Louis Michalek began to hunt birds back when he was 6 years old growing up in South Dakota’s pheasant country.
Hunting got into his blood early and he’s rarely missed a chance to venture outdoors in pursuit of game since. He figures as long as his blood is still flowing, he’ll be out there. So the Roseburg resident will celebrate another birthday on Oct. 25 while on a mule deer hunt in Montana.
He’ll be 91.
“I still love the adventure of the outdoors,’ said Michalek, who has taken a couple of bucks on his actual birthday, including a four-point on his 90th.
He’s also still a good shot, although now he usually shoots his .308 off a bipod that’s attached to his rifle to help steady it. He’s filled most of his mule deer buck tags on his trips to Montana over the past 15 years.
Michalek still carries his own rifle, but he also usually has a cane to help him maintain his balance on the uneven ground.
“He’s probably killed more deer in his 80s than most people get in a lifetime,” longtime family friend John Paulson said. “Age is just a number. If you keep yourself physically involved, you’re still able to get out there.”
Paulson, 57, and Tom Michalek, 64, Louis’ son, complete the hunting party that has journeyed east each year to a working cattle ranch in central Montana. The ranch in the Judith River breaks area is owned by Michalek relatives. The terrain is fairly open, with pockets of timber in the drainages that run down to the river.
The hunters use a spot-and-stalk method. After spotting a buck from the bluffs above the breaks, they figure out a way to close the distance. They admitted that they’ve passed on pursuing numerous bucks or shooting at them over the years because the terrain was too steep to get close or to retrieve an animal.
Paulson said a hunter has to be “half goat” to get into or out of some of the breaks.
“I’ve had to change my hunting methods from what I used to do when I was younger,” Louis Michalek said. “I have rheumatoid arthritis and that limits my distance walking. I’d find it impossible to still hunt without some heavy lifters like these two guys.”
Tom Michalek said he and Paulson don’t necessarily worry about his father, but they do look out for him. They will leave him alone in an area and make hunts nearby.
“It’s not a game park,” Paulson said of the ranch. “We have to work at it.”
Louis Michalek admitted that even with a cane, he’s fallen a few times in recent years.
“I’ve just protected my rifle and then I get back up,” he said, laughing.
Tom Michalek added a different version of those falls.
“I’ve heard him say, ‘Yeah, I fell, but those rocks over there broke my fall,’” the son said, also laughing.
The Michalek family came to the Roseburg area in 1954. Louis Michalek was a family physician and was also the team doctor for Roseburg High from 1965 to 1980. He retired from his practice in 1990.
Through the years, his hunting party included several members who have come and gone until it narrowed down to just the present three. They made the decision to go to Montana 15 years ago when it became harder to secure Eastern Oregon mule deer tags through the controlled draws. They’d also seen their success rates drop drastically when they did have a tag. In Montana, they’re able to purchase general tags over the counter. In addition, they had access to private property away from the pressures of public hunting.
“We had quite a hunting group in Oregon,” Louis Michalek said. “It was sad to break that up and go elsewhere, but it was getting to where you didn’t always get a tag and in a group of four, you were lucky to get one deer.”
On their trips to the Montana ranch, the Oregon hunters help with some of the work before the season’s opening day. Paulson enjoys riding horseback, so he helps with the fall roundup of the mother-calf pairs, helping to bring the livestock up from the river bottom and the breaks to the corrals at the ranch from where they’re shipped.
“We’re fortunate to hunt the same area year after year because we can notice patterns in the deer,” Paulson said. “That helps when we start hunting.”
“Three years ago, Louis Michalek took a 450-yard shot and dropped a four-point buck whose rack had a 24-inch wide spread. The biggest bucks taken on the ranch have had racks that measured 27 inches.
When asked if he planned to hunt until his 100th birthday, Louis Michalek didn’t have much of a chance to answer because his hunting partners quickly chimed in.
“I hope so,” Tom Michalek said.
“As long as he’s vertical, he’s going,” Paulson said.
Louis Michalek’s response was a wide smile and a laugh. He certainly wasn’t going to deny the possibility.
• News-Review Features Editor Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.