Columbia County deer hunters ready for opening day
Maybe nobody knows how important deer hunting is to the people of Columbia County better than Doug Williams.
The owner of DW Sports Center and his wife, Pam Williams, sell hunting and fishing gear in downtown Portage. They’ve done it for 35 years. On Wednesday, people arrived at the store to purchase licenses, doe tags, scopes, clothing and ammunition, or to say “hello” before the nine-day gun deer season opened today.
He wonders if this was his destiny.
“I was born on opening day,” Doug Williams said as he sorted through his display of rifles.
His best hunting story might seem almost too perfect to be true — his father, Maurice Williams, went out hunting in Columbia County on opening day (Nov. 18) in 1950. When he returned to the family’s farm in rural Portage, he asked Phyllis Williams to take a look at the buck on his fender.
His wife told him, “You better take a look at the buck in the crib.”
Bill Egan arrived at DW Sports Center on Wednesday morning just to see Doug and Pam Williams, his friends. He hunted deer for 55 years, but stopped two years ago.
“I’d like somebody else to shoot the deer,” he said. If his grandchildren ask him to go with them when they get older, the 68-year-old would once more partake in what he calls the “most wonderful Wisconsin tradition,” but even then he wouldn’t claim another deer for himself.
Egan’s most cherished hunting memory was seeing his very sick father shoot his final deer. He said he’ll never forget the experience seen through the eyes of a 16-year-old boy whose father was suffering the effects of leukemia.
Egan would wear his father’s gloves on every hunt that followed his death.
“If you don’t know what deer hunting means to people of Wisconsin, I can’t explain it to you,” he said.
Opening day rituals
Somewhere in rural Rio this morning, Shane Marquardt listened to Ted Nugent. The 1989 Rio High School graduate and president of the Portage Rod and Gun Club listens to “Fred Bear” by Nugent on every opening day.
It’s just a hunting song, Marquardt said.
“I’m not superstitious, but I’ve been doing this since I first heard it, probably at least 15 years ago,” he said. “I also eat back straps — venison from the year before.”
He and his brother hunt deer on Marquardt’s property in Rio, where they typically see several deer per day. As he readied signs noting the gun club’s shooting ranges would be closed for the duration of gun deer season, Marquardt said he’s very selective while hunting: the meat and rack of a deer equally important in the choices he’ll make this season.
“I enjoy being out in nature — being hidden — witnessing animals in their natural environment,” he said.
Somewhere in rural Briggsville, Kim Hinze and his deer hunting “clan” enjoyed a special breakfast before traveling to their respective deer stands.
Each year, the 54-year-old Poynette native goes hunting with his two sons, his best friend Dan Oberdorf and Oberdorf’s 74-year-old mother, Beverly.
“We always eat a German breakfast of eggs and potatoes,” Hinze said Wednesday as he purchased doe tags at DW Sports Center.
“Hunter’s quiche?” Pam Williams asked him from the cash register.
“I guess you could say that,” Hinze replied.
Camaraderie means everything Hinze said. Now that his 34- and 26-year-old sons are out of the house and living their own lives in far-away places, deer hunting gives them all the chance to make new memories together — the whole clan catching up during the Thanksgiving holiday.
If you think the 74-year-old Beverly Oberdorf joined their clan seven years ago only for the quiche and camaraderie, think again.
“She got bucks the past two years,” Hinze said.
Nose for strategy
Doug Williams couldn’t think of any rituals for his deer hunting, unless you count his trouble with sleeping every night before opening day.
His first bit of advice for deer hunters concerned cellphones. Last year Williams received a phone call from Pam Williams, who runs the store alone when he’s out hunting. He had forgotten to put his phone on silent — the call scaring away the nice deer walking toward him on a trail.
“For the hunters wearing gloves, rub the phone across your nose,” Williams advised. “That will shut it off. Either that or you’ll hear, ‘Hello, Hello?’”
Williams also advised hunters to move slowly and keep the wind in your face “because a deer’s nose is 10 times better than yours.”
For that same reason, Marquardt advises washing everything you bring hunting in unscented soap, including yourself.
Also — sit still and stay where you are as long as you can, Marquardt said. The more time you spend in the woods, the better.
It seems like nine out of 10 hunters get deer as long as they stick to it, Williams said, compared to two out of 10 when he started hunting as a young child. That’s because in the old days, you could only shoot deer with antlers, he said.
“Don’t give up,” Marquardt said. “Some people get too negative, way too early.”
Places to go
Members of the Portage Rod and Gun Club, established in 1964, might enjoy hunting on its 240 acres. That’s one of several perks in a $50 annual membership, Marquardt said, with more information available at portagerodandgun.org.
Today, the club boasts 300 members and is growing impressively each year thanks to several recent improvements, including covered rifle benches facing the shooting range and a new archery range. Unsurprisingly, the club kept very busy in the weeks leading up to gun deer season, as members will often join the club specifically to get their weapons sighted, Marquardt said.
At DW Sports Center, Williams estimated that more than 20 people were registering for hunting at his store per day prior to Saturday. He guessed that licenses acquired at his store were up about 10 percent compared to last year. What Williams tells people who ask him where to hunt depends on the time of year they’re asking questions, he said. If they’re asking right now, it’s very likely too late to claim a hunting spot on private land, since family and friends of landowners frequently get first dibs.
“Get yourself a Columbia County or Marquette County plat book and look for (public lands),” he said. “I also suggest the Wisconsin Gazetteer for hunters.”
Marquardt shared the four major rules of gun safety: all guns are always loaded; never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy; keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target; and be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Egan and his family would always go over safety before every hunt, he said. No ritual is more important than that.
“If you’re not sure what it is, don’t shoot,” Egan said. “And please, make sure it’s a deer you want.”