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80-year-old DL woman keeps on hunting

Vonnie Johnson of Detroit Lakes has been hunting for 57 years. Introduced to the sport by her husband, she has only missed three years since, even though Roger passed on 10 years ago. Johnson has been battling ovarian cancer since 2008. Nathan Bowe/DL Newspapers

You can't keep a good woman down.

Vonnie Johnson, for example, likes to be about seven or eight feet up during deer hunting season -- in her tree stand.

Never mind that she's 80 years old and just had chemotherapy the day before.

Johnson went hunting deer this season on the 40 acres of land she lives on about five miles east of Detroit Lakes on Highway 34. She hunted mostly with granddaughter Chrissy and her husband, Jamie, although she also went out alone once.

"I've been hunting for 57 years," she said. "I've only missed three years -- I had babies two years and cancer last year," she said.

She's been battling ovarian cancer since December of 2008. "I had a little tummy on me -- but I thought that was just because little old ladies get tummies sometimes," she said.

After being diagnosed she went straight from the doctor's office to the University of Minnesota Hospital, via Pelican Rapids ambulance -- because there was a blizzard coming and no ambulances were available from Detroit Lakes, she said.

"They wouldn't even let me stop at home first to get some things," she said.

Surgery took care of the cancer until May of this year, when a partial bowel obstruction forced her to start chemo again.

She had chemotherapy on a Friday, had to leave the deer stand the next day for a post-chemo shot in the arm, and was back in the stand on Saturday evening.

"After I have chemo I feel nauseous for four days," she said. "But it was so beautiful I couldn't help but go out there."

She nearly bagged a doe, but missed.

A daughter who lives about a mile down the highway, Laurie Bowers, visits Vonnie often, but even she didn't know that her mother had obtained a doe permit this year, so she could shoot either a buck or a doe. "I didn't see any reason to tell her (about the hunting license)," Yvonne said.

"I don't need anyone's permission to hunt," she added with a smile.

"She has a cell phone, Laurie said. "If she needed help, she could just call. She takes her four-wheeler out there."

The deer stand is about a half-mile away from the house, on the far side of a long, narrow 40 acres.

If Vonnie shoots a deer, she uses the four-wheeler to drag the deer home, and oftentimes has a granddaughter process the carcass for her.

"Chrissy can gut a deer with the best of them," she said.

"She just likes it (hunting) for the sport," daughter Laurie said. "She gives a lot of it (venison) away."

Yvonne did some target practice with a .22 rifle and beverage cans when she was growing up, but she has her late husband, Roger, to thank for her love of hunting.

"I would never have gone hunting if I hadn't met my husband-to-be, Roger," she said. "I thought, it seemed interesting, and I shot one the first year -- it was a bad shot, I gut-shot him, and Roger wasn't very happy with me, but he kept asking me along..."

After that, she was a regular with the Highway 113 hunting group, the Johnson group, which now headquarters at the Rainbow Resort, but used to camp right in the "big woods" in Elbow Lake country east of Waubun.

"I like the big woods," she said. "No one takes your stand, and you don't have to worry about hitting anyone."

And it wasn't just deer hunting, she was an avid participant in all sorts of hunting -- for grouse, partridge -- even the occasional moose and bear, and in the winter there was ice-fishing.

"We grew up on venison," Laurie said with a laugh. "There was always something (that had been shot or hooked) in the freezer."

If there was a wedding or other special event being held in the fall, "my dad would always say, 'Who in their right mind would get married on a good hunting weekend?'" Laurie said with a laugh.

Roger passed away about 10 years ago, but his influence lives on.

"It's like the family that hunts together, stays together," Laurie said.

"That's right," Vonnie added. "All you kids hunt and all 10 of the grandkids hunt."