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WDAY: The News Leader

Published November 30, 2013, 09:35 AM

Age 94, and still keen to get in woods

VIRGINIA, Minn. (AP) — Paul Sersha remembers when he shot his first deer as a kid growing up in the Great Depression. He must have been 16 or 18, the Virginia hunter figures. That would have been about 1935.

By: SAM COOK, Duluth News Tribune, WDAY

VIRGINIA, Minn. (AP) — Paul Sersha remembers when he shot his first deer as a kid growing up in the Great Depression. He must have been 16 or 18, the Virginia hunter figures. That would have been about 1935.

And Sersha, now 94, sure remembers the last deer he shot. It happened about 9:30 a.m. on opening day of Minnesota's firearms deer season this fall, sitting in his ground blind just west of the city.

He shot it just like his dad, Paul Sr., had taught him all those years ago.

"My head was on a swivel, looking one way, then the other, slow," Sersha said. "One came out of the woods. I put my gun up, got the cross hairs on it, and that was it."

The doe didn't go very far. Sersha called his son, Tom, also of Virginia, who found the deer just off the power line where his dad was hunting.

How many deer Paul Sersha has shot between that first one and his doe on opening weekend is hard to say. Sersha will turn 95 on Jan. 3, and he plans to keep hunting as long as he can, the Duluth News Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1g8I5OJ).

"My sight is good," he said. "My hearing is good. My only trouble, the last three or four years, is arthritis."

It's hard for him to walk in the woods, he said, but Tom, also a deer hunter, builds him a blind of brush and downed trees and gets his dad to it by four-wheeler.

Sersha uses the same gun he's been using since 1958, a Remington bolt-action .30-'06. He bought it for $59 — "my cost" — when he owned a hardware store in Virginia.

His dad, Paul Sersha Sr., was always a hunter. Venison was a staple in the Sersha family, as it was for a lot of families on the Iron Range during the Depression.

"Like my dad told me," Sersha said, "if you see something, shoot it. Don't wait. You might not get another chance."

Buck, doe — it didn't matter.

"Horns — I don't go for that," Sersha said. "A doe is the same kind of deer to me. It has four legs. We never talk about antlers."

Sersha sits at his dining room table as he talks about his lifetime in hunting. His wife of 70 years, Julie, 93, is in the next room. Their modest home is decorated with her watercolors and oil paintings, many of Slovenia, the homeland of their ancestors.

Julie has a beef soup simmering on the stove. Its aroma fills the home.

Paul Sersha wears blue jeans and a plaid flannel shirt. He has thick gray hair, square shoulders and a square jaw. When he speaks, the words spill out fast. He gestures with his arms and hands to illustrate his stories.

He thinks he was about 8 years old when he began tagging along with his dad on "partridge" hunts in the woods. Paul Sr. always preached gun safety to his son, well before young Paul could carry his own shotgun. He followed his dad around for a couple of years, he said.

" 'Dad,' I says, 'when can I carry a gun?' " he remembers asking.

"I'll let you know when you can carry a gun," his dad told him.

When Sersha was about 10, his dad decided he was ready.

"He said, 'Here's the gun,' " Sersha recalled. "I said, 'Where are the bullets?' He said, 'I'll let you know when you get a bullet.' "

For a few weeks he carried the empty shotgun, and his dad must have decided his boy would be a safe hunter.

"Dad said, 'Here's a bullet,' " Sersha said. "I said, 'Just one?' "

"That's all you need," his dad told him.

It would be several years before he graduated to deer hunting. He and his dad and a cousin would go "up north" to Elephant Lake and stay in a trapper's shack.

"It wasn't first-class," Sersha recalled.

One year, he shot a huge buck. Maybe 1952, 1953. Hard to say. Ten points, at least, his son Tom said. Tom still has the antlers mounted up at his cabin. The deer weighed 260 pounds.

Sersha didn't get a deer last year. The year before, he shot one. Tom tracked it and finished it off.

"Otherwise, it's been every year he's gotten one," Tom said. "He lives for it. He's still got the passion."

But there's another passion in Sersha's life, one that he shares with Julie.

"Go get your button-box, dad," Tom said.

Paul Sersha came back carrying the button-box — a downsized accordion with buttons instead of piano-like keys. It's the same one his dad used to play. Julie got out her violin. She played violin for the Mesabi Community Orchestra until she was 88.

Julie rosined up her bow, and without so much as a nod to each other, the couple fell immediately into a Slovenian polka. Paul can't read music. Julie is a Suzuki-trained violinist. They've played as strolling musicians at the former Ironworld. They've played in the Twin Cities, in Canada, even the Laiskiainen Festival in Palo.

They broke into another polka. Paul started on the button-box and Julie came in on violin.

"I just follow him," she said with a shrug.

They sang along, harmonizing. The house was filled with their music. Paul's fingers flew across the buttons. His arms squeezed the button-box. One of those arthritic legs was tapping away, keeping the beat, his knee moving up and down like a piston. Julie's bow danced across the violin's strings.

Once, Julie said between songs, they were playing at a nursing home. There was a resident lying in her bed who apparently hadn't spoken in some time. But when Paul and Julie started playing one of their Slovenian numbers, it must have reached the woman.

"She woke up and sang every word," Julie said. "All of the nurses came out. They were all crying."

Now, playing in the dining room, she had to pause to wipe a tear away, too.

"How about 'Last Dance?' " Paul said.

And off they went into a Slovenian love song, the bellows of Paul's button-box squeezing out the melody, the clear, sweet strains of Julie's violin gliding along in accompaniment. As they played, they would steal glances at each other and smile.

Venison in the freezer.

Music in the dining room.

Seventy years of love.

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