2017-01-05 / Outdoors

Elk hunt causes Northport student to reflect on traditions

Joan Ogemaw takes cow elk; enjoys the meat
By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

JOAN OGEMAW of Northport is shown with the rare piebald cow elk she harvested in the Pigeon River State Forest. JOAN OGEMAW of Northport is shown with the rare piebald cow elk she harvested in the Pigeon River State Forest. Few Michiganders draw tags to hunt elk in their own state.

Fewer end their hunt with the satisfaction felt by Joan Ogemaw, a student at Northport School.

“It’s really a big thing for me because it’s part of my culture,” said Ogemaw, who hunted near Atlanta for three days with her father, Bill “Bear” Fowler. “It’s part of my culture. It’s who we are as Tribal members, it’s in our blood, and it’s a thing we have always done.”

Only a limited number of elk tags are provided to hunt Michigan’s herd, which is estimated at 700 animals. A handful of tags are reserved for Native Americans, and Ogemaw, 16, was awarded one of those tags through a drawing.

Fowler and Ogemaw, both members of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, traveled to the home of Michigan’s elk herd in the Pigeon River State Forest several times to scout for elk. They sought to fill Ogemaw’s cow tag twice last week before finally connecting on Friday morning.

The animal and the gun used to harvest her were also special to Ogemaw.

“At first I was confused, because she looked like the snow,” recalled Ogemaw. “She didn’t look like an elk.”

Ogemaw ended up taking that piebald elk with a clean kill shot to the heart. The cow’s coat blended brown and white splotches, the result of a genetic variation. Guides working in the area helped Ogemaw and Fowler find the herd with the piebald, and wished them success.

Her gun of choice was a 1903 military style, .30-06 handed down from Fowler’s grandfather, the late Earl Chevenka of Suttons Bay. Chevenka, a World War II veteran, was somewhat of a local celebrity. He was known as the scruffy-looking owner of the Rung-and- Bung machine shop, and a clever seat-of-the-pants engineer who was once courted by Boeing to join the firm in Seattle, Wash.

“It’s a historical gun, and my dad said he got his first kill with that gun. Hopefully when I have kids and we go hunting, that’s something we can use for their first kill,” Ogemaw said.

Family and tradition are important to Fowler and his wife, Jackie Bressette. who are known for their commercial fishing business run out of Peshawbestown. They sought to carry on Fowler’s mother’s maiden name in giving Joan her last name. Fowler’s name is Irish, while Bressette’s is French.

And Joan’s name seems fitting, as Ogemaw means “boss” or “chief.” Ogemaw stands out in school and is a gifted athlete best known for her skills and leadership on the volleyball court.

When it came time to getting the elk from the woods to the family van, she pitched right.

“It weighted 300 to 350 pounds dressed,” Fowler said. “We used a jet sled to drag it out. We’re going to eat all winter. it’s very fine eating.”

He’s instilled in his three children a respect for the source of food they eat.

“That’s very important to us, to harvest some of our own food. To have connection with our food, instead of just going to the grocery store. I really talked to my daughter a lot about that. People think food comes from a grocer story where you don’t hurt animals,” he said.

Ogemaw also enjoys wild game — especially elk.

“It’s better than venison,” said Ogemaw, who helped in the family fishing operation until she started spending more of her time advancing her volleyball skills. “It’s my favorite thing.”

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