Come late November, it won’t be hard to find Al Firkus.
He’ll be at the same place he’s spent the past 60-plus gun deer seasons: sitting in his custom-made deer stand, playing cards in his northern Waupaca County hunting shack or frying up bacon and eggs for the hunting party.
What sets Firkus apart from Wisconsin’s 600,000 other deer hunters?
For starters, he’s 94. He’s also going through chemotherapy treatments since being diagnosed with cancer 1 1/2 years ago.
“As long as I can walk, I’ll be there,” Firkus said in the kitchen of his home in Custer, just east of Stevens Point. “Tom said if I can’t go out there, he’s going to carry me.”
“Tom” is Tom Fields, Firkus’ son-in-law who hunts with Firkus and other family members and friends on private land in the Town of Harrison. Firkus, who grew up on a farm between Rosholt and Amherst, has hunted that land since the early 1950s and hasn’t missed a year.
“I used to hunt small game – rabbits, squirrels – as a kid in the ‘30s,” he said. “Portage County, Town of New Hope. I hunted a few years in Portage County, then I went to Waupaca (County). I’ve been hunting there ever since.”
The Little Wolf River flows through the property, owned by Firkus’ nephew, Richard Domask.
“We used to stand by a tree for eight or nine hours,” Firkus said. “Didn’t even have a chair. I always saved a week’s vacation for deer hunting.
“I never used to hunt up north,” he said. “I hunted here.”
He now hunts in an insulated stand on the ground, sitting on an old piano stool that rotates and moves up and down.
“I bought him a brand new chair and he won’t use it,” Fields said.
Firkus figures he’s shot at least one deer a year since the early 1950s.
“You could go any place you wanted,” he said when asked about hunting in the early years. “You’d ask the neighbors and they said, ‘Go ahead.’ They didn’t care as long as we didn’t leave any gates open. Now, it’s a different story.”
Firkus didn’t have to sit in his stand long during the 2013 season, as he shot a spike buck.
“I’ll gut the deer and drag it,” Fields said. “I’ll skin it and he helps me clean it.”
Firkus plans to keep busy until another hunting season rolls around. He has spent the last 35 years working at the Stevens Point Country Club after retiring from his job as a truck driver for Northwest Liquor, a Stevens Point-based beer distributing company.
“I don’t know,” he said when asked why he still works. “I can’t sit in the house. I do everything there is to do, whatever they want. I was there yesterday. I told them to give me a call when they’re ready to cut (grass).”
“When he was 80, he said, ‘Well, I’m going to quit,’” Fields said. “Then he got to be 82 or 83 and he said, ‘Well, I’ll go ‘til I’m 85.’ Then it was, ‘I’ll go ‘til I’m 90.’ Then he hit 90 and he said, ‘Well, I might as well see if I can go until I’m 95.’ He’s like the Energizer bunny.”
Firkus and wife Carol’s basement is filled with boxes and bags of golf balls he’s picked up on the course over the years.
“I golfed once,” he said. “I put seven balls in one water puddle and said, ‘That’s enough.’”
Firkus started driving truck for Northwest Liquor shortly after serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, three years in New Guinea and six months in the Philippines.
“What amazes me more than anything is the people that are amazed about him,” Fields said. “I’m with him all the time. It’s a big deal to me and he’s what drives me to go deer hunting. I don’t have the passion that I used to have when I was younger. You used to go and make all the drives and sit on a stump.”
Giving up hunting hasn’t crossed Firkus’ mind.
“It’s fun, especially now with the hunting shack,” he said. “We can stay overnight. I cook for them: pancakes, ham, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, pork hocks and sauerkraut. The beer I won’t bring. That’s too heavy to lift.”