John Weiss: Young hunters battles back after nature knocked him down

At first, Gunnar Starks felt the recoil of his 20-gauge and heard its sharp "crack."

Then he remembers hearing the "crackle, crackle, crackle" of the doe running and the "bang" of the doe hitting the ground.

And finally, the 11-year-old from rural Byron heard the sweetest sound of all: silence.

"I rushed through the brush," He said. "I didn't care how thorny it was."

When he reached the doe, it was dead. A clean, one-shot kill, and he had his first deer.


His success also means that the Byron Sportsmen and Conservation Club has more meat for its Feb. 2 Cabin Fever game feed.

But there's more to this story. Gunnar is lucky to be alive, and taking his first deer was another milestone in a long road to recovery.

Gunnar has loved hunting for years, or at least hearing about it from his dad, Joel Starks of Rochester. He's seen the trophy bucks his dad has on the wall, and he tagged along with his dad as Joel hunted in the fall of 2011. Last fall, he was planning to hunt for the first time.

But in August, while fishing from shore at Lake Hendricks in Riceville, Iowa, he was hit by lightning. He was critically injured, and it's a miracle he survived, his dad said.

To get back on his feet, Joel knew Gunnar would work hard. He's an overachiever, he has always pushed himself, Joel said. For example, when he asked his son to bring in three logs for the fire for his Rochester home, Gunnar came in with five — he could barely lift them, but he got them there.

"To me, it's like, if something happens to you and (something) is one of your goals, just go for it, put the pedal to the metal," Gunnar said.

He went through physical therapy and other kinds of therapy, and still has to do more. He pushed himself because he wanted to hunt last fall, and play baseball next summer.

He was strong enough to hunt by the the time the firearms season rolled around. He and Joel went out to a place near Millville, and Gunnar got a shot at a buck but missed.


Gunnar, as hunters are prone to do, blamed the gun and its scope. So he and Joel went to the Byron club's range northwest of Byron where several of Gunnar's friends shoot, and checked the scope.

It was right on. With faith restored in his gun, the two went to Wisconsin to hunt on land where the owner had a good ground blind for Gunnar. "For me, it was a really long walk to get out there," he said.

"Walking is still tough for him," Joel said. But Gunnar walked.

In the blind, he had to pass on a small buck because the landowner practices quality deer management. A second deer was 40 yards away and he couldn't get a shot. Finally, a doe walked by, maybe five yards away. It got spooky and ran a bit but stopped. Gunnar could see it well enough to pull the trigger.

And then he ran. He still has problems with balance, but he ran to find his first deer.

"That was really exciting," he said.

He decided to donate some chops, along with cheddar-garlic sausage, to the game feed because some friends from his Byron sixth-grade class go there and because he sighted in his gun at the club's range.

Gunnar isn't done with his therapy, but he's still putting the pedal to the metal because he has new goals.


First, he wants to some day top one of his dad's bucks (his dad said he would be so proud to see his son get bragging rights) in his den.

Second, he wants to pitch baseball again.

Finally, he wants to go back to Lake Hendricks, because he has unfinished business there. After Gunnar was taken to the hospital last August, a park ranger reeled in his line and found a 5-pound bass on the hook.

"I'm going back to that same exact spot and catch that 5-pound bass," he said.

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