BEMIDJI – There are many long-standing family traditions that accompany deer hunting season, especially for a hunter’s first deer.
Willie Stittsworth, 12, got to experience his family’s first deer ritual this year when he pocketed his first dollar with his great-grandfather’s gun – the same as his uncles, grandfather. father and father used before him.
The gun, an 1899 savage 30-30 with iron sights, is affectionately called “Grandpa’s 30-30” and has been in the Stittsworth family since the 1940s when it was given to the great-grandfather of young Willie, Willie Stittsworth, when he was a boy. Since it is used for beginner hunters.
It all started about 80 years ago when Willie Sr. was a young teenager. He usually spent his days at his parents’ resort and took a few of the guests out fishing from time to time.
“Once (my grandfather) took a farmer fishing one autumn day and he caught a walleye limit very quickly,” said Mychal Stittsworth, grandson of eldest Willie and father of young Willie. “They had some free time and decided to go grouse hunting and they knocked down their grouse limit as well.”
Needless to say, the farmer was so impressed with his guiding services that he tried to tip him, which Mychal estimated at around $20, but Willie refused.
“Back then, if someone tried to give you $20, that would be $1,000 today,” Mychal said. “So the farmer left and Willie went to school for the day and when he came back there was a gun there for him.”
Willie Sr. was delighted to see that the farmer he had spent the morning with had left him his old gun, he even used it to harvest his first deer later that year and continued to use the gun for years. When his sons were old enough to hunt deer, they also used the rifle.
“My dad was the eldest and he shot his first deer with the rifle, and then my uncles did it after him,” Mychal said. “They kept it until I was old enough and shot my first deer with it, almost 30 years ago.”
According to Mychal, his first males and those of young Willie were very similar. He said the six-point supports were almost identical, fired from around the same distance and of course, from the same gun – the only difference being that they were 30 years apart.
As the weapon had not been used since Mychal harvested his first deer, he had it restored so that his son, Willie Jr., could carry on the tradition when the time came.
“It’s an old school gun, it’s an open sight, so there’s no scope, so you have to aim through the metal pin,” Mychal added.
Willie Jr. and Mychal left on October 20, the first day of the youth season this year, hoping to use his special weapon.
Previously, they had both agreed that Willie was not going to shoot a deer unless it was a doe or a big buck for the purpose of managing the hunting territory.
“About an hour and 45 minutes later we saw a buck come out and I was about to shoot him, but then we saw he had small antlers,” Willie said. “My dad texted my uncle and asked if we could shoot him (even though he was a young buck) because we were on his land, but by the time he got back to us and told us everything was fine Well, it was too late.”
Willie let the deer go and waited another 10 hours. Then the same male as before came out again and finally got a shot.
Willie Sr. was happy that Willie Jr. could use his gun and carry on the tradition with his uncles, father and grandfather. Now the weapon will be put to rest until his children are old enough to use it one day.
“I don’t think there’s anything more satisfying in life than watching a kid take their first shot,” Mychal said. “Willie showed great patience for a perfect shot.”