hunting in Lake County with other men in his family, met his fate in the woods. 

The Osceola County Herald reported Paine was dragging a buck out of the Big Swamp to a roadway, with the other men. After dragging the buck a short distance, the liver dropped out of the deer. He bent down to replace the liver, and just as he was rising again, he said, "I've been shot." 

The bullet was from the rifle of Ed Miller, of Detroit. The boy's relatives carried him to their car and drove to Nirvana, in an attempt to get medical assistance, but he died before they reached the village, the article stated. Miller told Coroner Herbert W. Davis, of Baldwin, he saw antlers through the brush, but had not seen the four men standing near the deer. 

To close on a less tragic note, the Osceola County Herald reported an interesting deer story in the Nov. 23, 1939 issue:

"To Loren Kilmer, of Chase, probably goes the golden cup for the most unusual story in getting a buck this season - at least in these parts. Loren was hunting about two miles north of Chase and shot a 10-point buck. He placed his tag on the buck and got out his hunting knife to stick the deer only to be surprised when the deer rose to its feet. 

"Loren, not desiring to lose his buck and his tag, grabbed the antlers and 'took a ride' through the woods a short distance. In the rustle he dropped his knife but was able to finally after three-quarters-of-an-hour effort to bring the buck back to the place he first dropped it. By maneuvering carefully, Loren reached the knife with one hand and took a swipe at the buck's neck. He missed and cut a deep gash in the deer's leg below the knee. Another attempt and Mr. Buck's jugular was severed and Loren was able to take his prized deer home."