This story written by Sam Cook  appeared in the 11/10/13 issue of the Duluth News Tribune and features local friends, Randy McCarty and John Latimer. It’s a bit long for a blog post but we offer it here as a beautiful testament to the power of connection and relationship – and how it’s connection and relationship that create the conditions that allow Student Success. One student at a time, across generations. Enjoy!

After Saturday morning’s deer hunt, Randy McCarty (in ground blind) and John Latimer, both of Grand Rapids, discuss what McCarty has seen in the woods near Grand Rapids. (Sam Cook /

GRAND RAPIDS — Snow melting in the Norway pine boughs tapped on the roof of Randy McCarty’s ground blind early Saturday morning. McCarty, of Grand Rapids, periscoped the pine plantation, hoping to spy part of a whitetail. The flick of an ear. The bob of a head. The swing of a leg. This was opening day of Minnesota’s firearms deer season, and McCarty, 60, was excited about the conditions. The season’s first real snow had fallen Friday night, an inch or so in the Grand Rapids area.

“Sure is nice having snow on the ground,” McCarty whispered in his blind before sunrise Saturday. “You can see a lot farther. This is about as good as it gets — quiet.”McCarty was sitting in a stand of pines on 40 acres of land owned by John and Denise Latimer of Grand Rapids.

Sometime after daylight filtered into the woods, Latimer would be moving slowly through the woods with his double-barrel, hoping to flush a grouse. If he happened to move a whitetail toward McCarty, so much the better. “I walk around with my shotgun and some birdshot in it and a slug somewhere in case one comes by, and I have to defend myself,” Latimer joked.

Latimer and McCarty have been friends for more than 40 years, and it was John’s dad, Mike, who first invited McCarty to hunt here 30 or 35 years ago. “I think I was always perceived as just another one of the Latimer kids,” McCarty said Despite reports from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that the deer population was down a bit this year, McCarty and Latimer were optimistic about the season. Over a venison stew dinner prepared by Kathy McCarty on Friday night, they talked about prospects for the season. “I can’t tell you how many deer I’ve seen in the last few days,” said Latimer, who drives 100 miles a day as a rural mail carrier. “These deer are heavy in the rut,” McCarty had said. “I saw a six-pointer Wednesday and an eight-pointer Tuesday.” In that way, the men were like many of the estimated 400,000 hunters who typically take part in a Minnesota firearms deer season. Few days are more eagerly anticipated than the opener.

Seeing movement

Now, McCarty raised his binoculars to scrutinize a movement he caught just to his east. He brought the binoculars down. “Red squirrel,” he said. I was sitting next to McCarty, facing the other direction. Together, we covered 360 degrees of deer country. We had seen a couple sets of deer tracks on the road early Saturday, coming in. Something had been moving during the night. But by 9 a.m., McCarty had seen nothing, and we had heard only eight shots from other hunters. “Nine o’clock. Eight shots. This goes down in history as the quietest opener ever,” McCarty said. McCarty knows this land well. He knows the deer often bed in the nearby swamp, then move along the edge of the pines as they go to feed. Scouting with Latimer on Friday afternoon, they saw the well-worn paths that deer had made through the pines. The men had put up a couple of stands and placed two ground blinds before the season. Now, it was just a matter of waiting and watching. If you had to choose a place to sit in the woods and not see deer on a Minnesota opener, you could hardly find a more beautiful spot than among these pines. Mike Latimer, a forester, had planted them in 1960. Now almost 55 years old, most of them were a foot or more in diameter and reached 60 feet into the gray sky.

Beneath them seedling pines were taking hold along with balsam firs about the size of Christmas trees. Snowmelt fell in drops and lumpy dollops. Snow on the ground began to melt, revealing a cushion of pine needles. A raven cleared its throat. A bluejay called. A crow seemed to complain about the lack of deer entrails to scavenge.

Passing it on

As McCarty had been welcomed into the Latimer hunting camp years ago, he has passed along the outdoor experience. He mentored James Olin of Grand Rapids from age 10 through high school, and Olin remains close to Randy and Kathy McCarty. He had been with them for venison stew on Friday night, but his studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth didn’t allow him time for the hunt on Saturday. But Friday night, he had talked about what McCarty’s mentoring had meant to him. “If I had to describe his influence on me in two words, I’d say, ‘Drastically life-changing,’ ” Olin had said. “I would say without Randy in my life, I’d be down a drastically different path — not in college, likely substance abuse. He’s been the single most positive influence in my teen years.” When the time is right, Olin likely will return to hunt deer again. But his priorities are on school at the moment, and McCarty has no problem with that. Mid-morning check-in At mid-morning, Latimer appeared among the sturdy trunks of the Norway pines. He was carrying his shotgun, moving slowly through the woods toward McCarty’s blind. When he drew close, he knelt outside an opening in the blind. He had seen a couple sets of tracks, he said, but that was it. No deer. Not even a white flag waving in the brush. By midday, we had heard perhaps 15 or 20 shots, far fewer than in typical years and far short of the volleys heard during the best years. Maybe the DNR’s forecasts were right. Perhaps there aren’t many deer around. But this was just the morning of opening day. McCarty will be back to sit and watch again. He was undaunted about not seeing a deer on opening morning. “I look so forward to these three weekends,” he said, scanning the forest. “If I shot a deer this morning, it would almost be disappointing.”