MINNEAPOLIS — On the Wednesday of the first week of Minnesota deer hunting, Kenneth Felt went looking for a buck. Living not far from Itasca State Park, in northern Minnesota, on the same land he’s occupied for decades, he knew a few animals were in the area. So he grabbed his rifle and a handful of cartridges, and walked out his farmhouse door, toward his four-wheeler.
Felt is 93 years old. But he didn’t consider his age a problem. And while his long gun hadn’t been leveled in the direction of a game animal for more than 100 years, and then in his grandfather’s hands in Sweden, Kenneth had practiced with the firearm enough to know it was accurate.
“I took the rifle hunting a few times last year, but I wasn’t too serious about getting a deer because I was worried about field-dressing it,’’ he said. “My heart is bad and it would be kind of difficult to do that.’’
Felt’s gun was a .50 caliber Husqvarna with a Remington rolling block action, the same type of rifle George Custer carried into the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The rifle is a smokepole — that is, black powder — but its cartridges are self-contained, not unlike modern-day ammunition, except that when the trigger of the Husqvarna is pulled, a large plume of white smoke appears at its muzzle, obscuring vision for long moments.
“I put the Husqvarna in a case and strapped it on the four-wheeler,’’ Felt said. “I drove out to a field, and I was surprised to see a big doe standing right there. I thought, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want a doe. I’ll just drive farther on, and look for a buck.’ ’’
In World War II, Kenneth served in the Navy, ship-bound variously in Ireland, then the Mediterranean, and finally in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, when Japan formally surrendered.
Returning to Minnesota after the war, he bought the 260-acre spread he still lives on, the first step in a varied career that ultimately would see him serve as Clearwater County sheriff for 10 years.
“I wanted to offer the same kinds of services to Clearwater County residents that Hennepin County offered to its residents, though on a smaller scale,’’ Felt said. “Which in the end, I did.’’
Growing up west of Bemidji, Minn., not far from where he lives now, Felt loved to trap, hunt and fish. He shot his first deer when he was 13 while walking home from school through a nearby woods, toting his dad’s .30-30 Model 94 Winchester.
“I carried the gun with me to school, and when I got near school I’d lean it up against a tree,’’ he said. “Then after school I’d pick it up, and one day on the way home, I saw a deer and shot it.’’
Tooling around now on his four-wheeler, looking for a buck, Felt was surprised to soon stumble upon yet another doe.
“I figured, OK, maybe the good Lord wants me to shoot a doe after all,’’ Felt said, and he returned to his four-wheeler for the Husqvarna.
As fate had it, the doe remained still while Felt pulled the rifle from its case, loaded a cartridge and pressed its stock to his shoulder.
“This Husqvarna wasn’t fired for many, many years after my grandfather gave it to me, because we couldn’t find ammunition for it,’’ Felt said. “Then eight years or so ago, one of my sons found ammunition in Texas. After that, we shot it some, and it shoots straight.’’
Felt’s grandfather used the Husqvarna with the rolling block action in Sweden to provide meat for logging camps, oftentimes felling elk and bear with it.
So Felt knew it could handle a deer, if he could shoot straight.
In moments, he leveled the rifle at the doe and pulled the trigger. Immediately, smoke ballooned at the muzzle, and for a long time Felt didn’t know whether he’d hit the animal or not.
Field-dressing was next, and Felt wasn’t sure what he would do. But first things first: He cased the Husqvarna, roped the deer to the rear of the four-wheeler, and turned for home.
Good neighbors are important, perhaps never more so for Felt than on that day.
“I asked my neighbor if he’d clean it for me, and he said, ‘Sure,’ ” Felt said.
And next year, when Felt will be 94, will the Husqvarna see action again?
“We’ll see,’’ he said.