Mistaken for Wildlife ~ Hunting Near Misses and Tragedies in Itasca County

11.21.2021 [archived ~ previously published 11.2.2017]

Outdoors Magazine November 1949 shows deer
hunters wearing the required red.

In September 1930, my Grams brother Roald McQuillen died from an accidental gunshot wound. He was bird hunting in the same area as another young man, and his movement in the brush mistaken for game.  Roald was only seventeen years old and his death very difficult for the entire McQuillen family. 

Thank goodness, hunting regulations and an emphasis on safety have reduced the deaths in the field.  As early as 1914, there were recommendations to wear red while deer hunting. 

In 1943 the Minnesota Legislature “requires all deer hunters and other persons going into the woods during deer season to wear red caps and partially red jackets.  Penalty for failure to do so is the loss of a hunting or trapping license for one year.” The [Minnesota] Conservation Volunteer June 1943.

In 1986, the law required blaze orange or red be worn during the firearms deer season. Beginning in 1994, red was dropped, and only blaze-orange clothing was legal during the firearms deer season. The law requires “the visible portion of the person’s cap and outer clothing above the waist, excluding sleeves and gloves, is blaze orange.” MN DNR website.

The following articles are just a few examples of being mistaken for the wildlife being hunted in our area.

A Close Call ~ Itasca News 11-16-1901

“So far no killed are reported in the deer fields hereabouts, but some narrow escapes are told of.  Harry Johnson, residing with his parents north of Deer lake, knows how it is to sight down the wrong end of a steel barrel.  He was out over burnt hills the first day of the open season, and sauntering down a run-way he suddenly noticed a slight movement in a clump of brush a short way ahead of him; then taking a careful observation of it faced a long steel barrel leveled at his breast. 

Harry went up in the air four feet with a whoop and when he got to the would-be-murderer with a hot query of ‘What in h___l and ___! ___! Are you trying to do??’ the fellow, a Swede lumberjack muttered: ‘I-I-I tought jou va-as a d-eer.’  Harry did not say much, but he is not all over his fright yet, and he says if he gets caught that way again he’s going to shoot first.”

First Day, First Victim ~ Itasca News 11-14-1914

“With the opening of the big game hunting season, Tuesday comes the usual number of sad reports of men being shot in the forests of northern Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota.

Deer River tallies first this season, with one victim being taken for a deer on the first day of the season.  The fatal accident happened east of Big Turtle lake about twenty-four miles north of Deer River where Peter St. Mary of Duluth, his brother William St. Mary of Two Harbors, and Dr. William F. Linder, a dentist at 27th Avenue and Lake Street, Minneapolis, were hunting together.  Starting out late in the morning, two wore red caps and Peter was warned to put on his red cap, but refused, insisting on wearing a gray one.

After a short distance the three separated, the two St. Marys going to the left to make a ‘drive’ back to a certain open spot where Linder was to make a ‘stand’ and watch for deer to come out.  Peter, however, made a shorter circle than was calculated and came before Linder’s course much sooner than he should and at a point much nearer than agreed upon.  Linder getting a glimpse of Peter’s cap moving through a clump of brush, fired, thinking it was a deer, and went to see the result of his shot, found his companion dead, the bullet entering near the nose and passing out of the back of the head.

The body was brought down to Deer River the next day after the accident and was taken care of at Herreid’s morgue.  Deputy Coroner Herreid and a jury held an inquest over the remains to determine the cause of death, and Mr. Linder was exonerated from any criminal connection in the sad affair.

It is estimated that there are a thousand hunters in the woods tributary to the Minneapolis & Rainy River railroad within forty miles north of Deer River, and as many of them are inexperienced more of such accidents may be looked for before the season closes.”

Shot for A Wolf ~ Itasca News 9-11-1915

“Shooting a man in mistake for a wolf has actually happened.  At Bigfork Monday night while John Thunstrom and Ira Collins were out shining for wolves and had killed one or two, John got a flash of Collins’ light, and it looked like two eyes because of a small popple tree between divided the light.  John shot, and the bullet hit his brother-in-law, Collins, in the upper muscle of the left arm.  Dr. Craven of Deer River was phoned for and left at once by special train.  He dressed the wound and brought the patient to Deer River where he is being cared for by the doctor.”

The wolf population was so high in northern Minnesota during the first quarter of the twentieth century that there was a bounty paid by Itasca County.

Be careful in the woods in the coming weeks.  I leave you with a “deer story” from 1934.

Here’s Seasons Best Deer Story ~ Itasca News 11-29-1934

“Every big game season brings its new crop of stories, real and imaginary, and here’s a real one locally awarded first prize.

A Deer River nimrod, famous for his flapjacks and pumpkin pies, hid in the forests and cutover lands last Thursday in search of the wary buck.  Rounding a hill, he saw a deer lying in the sun, sheltered from the wind.

‘You’re my buck,’ said Mr. Nimrod, ‘you’re never going to get up,’ and taking careful aim he blazed away.

Sure enough, the buck lay still.  The hunter hastened forward to complete the job.  Five rods from the carcass, he stopped suddenly. Phew and phooey! What was that smell?  The animal had been dead for days.

Inquiry at the county attorney’s office revealed that Minnesota has no law prohibiting the shooting of a dead deer.”

1 Comment

  1. youngv2015 says:

    I remember the red that my great uncle wore when he went hunting. Some sad stories. But the one about the man shooting the dead dear is funny.


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