TONICA — Chilly weather apparently had something to do with hunters not bringing in as many bucks to show and enter in a deer-season competition Saturday evening at the Tonica fire station.
Still, the deer night and all-you-can-eat chili supper kept the parking lot and lawn filled with cars and trucks and had the station filled with diners, hunters and curious folks during the annual fundraiser for the all-volunteer, donation-supported fire department and ambulance service.
A well-known sharpshooter from the Streator area brought in one of the first and biggest deer of the evening. Bob Paul, who has won two national pistol marksmanship championships, has shot bigger deer than the 190-pound buck he shot "south of Ottawa" and brought to show.
“I’m not out for the praise or anything. I’m satisfied,” he said, taking a break from eating chili at a table with fellow Bone Collector archery salesmen. “I want a mature deer. I want one that’s been around awhile and has spread his genes around.”
Unlike some hunters, who want to make sure they harvest one deer or more every year, Paul often will watch a buck for more than a year. In one case, he decided not to shoot a young buck with a huge rack. He caught glimpses of it for a few years, hunted for it for an entire year and finally “harvested” the estimated 340-pound deer one deer season. He said the Kankakee newspaper wrote an article about the trophy deer.
The deer he shot this year he estimated at 4½ years. He said it was running with four other bucks that were chasing “a hot doe,” and he got an opportunity for a clean kill shot when this one turned a bit.
Paul said a lot of the hunters he talked to didn’t hunt very long on Saturday because of the extremely cold morning. It was the second of three days of this fall’s first weekend shotgun season. Several hunters in the Illinois Valley reported that they got cold and stopped hunting Saturday, and some planned to hunt after noon Sunday instead of venturing out and sitting still in temperatures in the teens.
Paul, a bow technician who helps several companies, said he used a 20-gauge this weekend to get his deer.
In addition to the bow and crossbow salesmen, gun shops including one from Tonica, and a Peru snowmobile and Polaris dealer set up displays on the deer night side of the station. (Fire trucks in the middle bay separated the view of the deer from the tables filled with people eating chili at the fundraiser.) Assistant fire chief Bill Gray displayed coyote pelts he had tanned. He brought them to show three different color variations of coats or strains, ranging from light tan to darker brown to reddish.
Trapper Devon Zimmerman showed some of the pelts he has not sold, including an albino opossum, a badger, tiny weasels and two muskrat pelts. Zimmerman says muskrats seem less plentiful these days than ever before, at least in the area where he traps near Tonica. Zimmerman said fur prices have rebounded in recent years after more than a decade of depressed prices and extremely low demand.