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Triplets have special first deer hunt


By Ed Culhane Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers

NEENAH — Rinda Dedering-McCollum has been beaming all week, carrying photographs in her purse to share with friends and co-workers.

They are pictures of her children, of course. She has three of them, two boys and a girl, all born on the same day 12 years ago. Angela appeared first, followed by Carlton and then Gavin.

On their first deer hunt, each of them shot a white-tailed deer during the late November gun season, an accomplishment that took the entire nine days. In the photographs, their faces are flushed with excitement and red from hours spent in the wintry woods.

There are other adults in this story, a dad and a grandpa, and each of the triplets always was paired with one of them in the woods. But the way it worked out, when the crucial moments came, each kid was hunting with mom.

"All three of them got their deer with me," Rinda said. "It was because I took vacation. I had more time logged in the field. I hunted all nine days. It was wonderful. I wouldn't have traded it for the world.

"They are all individuals, to start off with, and each of their reactions — as enthusiastic as they were — were all different."

Their father died when they were young. Six years ago, Mike McCollum entered their lives. Five years ago, he and Rinda were married.

Rinda didn't hunt before Mike came along, but with an experienced guide at her service, she fell into it in a big way. He bought her a shotgun for a wedding present. For their honeymoon, he took her grouse hunting in northern Wisconsin. On Mother's Day this year, he bought her a hunting bow.

"We're weird," she admitted. "Most women want jewelry."

They own a patch of hunting land in Waushara County, near Saxeville, with a small pine cabin and no running water.

As is often the case with the children of hunters, Angela, Carlton and Gavin have been in training for years. They took a hunter safety course this past spring. Though not required to take the course, Rinda enrolled with them and earned the certificate.

The triplets were held to a high standard. Their stepfather, Mike, is a veteran of the Vietnam War, an infantry soldier who earned a Bronze Star and two Silver Stars, one for valor when his company was ambushed. He takes gun safety and marksmanship seriously, and Rinda is of a like mind.

"The animals deserve the best we can give them — a clean, quick ethical kill," he told the new hunters.

The three youngsters hunted the early T-Zone with borrowed weapons and chaperones. There were no opportunities to take a deer. Then, on the Saturday that opened the nine-day gun season, each of the triplets received an early Christmas present, a new .243-caliber rifle fitted with a scope.

It meant a late start to the hunt, but they had to sight the rifles in and prove they could shoot accurately. The test was pass or fail. McCollum set the target at 70 yards. In turn, each novice put a hole in the bull's-eye and earned the chance to hunt.

Saturday afternoon, Carlton hunted with his dad, Angela was with her mother and Gavin was with a grandfather, Carl Pelner.

"We believe an adult should be with them, not just in the woods, but in the same blind," Rinda said.

No shots were fired.

On Sunday, Carlton was with Rinda, on her left. It was late in the afternoon, and the light was changing.

"All of a sudden, he started beating my left arm," she said. "Sure enough, a doe walked in."

She signaled that is was OK to shoot.

"He tried to remember everything he'd learned," she said. "Your first deer, you get so excited. He took a shot and down it went. He was so excited he asked if it was OK to run out and see the deer."

Mike had to work during the week, so he commuted. Rinda stayed at the cabin, taking turns hunting with Angela and Gavin. Carlton was gracious about giving up his turns, she said. He wanted his brother and sister have a better chance. Rinda and her children hunted through the week.

"I called them in with the fever at school," Rinda said. "I didn't tell them it was buck fever."

She'd knew she'd be busted when the story ran.

"That's a fight I'll take on any day," she said. "You can't take that away from a kid. Time like that is needed. Besides, they're all on the honor roll."

On Saturday afternoon, on the eighth day of the hunt, Rinda was in a blind with Angela when three deer came through a thicket, crested a hill and walked down into the valley where the hunters waited. Angela was trying to get her rifle lined up on the lead deer, but it kept moving, never stopping to browse.

"Mom, make it stop," Angela pleaded.

Rinda blew a grunt call, mimicking the sound of a buck, and the doe stopped. Angela fired, the deer bucked, ran 30 yards and fell dead. Angela screamed with excitement. Rinda was getting ready to shoot one of the other deer. Deer can't always sense where a loud, echoing rifle shot came from, but the scream was a giveaway.

"I could have got a shot, but they didn't stick around," Rinda said. "I didn't care. Angela was happy. She was kissing her gun. The hunt was all about them. They knew it."

On that final Sunday, Rinda and Gavin sat out all morning in the rain, came in for lunch and said goodbye to Mike and the others, who were heading back to Neenah.

After he had left, Mike called Rinda on his cell phone. "Mike said to get out there early," Rinda said. "He said it was foggy and dark and the deer would start moving."

It was 2:15 p.m. when four deer came into view. Gavin took aim, but in his excitement, let out his breath and steamed the glass on his scope. Rinda cleaned it with a handkerchief. He aimed again, tucking the gun in tight to his shoulder, waiting till he had it and fired. The deer dropped where it stood.

"He ended up with a perfect shot," Rinda said. "He just screamed 'Yahoo,' he was so excited."

All three deer taken by the triplets were big does, weighing 160 to 170 pounds. As it happens, Rinda also shot a large doe and Mike shot a seven-point buck. They are donating venison to a food pantry.

Mostly, Rinda remembers the dance Carlton did when he got his first deer and Gavin's "Yahoo" and Angela's excitement and the hugs she got from each of them.

She and Mike probably are out hunting today. The muzzleloader season continues through Wednesday.

"I got Rinda a muzzleloader for her birthday," Mike said.

No question about it. The guy's a romantic.
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