By Gordy Olson as told by Tom Carpenter
It was November of 1965, the second day of Minnesota's gun deer season. My buddy Bob Berg and I were hunting northern Minnesota's Koochiching County, not far from the Canadian border. The country is as big and wild as its name.
About 9 a.m. I was sitting on a log pile at the Y intersection of three logging roads. It gave me some elevation, and I had good visibility to a clearcut on one side. Woods were on the other. All three roads provided shooting lanes. It was a great spot.
I shot a doe and a yearling. There were no cell phones in those days to get help, so I just gutted them and dragged them about three miles out to our vehicle. Not a big deal: I was 27, a construction worker, and in the prime of life. Plus, eight or so inches of snow on the ground helped.
Bob had come out of the woods, too, and we were eating lunch at our vehicle when the border patrol from International Falls came by. They checked us out, and noted another vehicle down the road. You could tell by the license number — it started with a 5 — that it was from the Twin Cities area, where I also lived. It was a maroon El Camino-type of vehicle.
We figured it belonged to a couple other guys that we had seen hunting the area. I had even made some small talk with them when I met them on one of the logging roads the day before. Those logging roads were the only way you could navigate that country.
Bob and I walked back into the woods after lunch, and I took up my post on top of the same log pile. I had been sitting there about an hour when I saw those two guys from the day before approaching. One was on the logging road, one was in the woods. They were working along, trying to jump a deer. The guy on the road was maybe 80 yards away, and I could see flashes of the other guy's orange coat in the woods.
I was in 100 percent orange, and had my gloves off. The guy in the woods walked to right about where I had shot one of the deer. I was sitting with my gun on my lap and I moved my right hand. He raised his gun and shot! The bullet went through my left arm and side, and out the back.
You can't imagine the impact. That bullet cutting through you is like being hit with a red-hot fire stoker that's been pounded through you with a baseball bat from a big league slugger. You're on fire. There's tremendous pain.
The guy heard me holler. At least I tried to holler. "I'm shot. Please don't shoot again!" The impact had toppled me off the log pile. I got up and tried to walk, got about 15 feet, and fell over.
They came up to me. They could see that I was shot, and going into shock. They broke off pine boughs to get me up off the snow. They said, "We'll go get help." They never said they were sorry. But I trusted they would bring help back. There was nothing I could do.
My friend Bob met the two guys on a logging road when they were on their way out. They said, "We think somebody was shot back there." Bob had heard my yells and was headed toward my spot. He found me. The first thing he did was stop the bleeding in my arm. He packed the wound on my side with a rolled up handkerchief.
I said the guys who shot me were going to send help, so Bob stayed with me. But by 5 p.m., when it was dark, it was clear nobody was coming. That was a long three hours. We realized the two hunters Bob had seen were the ones that shot me, and they had no intentions of sending help. They had had left me for dead.
Bob had no choice but to leave me for the three-mile hike out to the vehicle to get help. It was dark. In November in Minnesota at 5 p.m., it's night. I was all alone in the cold. Shot and bleeding and weak. In wolf country.
And the wolves came. They could smell the blood. The deer gut piles probably attracted them initially. They howled, and got close. My gun was back at the log pile, but I couldn't move to get to it.
The wolves stayed for a long time, but it was like there was a wall keeping them back. It may have been the human smell mixed in with everything else. They wouldn't leave, but they wouldn't approach. They howled, and could hear them pacing and panting. Finally they dispersed, and I was getting very fuzzy.
I have to say something right here, and it's God's truth. My mother was a prayer warrior. She was home playing the piano that afternoon. She felt it, knew it, experienced it, when I was shot. "Something's happened to Gordy," she said, and she got down on her knees and prayed at that piano bench. I know that is what kept me safe — from the wolves, and from dying.
By now it was about 7 p.m., pitch-black on a Minnesota night, five hours after being shot. But then the border patrol came, and Bob was with them. They had a toboggan and a jeep with a halftrack on front. They loaded me on the toboggan and we started out. But the half track got buried in the swamp halfway out, so they had to pull me the rest of the way by hand. That, of course, took more time.
When we got to the "main" road where vehicles could travel, they loaded me up right on the toboggan into a station wagon. Then the ambulance from Littlefork showed up. They turned on the lights, and we followed them 12 miles to Littlefork.
Now it's 8 p.m. There was no hospital in Littlefork, only a clinic. They had plasma, but not my type of blood. The doctor said, "There's not much we can do for him here. Let's put him in the ambulance and go to Virginia." That's Virginia, MN, and it's about 90 miles from Littlefork. Like I said — that was, and still is, big backwoods country.
By now I was unconscious, so some of the next few hours' details are from what people told me. I'm guessing the doctor in Littlefork gave me a shot to reduce the pain.
It was between 11 p.m. and midnight when we got to Virginia. Then they went into surgery and took care of me. Fortunately my doctor had done triage in Korea or World War II, and knew how to work a gunshot wound.
My parents came up the next day, and the doctor said, "We don't have a clue why this guy is alive. There is no reason he should be living."
I lost that much blood. The bullet glanced through my kidney but wasn't a direct hit, or I would have been gone right there in the woods. I still almost bled out. One rib was shot out in the front, one in the back. Part of the bullet is still in me. There's still a hole in my side, and deep scars on my arm.
"No reason I should be living," the doctor had said. But I have a couple reasons. I was 27, strong as a bull — a carpenter, a hard worker for endless hours, well muscled and in the best shape of my life. There was also a will to live there, and I wanted to live — badly.
More than all that though, it was my mother praying for me all those hours until — and after — the phone rang in the middle of the night and she got word that her son was shot and was now in critical condition in a hospital in Virginia.
She was what kept me alive, kept those wolves away. I believe in prayer.
I was in the hospital for 11 days. I couldn't work for 11 months. The first two months of that, I spent at my parents house in Becker, MN. You can't sew gunshot wounds shut — they have to heal from the inside. I had stuff oozing out of my side for six weeks. It was not pretty.
My arm was worse, though.
All the feeling in my left hand was gone. The bullet had ripped through all the nerves near the elbow. It was like my arm and hand were permanently asleep. But I wasn't going to let that happen, wasn't going to let my arm go. I spent hundreds of hours at the kitchen table — working, kneading, squeezing and rolling one of those sand-filled balls in my hand. I was determined to get the feeling back.
I became a carpenter again. Built cabinets and furniture, too. Worked hard. Today I craft turkey calls.
Nobody ever found the guys that shot me. Maybe if the police had the computers and other technology we have today, they could have tracked them down. And the guys never came forward. They came to me at first, but must have had a bad change of heart as they left the woods. They left me for dead.
I did have one spooky thing happen. One spring evening, when I was back at home, I was doing dishes in the kitchen and looked out in the driveway when a car pulled in. It was a maroon El Camino-type of vehicle. I went to go outside.
I saw the driver. It was the guy who had been on the road (not the guy who was in the woods and shot me). Remember, I had a face-to-face conversation with these guys the day before I was shot. I started to approach, but he pulled out and sped away as I chased the vehicle a little ways.
He was checking on me for his, or their, conscience. My story was in the newspapers when it happened, and my address was listed, so I am sure that's how they found out where I lived. They wanted to see if I had made it.
I often wonder if it gave them any comfort, got rid of any of their guilt, to know I was okay. I wonder what happened on their trip out of the woods after shooting me, to talk themselves into leaving a man for dead after telling him they were going for help.
I'm not bitter about it all. Yes, I was angry at first. Who wouldn't be? But I had more important things to do. I had been following a certain path in life, and this put me on a different one. God was telling me something. It's not your time. It might well have been. Certainly could have been.
I started work again. Worked hard, but less. Of course, I hunted, too — in fact, I hunted at the very same spot the very next year, though I didn't shoot a deer. I married my beautiful wife Joan in 1980, and we raised six wonderful children, plus have nine grandchildren now. I still hunt, of course. I love turkey hunting, and deer hunting with muzzleloaders.
Everything could have ended there in the wilds of Koochiching County in November of 1965. Feeling a bullet rip through me. Lying in the snow, bleeding. Listening to the wolves howl, stalk and pace nearby. Riding half-conscious on a toboggan for a three-mile slog through the woods. Traveling in a station wagon and then a real ambulance on secluded highways. Living through surgery in a country hospital. Rehabilitating my body, my hand, my life.
My mother didn't let it end. God didn't let it end. I didn't let it end. Every day's a bonus. In fact, I've had 47 years' worth of bonus days. They're all good ones.