Carl Kringle is comfortable shooting his .44 Magnum handgun at 35 to 50 yards.
In fact, he’s comfortable enough to win several competitive events over the years, including a state championship while in the Army.
When a doe was 75 yards away, and he had an open shot, he took it.
The deer went down, the first deer the 82-year-old Kringle has shot with his pistol in 10 years.
“We don’t get that many chances in the Blue Hills (a rural Rice Lake area) where we hunt,” said the veteran Rice Lake hunter.
Veteran Rice Lake handgun hunter would be more accurate.
Kringle has hunted deer with a pistol every year since the state legalized handguns for the gun deer season, in 1982.
Though Kringle has downed his share of deer with a .357 Ruger he used for years, the chances for shots at whitetails have mostly eluded him over the past decade.
“There have been seasons out in the Blue Hills when I haven’t seen a deer,” Kringle said. “I saw 10 this year. That’s pretty good.”
On the day before Thanksgiving this past deer season, Kringle was hunting with his son Dale, who also was using a handgun, and his grandson Ed.
They were leaving the woods on a mile-long hike back to the road when they came across a deer that Dale had the best shot at, and he made good on that shot.
As they finished field-dressing the deer, another doe was crossing a ridge nearby. Kringle waited for the deer to come through an opening and downed it with one shot.
“I didn’t even have my gloves on, so I got some flash burn from the cylinder,” said Kringle, showing where the burn left marks on his fingers.
The deer was also shot free-hand because Kringle didn’t have time to steady himself against a tree.
But his hands were steady nonetheless, and the small red dot scope on his gun was true, having been sighted in at 50 yards.
Just like that, with a stroke of fortune on the walk out the woods, the family group had two deer.
Kringle was somewhat of a pioneer in Wisconsin’s legalization of handguns for deer hunting.
The state Department of Natural Resources held a one-day experimental handgun season at Sandhill Wildlife Area near Nekoosa in 1970.
Kringle had shot a .22-caliber pistol at squirrels and varmints while growing up on a farm, and then shot competitively on an Army team in the early 1960s.
So he drove to Nekoosa in October of 1970 and slept overnight in his car outside Sandhill to make sure he was in line when permits went on sale the next morning.
A month later, on the night before the state gun deer season, Kringle and his wife, Phyllis, stayed with relatives in Wisconsin Rapids.
On opening morning, Kringle got to Sandhill, permit in hand, about 8 a.m.
“They were wondering if I was going to show up. Well, back on the farm, we did chores before hunting and didn’t get out there until light,” said Kringle, who farmed east of Rice Lake before moving into town in the 1980s.
Though Kringle got a late start that morning of the experimental hunt, he was the fourth hunter out of the woods that day with a deer.
He tied his first deer shot with a pistol to the trunk of his car.
Now, as the years pile up, Kringle remembers other deer he has taken with a pistol, including an eight-point buck at 150 yards.
“The good Lord helped me out on that one,” he said with a smile.
Kringle said he will pass on his pistols to his grandsons.
As evidenced by this year’s recently concluded gun deer hunting season, the family hunting tradition goes on.
Last month Kringle’s grandson Ed got his buck with a .303 Savage rifle that Kringle’s father, Carroll, purchased in 1929.
The Savage’s stock was made out of birch by Kringle’s uncle, Herb Featherstone, and finished on Nov. 22, 1963, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assasinated, and the Friday before Wisconsin’s deer season that year.
Kringle still has the yellowed targets from his Army shooting competition. Most of the holes are in the bull’s-eye, and he rattles off the high scores as if it were yesterday, not 55 years ago.
The scores were good enough to pull in a Washington state meet championship while he was stationed at Fort Lewis in Tacoma.
“The older I got the better I was,” Kringle said with a laugh.
Despite the self-deprecation, Kringle was plenty good. That hand/eye coordination, which is still plenlty sharp, has served him well in the Indianhead Pistol League over the years and also spills over into dartball.
Kringle is currently the second-leading hitter in the Barron County Church Darball League with a .482 average.
“You have to be able to block out the other shooters,” Kringle said when asked to explain his longtime success shooting his pistol and his pinpoint dartball accuracy.
When he’s hunting deer out in the woods or in a field, Kringle can still block out the surroundings and with a steady hand make that shot with the pistol at arm’s length.
Greschner writes about the outdoors and sports for the Rice Lake Chronotype.