Life among the whitetails filled with delights
Deer-farm days: Couple's life among the whitetails filled with delights
Most of us here in the North live among deer. But for 38 years, Stan and Esther Stevenson lived with deer.
The Stevensons' home was amid an enclosed deer farm just outside of Bayfield. Esther sometimes complained about all the whitetail nose smudges on her patio doors. Stan even had one buck that joined him on runs through the property on numerous occasions.
Stan Stevenson, 75, has gathered all of those memories -- and 162 color photos -- in a book titled, "Living With Deer."
You may have seen some of the massive bucks and other deer from the Stevenson farm. Professional wildlife photographers Dan Cox, formerly of Duluth, and Stephen J. Krasemann, among others, have sold or published many deer photos taken at the farm.
Stan and Esther moved north to Bayfield from Chicago in 1968, seeking a simpler, quieter life. Stan became a real estate agent in Bayfield. Stan's family had spent summers in Bayfield for most of his life, and his father had tended the deer farm long-distance from Chicago. When Stan and Esther took over the farm, there were 17 deer there. The population grew to as many as 100 before they realized that was too many for the 40-acre property.
"We tried to keep a herd of 40 to 50 deer," Stan said. "We had to feed them. They had browsed everything off."
Feeding the herd corn and oats cost the Stevenson's about $3,000 a year, he said, which they offset by charging photographers for the right to shoot photos on their property. The couple also sold some bucks to other deer farms for breeding. The Stevensons lived on the property at least part of the year until 2006. The new owners do not keep deer there.
"It was so special," Stan said. "In the winter especially. We had spotlights. I'd put out fresh hay every night. The deer would be there throughout the evening. With the snow or in a fresh snowfall, they were beautiful to look at."
The Stevensons had names for many of the bucks -- Rambo, Butch, Wren, Pat, Rudy, Tripod (missing part of a leg), Gabriel and the remarkable Dasher with his 35-point nontypical rack. Many of the book's photos are snapshots of family members feeding deer, lying down with deer or petting deer.
Although it can be dangerous to be around a buck during the fall mating season, nobody was ever injured on the Stevenson farm, Stan said. Still, he was careful, especially feeding around Gabriel, a particularly feisty buck.
"I would bring a shovel with me, so if he came for me, I'd have something," Stan said.
Butch was his sometime running partner. The buck would see Stevenson running through the property and come to run ahead of or behind him.
"It was a great experience," Stan said. "You just didn't want to quit running."
Butch would grow to become a magnificent buck with a 12-point rack, and each antler was 7¼ inches in circumference at the base.
Dasher wasn't a large-bodied buck, but his nontypical rack was amazing. It scored 247 2/8 points on the Boone & Crockett trophy scoring system. Just for comparison, a rack with that score would rank fourth among Minnesota's all-time nontypical whitetails, according to the "Minnesota Record Book," published by Wildlife Heritage Association.
Dasher didn't die of natural causes as most of the bucks at the Stevenson farm did.
"Somebody shot him with a low-caliber weapon in the lower belly," Stan said. "I couldn't believe anybody would do that."
Dasher's antlers are now mounted in the Stevensons' new home, away from the deer farm.
Hunters and nonhunters alike appreciated the deer farm and would come to look through the 8-foot fences at the bucks each fall, Stevenson said. At that time of year, the sound of antlers clacking was almost constant, he said, as the bucks wrestled with each other or sized each other up by enmeshing antlers.
Having lived with deer didn't change Stevenson's appreciation for wild deer.
"I have only good feelings about all deer," he said. "Hunters love deer, too. But they just like to hunt them, too. If we didn't have hunters, we'd have a real deer population problem."
He hunted deer twice, early in life, and shot one doe. But he lost interest in the activity, not necessarily because of the farm, he said.
Stevenson speaks longingly of the years he and Esther spent among the deer.
"I was proud of what we did," he said. "We had something unique."
SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune outdoors writer and columnist. Reach him at 218.723.5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
To order a copy of Stan Stevenson's book, "Living With Deer," call him at 715.779.3265 or e-mail him at email@example.com. The book retails for $39.95, and shipping is $4.25.