Beryl bags his buck: Solitary Minnesota woodsman fills his freezer
The man from Greaney shot a spike buck opening morning of Minnesota’s firearms deer hunting season.
GREANEY, Minn. — Beryl Novak sat in his various deer stands for all 16 days of the Minnesota firearms deer season in 2021 and never saw a buck to shoot at.
This year, his season was over in just over an hour after he downed a spike buck early on opening morning on his property about 30 miles northwest of Cook.
“That’s the way it goes with hunting. You never know,” Novak said. “Now the pressure is off.”
Chalk up lifetime deer No. 76 for Novak, who has been hunting for 62 years, since 1960, when he was 10 years old.
Novak quickly gutted, skinned and butchered the deer, storing in his freezer what will be tasty larder for his winter alone in the woods, where he either shoots or grows most of what he eats. He’s already managed to shoot 19 ruffed grouse this fall, too.
“It was a great year for my apples, and the garden,” Novak said. “I gave away a lot of apples. Then I got apple jelly back. That's the way it goes. What comes around goes around.”
Novak had a doe permit to use this season, but was hoping not to have to use it. But he also hadn’t seen any bucks around his woods and wasn’t sure what to expect for the season.
“I’d rather leave the doe in the woods. She’s worth more for reproducing than in my freezer,” Novak said before the season. "Nobody I've talked to up here has seen any bucks."
Novak, now 72, has been hunting on his property here since 1977, when he moved into what was originally intended to be his one-room deer hunting shack, but which became his permanent home.
He shot this year’s buck out of his favorite deer “stand,” a tarpaper shelter a little larger than an outhouse. He shoots out of a sliding window. The stand is just 50 yards from his house, overlooking an open meadow with a backdrop of spruce and balsam about 140 yards out. He has shot dozens of deer from this exact spot, most with his trusty .270 Winchester.
“I had a bunch of candy bars and sandwiches and a Thermos full of coffee. I was ready to sit the whole day,” he said. “I had just poured a cup of coffee when I caught some movement. … There he was, the perfect-size deer. Not one of those big, old stinky things and not too small.”
One shot got the job done. The hunt lasted just 70 minutes.
“I’m going to put out what’s left of the carcass for the birds. They love that fat,” he said.
Since he doesn't need it anymore this season, he's letting a neighbor's wife use his other deer stand. In return, he received a gift of bacon and fresh eggs from the grocery store.
“It's crazy how expensive bacon is now,” Novak noted.
Readers may recall last year’s story on Novak that published just before the 2021 deer season that has been viewed nearly 1 million times online and appeared in newspapers across the country. The story about Novak’s solitary, simple life in the northwoods — he has no car, no running water, no computer — clearly struck a chord with many readers.
Since then, Novak has reconnected with some long-lost friends, including a former Orr High School student who now lives in Hermantown. He even accompanied her to a school reunion this past year.
“She was a year older than me, class of ‘67, but I knew most of her class,” Novak said. “I hadn’t seen most of those people in 50 years.”
Novak has a new cellphone now and he’s figured out how to use it to read the News Tribune online, and to Google his old friends to see if they are still around.
“I need to make some new friends,” he said. “All of my old ones are dying off.”
Unfortunately for us, Novak didn’t take a photo of his buck this year. And, as usual, there was no one else around to take one, either.
“Heck, it wasn’t even much of a spike buck, maybe 5 or 6 inches, nothing to get excited over,” Novak said. “But it will taste good.”