Survival of the Fittest

John Hanson

Cottage Grove, Minnesota

I was told this story exactly 21 years ago this past week. I was 12 years old and was on my first trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in Northern Minnesota. I had gone along with my friend Mike, his family, and his cousin's family. This was to be the last fishing trip before school was to start. It had always been a great adventure for all their families and I was happy to have been asked along.

We got up early one morning and drove the 250 miles north to Ely, Minnesota (the gateway to the Boundary Waters) where Mike's cousin Kenny lived. We spent the rest of that day plus the next, travelling around to cool spots that Kenny knew of in mining towns like Tower, Soudan and Embarrass.

It was on the third day that we set out on our 18-mile and two-portage trip into the Boundary Waters. It was on this trip that I caught a 12 pound Northern Pike, shot my first shotgun and heard a pack of wolves howl at the moon just like on TV. But the reason I'm writing this piece is because of a true but unbelievable story told by Kenny's mom. We were in the middle of our 5-day canoe trip sitting around the campfire one evening listening to a Bull Moose rip apart a tree on the other side of the lake. The apocalyptic sounds must have triggered Kenny's mom's memory banks. She proceeded to tell a story she witnessed in her youth.

The story took place in Northern Minnesota during the Great Depression. She started telling the story by mentioning that her father was trying desperately to feed and clothe her family during those troubled times. The mines were producing very little Iron due to the low demand for steel. Moreover, as most people in Northern Minnesota know, if the mining business falters so does the whole of the Iron Range.

She described how her family was sitting around the kitchen table one morning eating the last of the bread when someone, I don't remember who, said,"there's a deer on the porch eating the flowers!" Her father then glanced out the window, ran back to the table and picked up what she described as their very large bread-slicing knife and ran out the front door. She then told us how her father leaped what appeared to be 10 feet through the air onto the deer's back. He then proceeded to stab at the deer's neck with the knife while riding it with his other arm and both legs wrapped around its body. Her father and the deer ended up in a bloody pile with her father the eventual victor. He had been bitten and cut by the deer's hooves but he sustained no permanent injuries.

In reflection, Kenny's mom told us that she had eaten a lot more venison later in life as deer had become less scarce in that part of Minnesota. However, she insisted, never had a deer tasted as good as the one her dad had so courageously killed that morning.


Survival of the Fittest

Venison Steak

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