Kay Nicklaus has been hunting deer for 57 years and at age 80 she can still knock them down. She harvested an 8-pointer near Conover this season.
Kay Nicklaus poses with three of her grandsons, from left, Tanner, Connor, and River Nicklaus, all of whom took part in this year’s hunt.
12/14/2019 7:29:00 AM A legendary love of deer hunting
Jacob Friede of the Lakeland Times
Kay Nicklaus learned early on in her marriage to husband Ronald how powerful an influence deer hunting can be.
"We were married the night before deer season," Nicklaus recalled. "And I was utterly shocked that he went deer hunting about four days later."
Ronald's dedication to the sport, however, sparked curiosity. What could be so interesting that it could draw a man away from his new bride?
"I thought that's got to be pretty good. So I'm going to learn," Nicklaus said. "So I started hunting and I really, really loved it."
Fifty-seven years later, Nicklaus, age 80, is still in love with the sport she learned from the love of her life, and deer hunting is still very much tied to the family. Both she and Ronald continue to deer hunt with their now extended family which includes their sons Gregory and Todd and their families. This season's hunt near Conover was a perfect example of what keeps her coming back to the woods year after year.
Nicklaus always brings a book into the deer stand with her. It helps her keep quiet as well as patient and alert.
"I can read a little bit and watch as well," she said.
She didn't get through too many pages this year though, as on opening morning she glanced up and saw what she was waiting for.
"I was startled to see a lone deer, maybe a buck, smelling the ground," she said. "I put the book down. Picked up my rifle. Focused it. Took the safety off and shot. It all happened so fast it was a shock to me."
The deer took off and Nicklaus was momentarily heartbroken because, after waiting awhile, her son Gregory was unable to locate a blood trail.
"I was a complete buck fever wreck," Nicklaus said. "I was really upset thinking I missed it."
But then she heard some glorious words.
"You got him mom," her son confirmed.
"I could hardly believe my ears," Nicklaus said.
But she was a believer when she saw the eight-pointer, 30 yards away, laying next to an evergreen tree.
"It was fabulous!" Nicklaus exclaimed. "I haven't shot a buck for a long time, but over the years I have gotten many of them."
Her first buck was shot in her second season out and she has since added to the list.
Nicklaus has hunted in Africa and Idaho and Colorado. In Colorado she shot the biggest deer of her hunting career, a 12-point mule deer.
"That was the most exciting. It was just massive," she said. "When you really see something like that you just can't hardly believe your eyes, and that's the biggest one that I've gotten."
In northern Wisconsin, Nicklaus hunts in Vilas County, though she lives in Irma with her husband. That's where they moved, 57 years ago, after they met in Seattle while Ronald was stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wash.
Together the Nicklauses raised a family, owned and operated a green bean harvesting company and then eventually established River Valley Bank, now Incredible Bank, which has thrived into 17 branches and is still owned and operated by the family.
And through it all, every year they hunted deer, a passion they passed on to their sons.
"They absolutely love being out in the woods, too," Nicklaus said. "It was just a natural evolution."
The tradition has continued even further, as Nicklaus now has grandchildren that she hunts with, and the company of her family is as important to her as the thrill of crossing paths with a deer.
"I love the hunting part of it," she said. "And being with my family."
Ties to a legend
Though she didn't start deer hunting until she was married, Nicklaus has always had it in her blood. In fact, her genealogy, when it comes to deer hunting, is legendary.
Nicklaus' great-uncle was Jim Jordan.
Jim Jordan shot the Boone and Crockett world record for a typical white-tailed buck in 1914 in Danbury. The monster 10-point Burnett County buck eventually scored 206 1/8 inch. Jordan, however was not given credit until after his death. That's because the original taxidermist abruptly moved away with the deer head while still working on it and Jordan lost contact with his prized mount.
It resurfaced at a garage sale in 1964 and was purchased by a distant relative of Jordan, and that's when it was first measured and scored. It was given world record status by Boone and Crocket, but the hunter was designated as unknown.
Jordan was able to view the rack and confirmed the deer was his but was unable, for more than a decade, to persuade Boone and Crockett to give him credit.
Finally, in 1977, Boone and Crockett reopened the investigation and a year later confirmed Jim Jordan was in fact the hunter who shot the world record buck. Unfortunately, Jordan passed away two months earlier.
His buck is still the highest scoring typical buck from the United States. It was surpassed as the world record holder by a 213 5/8 inch buck harvested by Milo Hanson in western Saskatchewan in 1993.
Jordan shot his famous buck in a thicket of tall grass near some railroad tracks and wounded it on the first shot. It took a second shot, however, as the deer was crossing a river, to finish the job.
According to Nicklaus, he was lucky he didn't need a third shot.
"Many interesting aspects to it, not the least being he only had two shells that he was using," she said of Jordan. "Back then people did not carry a lot of shells in their pockets."
The buck Nicklaus harvested this year took one shot, and it may not have been a legendary world record like the deer her great-uncle shot all those years ago, but it may have had the same effect, because it's hard to imagine someone, even Jim Jordan, being more excited and appreciative of a successful hunt than Nicklaus was this season. For her, the thrill of the hunt is as strong as it was 57 years ago.
"Maybe there's just some DNA regarding that, and it's just in my blood," she said. "Because I really, really, love the woods."
Jacob Friede may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce