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Gus Leffelman, 5, of Tonica leans in for a closer look during the yearly tradition of “Deer Night” Saturday at the Tonica Fire Department. The event was two parts, an all-you-can-eat chili bar and celebration of the first firearm deer hunting season of the year. NewsTribune photo/Anthony Soufflé
Gus Leffelman, 5, (left) talks with Logan Johnson, 10, both of Tonica, about Johnson’s deer during the yearly tradition of “Deer Night” on Saturday at the Tonica Fire Department. NewsTribune photo/Anthony Soufflé
TONICA — One of Tonica Fire Department’s bright yellow fire trucks divided the station into two distinct sections Saturday night. On one side, the focus was on all-you-can-eat chili, on the other celebrating the first firearm deer hunting season of the year.
It was “Deer Night” and well over 100 people came out to take part in the community event.
“We just want to keep the event growing,” said David Huss, who has been organizing Deer Night for about five years.
On the hunting side a few local hunting vendors showed off their products and a local trapper displayed his furs, but the main attraction was the deer. Killed and cleaned over the previous 24 hours, roughly 20 deer were stretched out on the fire station floor to be marveled at and judged.
Huss explained that awards would be given at the end of the night to the biggest doe, biggest deer shot by a youth and the “chief’s choice” of best overall. Hunters and non-hunters, young and old, men and women walked through the rows of dead deer, inspecting antlers and commenting on the quality of each specimen.
While the event wasn’t free of gore — Huss occasionally manned a squeegee broom to clear blood smears from the judging area — the deer hunting celebration was surely a community and family event.
“To see a young one with a deer…to me, it’s just priceless,” Huss said. One of those young ones with a deer on display was Logan Johnson, 10, of Tonica. Although he didn’t necessarily bag the biggest deer on display, Logan was proud to discuss how he took down a 7-point, 119-pound buck.
“I saw him about 40 yards away but I couldn’t get my gun out because he was looking right at me,” he said, describing the scene in his family’s deer shack the previous day.
Later that day they saw the deer again and Logan’s dad, Jerry Johnson, assisted by grunting and distracting the deer, giving his son the opportunity to fire.
“It was one shot — a perfect shot,” said Logan’s mother, LeeAnn Johnson.
“He was so proud. He was jumping up and down and high-fiving,” she later added. Logan’s 13-year-old sister, Taylor, had already shot her own deer that day, so it was a pretty exciting start to the hunting season for the family.
“The first day of the season is always the best,” LeeAnn said. Deer Night also helps support the fire department.
“We are totally community supported, so that means we also have to give back to the community,” said fire department member Woody Olson.
Considering that Tonica is a “hunting community,” Olson thought the continually growing Deer Night is a great way to accomplish that goal.