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‘Grandpa’s 30-30’: Sighting in on Stittsworth family hunting traditions

There are many long-held family traditions that come with deer hunting season, especially for a hunter's first deer. Twelve-year-old Willie Stittsworth got to experience his family's first-deer ritual for himself this year when he bagged his first buck with his great-grandpa's gun — the same one his uncles, grandpa and dad used before him.

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Willie Stittsworth, 12, bagged his first deer — a six-point buck — on Oct. 20, 2022, using his great-grandfather's gun that's been in the family for about 80 years.
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BEMIDJI — There are many long-held family traditions that come with deer hunting season, especially for a hunter's first deer.

Twelve-year-old Willie Stittsworth got to experience his family's first-deer ritual for himself this year when he bagged his first buck with his great-grandpa's gun — the same one his uncles, grandpa and dad used before him.

The gun, an 1899 savage 30-30 with iron sights, is fondly referred to as "Grandpa's 30-30" and has been in the Stittsworth family since the 1940s when it was given to young Willie’s great-grandfather, Willie Stittsworth, when he was a boy. Ever since it’s been used for first-time hunters.

It started around 80 years ago when Willie Sr. was a young teen, he usually spent his days at his parent’s resort and would take a few of the guests out fishing from time to time.

“One time (my grandfather) took a farmer out fishing on a fall day and they caught a limit of walleyes really quickly,” said Mychal Stittsworth, the elder Willie’s grandson and father to young Willie. “They had some time left over and decided to go grouse hunting and they shot their limit of grouse, too.”

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Needless to say, the farmer was so impressed with his guiding services he tried to give him a tip, which Mychal estimated was probably around $20, but Willie turned it down.

“In those days if someone tried to give you $20 it's basically the equivalent of $1,000 today,” Mychal said. “So, the farmer left and Willie went to school for the day and when he returned there was a gun sitting there for him.”

Willie Sr. was thrilled to see that the farmer he spent all morning with left him his old gun, he even used it to harvest his first deer later that year and continued to use the gun for years. When his sons were old enough to deer hunt, they used the gun, too.

“My dad was the oldest and he shot his first deer with the gun, then my uncles did after him,” Mychal said. “They kept it around until I was old enough and I shot my first deer with it, almost 30 years ago.”

According to Mychal, his and young Willie’s first bucks were very similar. He said the six-pointed racks were almost identical, shot at around the same yardage and of course, with the same gun — the only difference being they were 30 years apart.

Since the gun hadn’t been used since Mychal harvested his first deer, he had it restored so that his son, Willie Jr., could carry on the tradition when his time came.

“It’s an old school gun, it’s open sights so there’s no scope so you have to aim through the metal pin,” Mychal added.

Young bucks

Willie Jr. and Mychal set out on Oct. 20, the first day of youth season this year, in hopes to put his special gun to use.

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Beforehand, they both agreed Willie wasn’t going to shoot at a deer unless it was a doe or a big buck in efforts to manage the hunting land.

“About an hour and 45 minutes in we saw a buck come out and I was about to shoot it, but then we saw that it had little antlers,” Willie said. “My dad texted my uncle and asked if we could shoot it (even though it was a young buck) because we were on his land but by the time he got back to us and said it was okay, it was too late.”

Willie let the deer go and waited for another 10 hours. Then, the same buck as before came out again and finally got a shot off.

Willie Sr. was happy Willie Jr. got to use his gun and carry on the tradition along with his uncles, dad and grandpa. Now, the gun will be put to rest until his children are old enough to use it someday.

“I don't think there’s anything more satisfying in life than watching a kid shoot his first buck,” Mychal said. “Willie showed great patience for a perfect shot.”

Related Topics: NORTHLAND OUTDOORSHUNTING
Maggi is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on outdoor and human interest stories. Raised in Aitkin, Minnesota, Maggi is a graduate of Bemidji State University's class of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communication.
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