Rocky Island lay quiet under a gray sky at first light. Among the smallest (two square miles) of Wisconsin's 22-island Apostle group, it nevertheless had perhaps the greatest concentration of whitetail deer in the U.S. For the 40 hunters who picked up their rifles outside Laurie Nourse's camp it was a time of great expectation. But they were in for a lot of surprises.
Rocky was stiff with more than 400 deer. The hunt—for both bucks and does—was actually staged to benefit them, for the herd was too big for the feed available. At start of winter the harvested bucks averaged 92 pounds against a normal 140.
The cover was so thick that red-clad hunters could seldom see one another beyond 30 yards. Many a hunter who thought he was alone was surrounded by others—and also by deer which remained largely invisible. When someone moved noisily he was almost sure to spook a deer which would appear unexpectedly. One such was Jerry, a tame beribboned deer who showed up frequently (left) but, miraculously, was never shot at.
Arthur Uhlmann, hunting for the first time, looked up from his compass as a buck, disturbed by someone, trotted up. He shot it. Two men walking drove four bucks past an astonished hunter nearby who shot at each deer as it galloped past, missing three but hitting the last one.
December 13, 1954
As the hunt progressed, the deer even avoided such mistakes, and "drives" were organized. Hunters walked abreast through the cover, trying to herd the game toward gunners posted ahead. They were only partly successful; a mass drive down a third of the island netted only three does. On one drive when there was a light snow, tracks showed that a buck had practically crawled on its belly through 40 feet of sparse ground hemlock to escape a waiting rifleman.
Even so, Nourse's 40 hunters shot 34 deer (about half were does, less wary than bucks). Considering the hunting pressure, Rocky's deer acquitted themselves well. The total bag from the 13 Apostle Islands was 360 for some 1,100 hunters. An even better statistic: no one got hurt.
Tame Deer named Jerry was an added hazard. He wore a red ribbon for protection.
Big drive is organized to herd the game to tip of the island. The bag: three does.
Sign of a buck, a tree trunk partly scraped bare of bark by a deer that polished its antlers there, is studied by Hunter Mel Ellis as he searches the woods for deer.
Buck on a rope, nine-pointer shot by novice hunter Arthur Uhlmann on an almost inaccessible hill, is lowered down a cliff to shore line for removal to camp by boat.
Loss of a shirttail was price that novice hunter Arthur Uhlmann had to pay for killing his first deer. Here the ritual is amiably performed by veteran hunter Mel Ellis.
Weighing of bucks by Wisconsin Conservation Department closes the hunt. This checking station at Bayfield also determines their age. These came from Madeline Island.