Deer mount returned to family after nearly 4 decades
By BLAKE BACHO
Apr. 01, 2018
MONROE, Mich. (AP) — The 9-point buck peers stoically out of a corner of Harold Kleinow's dining room.
His head is turned just slightly to the left, and the antlers resting atop his brow are almost unbelievably thick. The mounting is a modern style, with the entirety of the animal's muscular neck appearing to force its way out of the polished wooden shield that anchors the display to the wall.
This trophy is unlike any other in Kleinow's possession. That's why it travels with the 80-year-old Michigander when he ventures to his northern hunting cabin for the summer, and it's why it returns with him to Carleton when the leaves begin to fall.
The precaution is understandable. After all, this buck was out of Kleinow's possession for almost 40 years.
"We want to keep it in our sights now," said Kleinow's youngest son, Scott. "We don't want to have it out of our hands.
The mount's stocky antlers belonged to a buck shot by Kleinow's father, George, in the Upper Peninsula during the 1923 season. Back then human beings were the invasive species in the U. P., which was little more than several scattered logging communities nestled among the untamed wilderness.
George was 37 and single when he departed on his three-month hunting trip. Most of that time was spent traveling to and from the U.P.
"You've got to remember, there were no roads back then," Kleinow told The Monroe News . "(But my father) was the type of guy back then where, if you gave him an ax and some food and dropped him off up across the straits, he would survive. That's just the type of person he was."
George Kleinow arrived in the U.P. in time for the opening of the firearms season, which just like today is Nov. 15. On Nov. 16, he shot the 9-point buck that he eventually had mounted.
The mount hung on the wall of George's cabin until he sold the property in 1971.
"My mom wanted a cabin on the lake and she didn't want it in there," Kleinow said. "So (my dad) gave it to me."
Kleinow was only able to enjoy his father's gift for five years. The unthinkable happened in the summer of 1976, when his cabin was broken into and the mount was stolen.
For nearly four decades, this lost family treasure lived on only in Kleinow's stories to his daughter, three sons, 13 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren — all of whom are passionate hunters.
Eventually the family gave up on ever seeing the mount again. But then one day in 2013, Kleinow received a phone call from a taxidermist whom he did not know.
The man on the other end of the phone began telling Kleinow the most unbelievable story, explaining that 37 years before he had been the one who had stolen the mount from Kleinow's cabin. Being a taxidermist, he had come to understand what this trophy must have meant to its original owners and he had finally decided to do the right thing.
"I sat there with my mouth open," Kleinow recalled. "Who would expect it? When I got the call I just sat there like a dummy, to tell you the truth. Funny part was he must have apologized 15 times on the phone. He would talk to me and then say 'I'm sorry, I was a stupid kid,' all this stuff.
"I'm sitting there with my mouth open. Who would have expected it, after all that time?"
Scott was with his father at the family's cabin at the time of the call, and he remembers both of them remaining skeptical until they actually had the mount back in their hands.
It looked a little different than Kleinow remembered. When his father had shot the deer in 1923, the process for mounting involved stuffing the animal's hide with sawdust, newspaper or straw, materials that deteriorate much quicker than today's technologies.
Somewhere along the line the thief had remounted the deer, so that the only component original to George Kleinow's buck was its massive antlers. To surprise their father, Kleinow's three sons had the rack remounted using an 8-pointer Scott shot in Monroe County in 2015.
They surprised Kleinow with his father's restored mount on Nov. 15, 2016 — 93 years to the day that George Kleinow arrived in the U.P. for his hunting trip.
"It means twice as much now," Kleinow said. "I've got umpteen grandkids that hunt and it means a lot to them even though it's not theirs."
George Kleinow died two years after his mount was stolen, so he never got to see it returned to his son. But four generations of George's descendants continue to treasure this heirloom, and remember the incredible story of how it was earned and the improbable journey it made to return home.
"Once in a million, something like this," Kleinow said. "Something like this never happens."
Information from: Monroe News, http://www.monroenews.com