RICE LAKE — The old deer hunter met his goal on the opening morning of the gun deer hunt. And though he’s 82 years old, it wasn’t simply to just go out in the woods.
“We hunted 6:30 until 11, then loaded four deer in the truck. I was glad I could go home and watch the Wisconsin Badgers beat Michigan,” Rice Lake hunter Dick Kaner said.
Kaner is a killer of deer. He makes no bones about it. He loves the exhilaration of the kill.
Arguably the best and most well-known radio personality the Rice Lake area has ever known, Kaner once famously saidduring a broadcast of his WJMC-AM morning show that shooting a deer is better than sex.
“I only said it once,” Kaner recalled with a smile, then, with the same wit his listeners heard for years, he added, “I figured everyone would be running out to buy a license and I’d have no listeners.”
As much as Kaner loves to hunt deer and talk about it, he’s satisfied with only a few hours of hunting as long as he gets his deer. On opening day this year he teamed up with his daughter to shoot a nubbin buck, one of his family’s four deer taken that morning.
“There was a time, I suppose, I’d hunt seven days of the season. Not anymore. Ninety percent of deer hunting is boredom. I want to get my deer and get out of there,” Kaner said with the same exuberance that marked his radio career.
When this year’s gun deer hunting season dawned, Kaner was in the same area of Polk County where he has hunted for the past 40 years.
He started the season on 80 acres of land he and his wife, Nancy, own, property where they have hunted with the same group of five for the past 20 years.
Besides Kaner and Nancy, that group includes the couple’s son, Steven, their daughter Stacy Pipson and her husband, Steve.
The hunt, Kaner said, isn’t all about trophy bucks. He walks to the living room of his house on Rice Lake’s west side during a recent day and waves a hand at two walls of buck racks.
“This is what we shoot,” Kaner said as he laughed at the small racks, including spikes and four-point forks.
There are some nice racks on the wall, but the small ones far outnumber the trophies. And there’s a reason the smalls are there.
“Every rack, every deer has a story,” said Kaner, who can tell those stories in such descriptive terms as if he were still talking to a radio audience.
Kaner pointed to a nicely-formed eight-point rack that appears to have gone through a shrink machine.
“That’s what happens when a deer is in a confined area. I was told I was the last person to shoot a buck on Cat Island of the Apostle Islands,” Kaner said of the small Lake Superior island 30 miles from Bayfield.
Nancy joined her husband is his pursuit of deer in the 1970s, about the same time the couple’s daughters Stacy and Michelle figured they might as well see what all the fuss was about being broadcast on their dad’s morning radio show the week of and after opening weekend.
“Nancy had never hunted before. Nothing,” Kaner said. “Now she’s as adamant about it as any male hunter. She’s not out there to count snowflakes. She’s out there to kill, and she’s excellent.”
That said, the first target practice got a slow start. Kaner offered a play-by play, which he was adept at for basketball and football games in his radio days.
“She got lined up on the target and then nothing. I waited and waited, and nothing. I finally shouted (and he’s shouting again retelling the story), ‘Just pull the trigger!’ She did, and then she was over the fear,” he said.
The Kaner hunters line up along a swamp — “a natural funnel made in heaven,” Kaner said — and every hunter in their low tree stands has a job.
“You take care of your 100 yards. If that deer goes through there, you take him out,” he said.
While other hunters have phones to immediately report if their shots downed a deer, that’s not for Kaner.
“I want that wonderment. I want to wonder if Stacy (his daughter) got that deer. Everything is instant now. But I don’t need to know right away,” he said.
Kaner loves to say that 90 percent of hunting is boredom, but that other 10 percent at the point of kill is pure ecstasy.
He figures he’s shot 30 bucks while missing only two seasons for military duty during the past 70 years.
Some of those bucks had bodies to match their small racks. Kaner doesn’t care.
“I weigh every deer. You know what they weigh? The does are between 105 and 115 pounds. The bucks are 110 to 125 pounds. That’s it!” he shouts.
Well, that’s not it completely. One of his first bucks came when he was a junior in high school. The 10-pointer weighed 198 pounds, and the teenage Kaner struggled mightily to drag it uphill out of a swamp in northern Wisconsin.
When he finally got it to a snow-covered road, where he didn’t have a vehicle, he waved down a motorist who agreed to tie it to the bumper and drag it home.
The 30 bucks Kaner has killed don’t equal the 60-some hunting seasons in which he has participated.
“Oh my, no. I went 10 years without killing a buck. Never pulled the trigger. I don’t know what it was. Was it buck fever?” said Kaner, who gets quiet in his reflection of the period of no deer.
But that’s not the case anymore. “I’ll kill the first deer I see now,” he said.
Kaner doesn’t plan to stop hunting any time soon.
“I’m 82 and I feel good. I’ll be out there,” he said. “There must be a reason we hunt. I eat the meat but I don’t need it. I think man is a hunter.”
And, in the Kaner clan, so is woman.
Greschner writes about the outdoors and sports for the Rice Lake Chronotype.