Deer Hunting Grandma
KABETOGAMA — “I need something new for my bucket list,” declares 86-year-old Becky Lehto Werner.
After all, when you’re in your mid-80s and two years in a row you’ve gotten your deer, a person ought to have a new goal.
Becky considers the possibilities for a moment.
She’ll have to get back to that; she’ll have to come up with something to check off the list for next year, she says at her Virginia apartment.
Last year Becky lucked out when state legislation was passed allowing residents 84 and older to take a deer of either sex during any hunt (archery, firearm or muzzleloader) regardless of permit area designation.
That meant seniors like herself didn’t have to wait for a buck to come along, even in bucks-only areas.
Three days after turning 85 a year ago, Becky got a nice 126.6-pound doe, on her very first shot Nov. 14 — fulfilling her bucket list item of deer hunting once again, and best of all, with her youngest son, Rusty, whom she had taught to hunt many years ago.
Becky returned to the 60 acres of family land at Kabetogama this season, to the hunting shack Rusty built for her, so she could do it all over again.
The Littlefork native had said, after all, at last season’s close, that she had “more hunting to do.”
Becky planned to prove to the doubters — once more — that this deer huntin’ grandma and great-grandma could get another deer.
So on Nov. 5, just after sunrise, Becky’s son took her by four-wheeler to her hunting spot.
It was a beautiful, unseasonably warm, sunshiny day, and Becky began to take in the scenery.
“It was quiet except for the squirrels running through the leaves, up and down the trees,” she recalled. “The fresh air was great. I saw a beaver crossing a trail, coming from the beaver dam. ... I saw a mink checking out the water and mud puddle. I watched it as it sniffed around.”
Then along came a pine martin, just feet away. After all the years of living on the property, “I’d only seen a pine martin once or twice. He was so pretty. They have a pretty face. It was fascinating to watch.”
When Rusty came to get her for lunch, Becky refused to go up to the house. “I told him, no, I wanted to stay out there.”
She would see blue jays and woodpeckers and a grouse. “It was just so beautiful,” Becky said.
As daylight faded, Becky realized she had seen all sorts of critters, but not one deer.
Heck though, she said, there could have been one nearby for all she knew. “I was so busy watching all the other animals. No wonder I didn’t see a deer,” said the 86-year-old, with a big, dimpled smile.
The following day, “Sunday, I was back out there” — bright and early, armed with her .223-caliber Smith & Wesson M&P-15.
Becky had learned to hunt at age 30, after deciding she wanted to be part of all the fun had by her husband, Arvid Lehto, and the rest of the guys.
It didn’t matter to her that “years ago, there weren’t many women hunting deer,” she explained. “The men said, ‘It’s a man’s sport. The women are not strong enough to gut out a deer or pull it through the woods.’”
But even back then, Becky proved she was more than capable of not only getting a deer, but gutting it, too. And for many years she hunted each year at her Kabetogama home.
In fact, after Arvid died, Becky was the one who took Rusty out on his very first hunt.
Becky would later move to the Twin Cities and marry Wes Werner. But each fall, she returned to Kabetogama to shoot deer and make her celebrated venison chili.
And this year, she needed to bring home meat again. She had promised herself.
Besides, Christmas is nearing and family was already looking forward to the venison hot sticks she gave out as gifts last year.
But it seemed this time around that, perhaps, it was not meant to be, when on the second day at the shack at about 8:30 a.m., “I put my gun down to have a Hershey bar and a drink of water,” Becky said.
Suddenly, “I saw a deer in the brush. I hurried to get my gun, but by the time I got my gun up and had it sighted-in, all I could see was the deer’s tail waving at me. I was so mad at myself for being so slow,” she said.
Had the four-wheeler been nearby, “I would have left,” said Becky, who started thinking: “I’m too old and not fast enough. An old woman like me should not be out here.”
But then, around 10:30 a.m., a doe came into view, wandering slowly and looking around.
“I thought, ’Oh, boy, now I can do it,” Becky recalled. “I got my gun up, sighted-in, I shot and it went down, just like that.”
Becky had got herself another nice doe — this time a 145-pounder.
She called her son, informing him that she wasn’t sure exactly where the bullet had hit.
She then called daughter, Debbie Jagunich, of Iron, saying she “couldn’t see any blood on the deer, but my lip is bleeding,” from the gun’s recoil. Debbie told her to “put ice on it,” and Becky responded, “I’ll put a few cubes on it when I get back to the house.”
Becky laughs as she relays what her daughter said next: “No, Mom, not your lip, the deer. It’s 70 degrees outside.”
It turned out, Becky said, “I shot the deer through the spine.” When Rusty arrived, “I helped gut it,” she added.
They then packed it in ice and took it to the processing plant, where Becky walked away with ground venison, steaks and, yes, hot sticks.
Nearly two weeks after bagging the deer, Becky’s eyes are bright as she talks of the hunt.
“It’s very exciting. I proved it — a second time. People said I couldn’t do it at my age. I proved it,” she said, noting that “I never use any ‘buck scent.’” She simply showers and declines from using any smelly stuff, including makeup, she said.
“I did it! I did it!,” Becky exclaims, beaming — clearly still enjoying it all.
“I’m so thankful,” she added. “I’m thankful my son, Rusty, helps me. I’m so thankful that the legislators passed a bill last year that anyone 84 and older can shoot a doe in a non-doe permit area. Without that, I couldn’t be out there. I couldn’t have this much fun.”
Most of all, Becky said, “I proved it to myself.”
And with that accomplished, it’s time to move on to the next endeavor.
Becky expects this will be her last year hunting. But, then, “What else can I put on my bucket list?” she inquires.
She has long loved the outdoors, and in her younger years relished fishing and snowmobiling — just being out in nature.
“Wait a minute! That’s it!”
Becky had such fun out in her beloved Kabetogama land, sitting and watching wildlife this hunting season. Well, why not do that again — this time in the summer when all sorts of critters will be in the woods?
“Would that make a good bucket list?” she asks.
Oh, yes, the 86-year-old agrees, she will keep track of all the animals she spots.
And then another idea hits her.
“I could take pictures of them!”
So, mark that down on the new bucket list. The deer huntin’ grandma will still be “shooting” — but this time with a camera lens.