This happy hunter has lived a fascinating life
August 9, 2019
by Jeff Olsen
Spencer Johnston, 79, a Warroad native who has since lived just about everywhere but now resides east of Salol, probably learned how to count picking up empty shell casings.
Talk about all in the family.
His mother, Alma, was a very successful bear and deer hunter and his dad, Vernon, was also a crack shot.
Spencer credits his late grandpa, Danny Johnston, for owning 40 acres of hunting land that was his playground as a kid.
"I started deer hunting up there when I was 8-years-old. I don't remember when I shot my first deer. Maybe when I was 10," he said.
He turns 80 on August 16 and he isn't slowing down.
"I shot a doe last year for meat," he said, adding that he didn't have a chance to shoot a buck.
With the last name of Johnston, it had to be asked if he was related to the late legendary game warden, Ed Johnston.
"He was my uncle," he said with a chuckle.
"My dad used to say, 'Ed used to be the biggest outlaw in the country before he became a game warden.'
"My dad asked him one time, 'Why don't we see you out at the deer camp? Thought maybe you'd come out and visit and have coffee.'
"And Ed said, 'Maybe it was better if I didn't show up.'"
Spencer laughed when it was suggested that Ed might have had to arrest some of his own relatives.
"Well, you never know," he chuckled. "Of course, we never broke the law, you know."
"Not very much anyways," he added.
Spencer even hunted up in Ontario, getting two trophy bucks.
"I shot one with a bow and the other with a rifle," he said, adding that his wife, Carol, also a Warroad native, doesn't hunt.
"My dad bought me a 20-gauge shotgun, bolt action, when I was not quite 8 and I still have it," he said.
"My grandfather's land was on the Westling Trail. It's north of Geroys until you hit the river. We're a mile and a half from the Canadian border. I bought the original 40 acres from my grandpa when I was 17-years-old."
He later bought an additional 160 acres adjoining the original 40 acres.
Don't even mention the word "been skunked" to Spencer.
He is the Ted Williams of deer hunters.
How often do you think you've been skunked in the last 50 years?
"Maybe twice," he said. "Two years ago I didn't see a buck I wanted, and the other time there were no deer."
In 70 years, he figures he has been skunked three times or thereabouts.
"I don't know how many deer I've shot. I know one year, there were eleven of us in the bunch at different times, and I shot seven of the eleven deer. That was probably 20 years ago."
The late Ed Johnston and Albert Markovich were legendary game wardens during the same era.
"Ed was quite a guy," said Spencer, and there was merriment in his voice.
"Oh, yeah, we went straight and narrow because we didn't want to put him in a bad position. And we didn't want to be in a bad position if he stopped out to have coffee."
Did you ever meet Al Markovich?
"Oh, many times! He tried to catch Bill Hagen and me. The biggest mistake Markovich made was in '59 when they had to furnish their own cars for the DNR, and he bought a '59 Chevy with a six cylinder. That's the biggest mistake he made because we all had V-8's. We could outrun him."Oh, the memories of a boyhood in rural Warroad.
"I was going to town one night and I had a spotlight on my car so I shined the field as I was going and then I hurried up and got to town. Well, there was a train across the tracks in Warroad. So I had to stop and the next thing I knew there was a tap on the window. It was Markovich and he said, 'Did you just come in from home?' and I said, 'Yep.'
"He said, 'Did you look around?' and I said, 'Yep.' and he said, 'Did you see any deer?' and I said, 'Yep,' and he said, 'I wish you wouldn't do that when I'm trying to catch your buddies out there shooting deer.'
"I said, 'No, no, Mark! I'd never do that,'" he laughed.
"Yes, I knew Mark pretty well. He never pinched me for anything because he never had a cause to."
His sons, Spike and Brian, are good hunters and his daughters, Pat and Penny, don't hunt.
"They all graduated from Thief River," he said.
Spencer drove the bulk truck from TRF to Internationals Falls for 25 years for Bridgeman Dairy.
He is a man for all seasons with an unusual advantage.
"I'm colorblind", he said, mentioning it's a blessing.
"I see red, but it's not the same red as you see. There's really no camouflage in that situation," he said. "One of our buddies was hunting with us for a few years and he said, 'How can you see all them deer all the time?' and I said, "Well, because of the camouflage. The trees stand up and down. You don't look for the stuff standing up and down. You look for something that's crossways in the trees and you'll see the backs of the deer. You see something out of place."
The deer don't have a chance.
"My legs are good, but I can't walk in the swamp anymore," he said.
And yes, he has a good woman in Carol.
"We were married on December 8, 1960," he said.
And then, he was remembering his mother, Alma, well into her sixties when she shot a big black beer with her 30.06 while she was sneak hunting.
It made a great rug!
Tip of the Hat
A special thank you to Pat Draughn, Spencer and Carol's daughter for her assistance on this article. Spencer's birthday bash will be held on Saturday, August 17.