Brent Frazee: Robert McGrath, 98, has been hunting deer since 1947 | Outside

When Robert McGrath returned to Missouri from active service in World War II, he discovered a new passion.

He became a deer hunter.

It was 1947, and White Tails were rare, as were the men who hunted them. But McGrath was intrigued and wanted to try it out, so he joined his wife’s grandfather on a hunt in Dent County.

Hunters didn’t kill a deer that season, but that didn’t stop it from returning to the woods in subsequent years. It wasn’t until 1951, while hunting in Osage County, that he shot his first white-tailed deer.

Many seasons – and many successful hunts – later, McGrath is still here. At 98, his heart is still racing when Missouri deer season opens.

“I don’t think I’ve missed a season since I started,” said McGrath, who lives in Columbia with his son Mark. “It gets hard to see the reticle in the scope when the light goes down, but I guess I don’t shoot too badly for an old man. “

This is an understatement. McGrath, a former United States Navy who fought in the Pacific, has always been known for his marksmanship. He spent years shooting in muzzle-loading rifle competitions and also participated in a few pistol matches.

McGrath and his wife dressed in buckskins and participated in the Mountain Man’s Rendezvous, where he shot, threw axes, and lit fires with flint and steel.

But still, the best part of the year comes during deer season.

McGrath added another memory this year when he shot a 9 point buck on private ground in Boone County.

“Things have changed quite a bit over the years,” he said. “When I was younger, I always liked to hunt wood. Now I’m hunting in a ground armor with a radiator in it. But I can still shoot.

In the first three days of Missouri gun season, Nov. 13-23, McGrath saw only a few deer and failed to shoot as he hunted private land with his son in County Boone. But the next day, a male suddenly appeared 300 meters away.

“He walked in my direction and I had the scope on him 175 yards away, so I pulled the trigger,” he said.

Then he and Mark went to the Owl Creek Gun Club (near Fulton), of which they are members, and followed the tradition.

“This is where we hang the deer and take photos, and there might be a little storytelling going on,” McGrath said. “You never know who will show up, but there are usually 15 to 20 hunters there. “

McGrath’s reputation as a deer hunter is well known in central Missouri. Mark said his father impressed everyone who spent time in Owl Creek, including many family, friends and hunters from several countries.

“Our whole family is very proud and grateful that he can still come out,” said Mark. “He’s an inspiration.

“He taught us so much about deer hunting – how to shoot, be patient, lumberjack skills, not move, all kinds of things.

“We are a family of hunters. The opening day of the deer season is like Christmas for us.

For many years, McGrath chased the 80 acres he bought just south of Millersburg. It was rough terrain and McGrath accepted an offer of a rock quarry to mine it.

“We stayed until the explosion started shaking Mum’s photos off the wall, and she said, ‘Robert, we have to move,'” said Mark.

So the McGraths bought an additional 80 acres of land midway between Millersburg and Fulton, and it became the family’s hunting headquarters until they moved in with Mark and his wife, Terri, in County Boone.

While Robert considered himself lucky to see a deer in the years he started out, he has seen the white deer population grow exponentially in the area he hunts.

“People’s idea of ​​a big deer has changed over the years,” said Robert. “Those deer that my grandchildren let pass would have been good back then.

“I’ve had a few pretty good ones over the years. And I plan to keep trying for as long as I can.