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'Homme Hilton' ready again to host the social event of the year

The deer firearm season is just ahead, and one life-long hunter has just the place for family and friends to join for all it offers. John Homme tells of his love for hunting, fishing and the outdoors as enjoyed on the family farm in the Minnesota River Valley in "The Best View on the Farm."

SACRED HEART — For much of the nation, the biggest social events of the year happen in Hollywood before television cameras.

For a large subset of Minnesotans, the biggest social event of the year is this coming weekend: The start of the deer firearm season.

No one knows this better than John Homme, 79, who has been successfully hunting deer every year since “buck fever” caused him to miss his first deer 63 years earlier.

And all of this time, he’s been pursuing deer in a setting better than anything Hollywood can offer: The Minnesota River Valley.

His address there might appeal to the Hollywood set, however.

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He and his hunting buddies know their hunting shack as the “Homme Hilton.” They’ve even emblazoned caps and T-shirts and jackets with its moniker.

“We say that the Hilton would be a five-star location but there is no valet parking. It has no running water either, but we have a generator and a bulb on a string like you’d see at a used car lot for lights.”

That description is taken straight from “The Best View on the Farm,” a quick to read, 75-page book by Homme, of Rochester. It's all about his favorite place of all, the Homme Farm south of Sacred Heart.

The heart of the book is his love for the river valley and the outdoor adventures it has continued to offer him throughout his life.

“Growing up, I was so used to the river valley I never really saw how beautiful it was until I saw it through other people’s eyes,” Homme told the Tribune.

And that is why the Homme Hilton is such an important part of the story he tells. It's introduced many to the river valley and outdoors and help pass on the outdoor heritage to the next generation.

At first, deer hunting was pretty much a family affair for Homme. That changed with his father’s death. The next year, he and his brother each invited a few of their friends to join them on this special land, and the tradition has continued ever since.

Some of the hunters have died or otherwise gone their own ways. Through the years, there’s been an influx of the newly-invited. Some of the chosen have literally come all the way from homes on the East and West Coasts for the privilege; a brain surgeon is among the long distance travelers.

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“The thing about deer hunting is it always has been the social event of the fall,” said Homme. Whenever he’s asked his companions at the Homme Hilton what they like best about deer hunting, their answer is always the same. No one said it’s about killing deer, he said. “It was all about the fellowship and being outdoors and enjoying God’s creation.”

There is also a lot of enjoyment in telling the stories of the hunt, such as how friend “One Shot Dave Rodquist” became “No Shot.” A careful and sure shot, Rodquist has never needed more than one shot to down his deer. One year a large buck emerged no more than 20 yards in front of him. Rodquist recognized by the deer’s gait that it was a death march. The wounded deer walked up a small hill and promptly fell over dead, no shot needed.

There’s also the story of the buck that got away by a Homme Hilton hunter who demands anonymity to this day. The buck was so large that it could have been mistaken for an elk, and it was standing right in front of him. Only years later did he fess up and tell his hunting companions how he had missed the big one. “”His only mistake was that he forgot to load the gun,” Homme reveals.

Homme’s great-grandfather, Ole Gjermundson Homme, purchased the land that became the Homme farm in 1867 for $1.25 an acre. Family legend tells that he borrowed money for the land from his brother, who had gone to California and found gold.

The author’s parents, Peter and Lena, married in the late 1930s and started life in the original log cabin on the farm. They later bought a nullhouse in Sacred Heart, where they raised their children -- two sons and a daughter -- while still farming the land.

After her husband’s death, Lena enrolled 120 acres of the farm in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The siblings eventually acquired the family land, and now John is sole owner.

John said he and his brother spent their free time as youths hunting and fishing on this land, and for him, that continues to this day. After high school, he went to Mankato and got a degree in education. He taught the sciences during most of his career in Robbinsdale. After retirement, he and his wife, Martha, lived in her home state of North Carolina before they returned to Minnesota. They make Rochester their home now. Two of their sons are physicians there.

All of those years John Homme returned to the river valley for the deer hunt, even during the six years he lived in North Carolina. And of all the years in Minnesota, the farm has been the main hunting grounds for everything from turkey and waterfowl to deer. This is also the place for him to make maple syrup, harvest chokecherries, wild grapes and plums, forage for mushrooms, or cut cedar trees for the cedar chests he handcrafts.

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Come summer, it's all about fishing. John said he and his sons used to make summer trips down the river to fish and camp on sandbars, tossing up a Boy Scout tent for shelter.

In the '90s, he was joined by his friend John Engel on the river fishing. They’d wrap the meat of the catfish they caught in tinfoil, add lemon slices and Old Bay Seasoning, and toss them over coals to roast.

But without a doubt, it’s through deer hunting that Homme has introduced most of those who now share his passion for the outdoors and the Minnesota River Valley.

One year, the Homme Hilton was the base for 17 hunters, and that’s how many deer they got. A good part of the credit belongs to Steve Homme. He had happened to move into a house across the street from John and Martha Homme’s home at the time in Plymouth, Minnesota.

John said neither knew each other when Steve arrived in the neighborhood. They soon discovered why they shared the same name. “It turned out his great grandfather and my grandfather were brothers,” said John.

He invited Steve to join the gang at the Homme Hilton, and he was responsible for seven of the 17 deer that year. He returned the next year and bagged a deer that qualified as a Minnesota Deer Classic trophy with a 156-inch antler spread.

Deer numbers in the valley were best in the 1980s. During those years, it wasn’t unusual for the group to take an evening drive and count anywhere from 50 to more than 100 deer.

These days, the Homme Hilton is usually the base for a group of 10 hunters. There are always some young people who are part of the Homme Hilton hunting party, and that is why the social event of the year is so important. This is where the young people hear all of the deer camp stories. “The values of one generation are passed to the next through their stories,” said Homme.

“The opportunity to write the book was the opportunity to put down all that information,” said Homme. “All those stories. It’s kind of a legacy,” he said.

The legacy should continue for some time. As they got the camp ready for this year’s hunt, Homme said he had the “hard talk” with his sons about its future. Independently, each told him they want to preserve the family land as a place to continue introducing their friends and offspring to the outdoors.

As for the cameras available to broadcast all of Hollywood's big events, don't worry. The Homme's have made available much of the fun enjoyed at the farm on Youtube. Links to view them are included in his book.

He can be reached at: john@hommegroup.com

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