80-year-old Bemidji bow hunter's latest elk fills the freezer again
Evie Johnson, 80, has been bow hunting big game for some 38 years. On Sept. 5, Evie harvested her ninth bull elk with a clean shot from her tree stand in northeastern Utah. The big boy yielded 195 pounds of meat, so much that Evie and husband Ken had to buy a new freezer.
Even though she grew up in a hunting family on a farm southwest of Bemidji, Evie Johnson didn’t do much hunting herself until she was in her 40s.
She’s 80 years old now and has been bow hunting big game for some 38 years. On Sept. 5, Evie harvested her ninth bull elk with a clean shot from her tree stand in northeastern Utah. The big boy yielded 195 pounds of meat, so much that Evie and husband Ken had to buy a new freezer.
“I really wanted to get an elk this year since I turned 80,” Evie said. “I didn’t care what it was.”
She typically climbs 17 feet high into her tree stand for three hours in the mornings and three hours in the evenings during the month-long trip to Utah. She logs all of her time in the stand.
“I sat in my tree 55 and a half hours before I got him,” said Evie, who has mastered the art of cow calling with a variety of special diaphragm calls. “I heard him up in the brush, I cow talked and he answered with a little bugle. If he’s with cows, he’s not going to give a full-blown bugle because then other bulls would come and try to steal his cow. So he gave a couple sounds, and then down he came facing me. I cow talked again to stop him.”
That second call got the bull into a better position. “Then I shot him,” Evie said. “He was big.”
Evie only hunted deer a few times on her Meemken family property, and the memories are not great.
“When I was at home my brother took me out,” she recalled. “I shot at a deer but missed. I was aiming for the head. Well, you don’t aim for the head.” The only time she uses a gun these days is when pesky critters are around.
“The only thing I shoot with my .22 is red squirrels or if I catch a critter in my live trap, skunks and raccoons,” she said. “I finish them off with my .22.”
Her bow hunting started soon after she married Ken in 1983. Both of them were divorced, and they met in a support group for widowed, divorced and separated people. He was an elementary teacher and she worked in BI-CAP’s energy assistance program.
“Before we got married that summer he asked me if I had any money to buy a bow,” Evie said.
“No, I said I’d buy you a bow if I could afford it,” Ken clarified.
So Evie paid $100 for that first bow, and the rest is history.
“He set up a target and I started shooting,” she said. “We got married in August and that fall we went to the Black Hills for mule deer. So every year since then, 38 years we’ve been married, we’ve gone out west hunting.”
The results are pretty impressive. Evie keeps a scoresheet of everything she has harvested with a bow. It includes 11 whitetail deer, two mule deer, nine bull elk, one bear, three tom turkeys, one gar fish and several carp.
Their hunting party has grown in recent years to include friends and family members. This year’s group of seven hunters harvested three elk. The meat is processed nearby in Utah and then comes the on-site feast.
“The heart and the backstraps never make it home,” Evie said, “because we eat that the next day for breakfast. We have a potluck. We cook it in our camper. Oh, it’s really good.”
Evie hones her shooting skills by competing in archery leagues at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds or at her home range. She has competed in state shoots as well. She also works out three days a week at Snap Fitness in Bemidji.
There are no plans to stop now that she’s an octogenarian.
“I’ll stop when I can’t pull my bow back anymore,” she said. “I have good genes. Mom lived to be 96. Dad was 87. It’s something I like doing. When people are sewing or other stuff, I said I’ll do that when I get old, but not right now.”