‘Born again’ hunter shares perspective at men’s breakfast

Tom Rakow does not come across as your typical deer hunter.
He looks the part, all right—medium height, fairly stocky build, with a thick black beard.
And if you look in his eyes, you’ll see a light shining—not unlike the kind you see in a deer hunter’s eyes when that big buck begins to move into range of his tree stand.
But Rakow has that look all the time, not just when he’s hunting deer.
On Saturday, he was the special guest at the monthly men’s breakfast—a meeting of mostly Christian men from Rainy River District who gather on the third Saturday of the month for a meal and fellowship at the Emo Legion.
On this occasion, the meal was a brunch consisting of various types of wild game harvested in the district.
Originally from Wisconsin, Rakow currently is the founder and president of the Christian Deer Hunters Association, based in Silver Lake, Mn. He also is the pastor of the Grace Bible Church there.
For Rakow, hunting and fishing are a way of life, but not they are not the driving force in his life they once were. Since being “born again” many years ago, he has made it his life’s mission to bring the Gospel to hunters and anglers through his seminars and his church.
And he does it with a combination of wit, humour, and self-deprecation.
“I’m about the most unlikely guy you would choose for this [mission],” he said to the 44 men assembled at the Emo Legion. “I guess it just shows God has a sense of humour.
“God delights in using flawed, imperfect people for His purposes,” he added.
Rakow then went into a detailed description of just how flawed and imperfect he is. And by anybody’s standards, he was a bad boy.
Born and raised in Wisconsin, hunting and fishing were in his blood. He said he couldn’t wait until his 12th birthday (the legal hunting age in that state) to bag his first deer, so he didn’t.
He took that first one at the age of 11 through the window of a car on a state highway—a definite no-no.
“That was the beginning of some very bad habits,” Rakow admitted.
He shot a number of deer over the next few years the same way and soon took to drinking and smoking. When he was 17, his brother was killed in a car crash and his downhill spiral became ever steeper.
By now, he already was an alcoholic. Then he was busted for drunk driving. Within another year, he was growing marijuana plants all over his apartment and doing harder drugs, as well. He also smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day.
He got into a lot of fights and generally was an unpleasant soul.
But through all this, hunting and fishing still were his main passions. In fact, they had become his life. “Deer hunting and trout fishing were my gods,” Rakow noted. “They controlled me.”
His transformation from an out-of-control young man to a man of God did not take place overnight. It was a slow process that began late one night as he sat stoned in his apartment watching TV.
He said he was watching the Billy Graham Crusade and it touched him in a peculiar way, so he began to ask questions. Then he acquired a Bible and began to read it in secret.
“I know it seems strange,” Rakow remarked. “I had pot plants and wild posters all over my apartment, but I hid the Bible.”
There was no definitive moment when he figured it out. It was more like a journey, with many stops and detours along the way. Rakow knew he was miserable, but still felt trapped in his lifestyle.
“Unless there’s a change in our lives, we keep going the wrong way. For me, this was an area God had to speak to,” he remarked.
At one point, Rakow said he was praying to die. He was carrying an enormous burden of guilt. But as he delved deeper into the Bible and talked to people, he began to understand—and one night when he was lying on the grass outside looking at the stars, a cloud passed over the moon.
There, he saw an image of a deer, a fish, and a hand, and it all began to make sense.
“The Bible doesn’t say you can’t hunt or fish, they just can’t be the most important thing,” he explained. “If anything is too important in our lives, it messes somebody else up.”
With that bit of insight firmly established, Rakow was able to make the all-important leap of faith that is central to all Christians.
“We don’t have to worry about all the bad things I’d done,” he stressed. “Jesus paid that price. We can’t pay it.”
Rakow likes to use parables to make his points—much the way his Saviour did. He told a story about two hunters who froze to death in Montana when they became lost in the bush.
They were found less than 50 yards from their truck, which contained everything they needed to survive.
“They had everything they needed right there, but they were separated from it,” he explained. “Just as we are separated from God, we need His help to find our way out.
“We are all lost,” he stressed.
Rakow then told a delightful story he entitled, “The Prodigal Pooch.”
He had inherited an old coon hound from a relative because the dog had the habit of chasing deer. He said he wasn’t particularly attached to the mutt, but he took it as a favour to its owner.
The dog was called Black Jack and while out for his exercise one day, he made a run for it.
Rakow spent the next two weeks driving the back roads calling the dog. From time to time, he could hear him baying as he chased something through the Wisconsin woods, but he wouldn’t come back.
“I thought he was goner,” he remarked. “I figured somebody would have shot him or he had starved, so I gave all his dog food away.”
Then, one day, about six weeks after Black Jack disappeared, a neighbour arrived at his door telling him he had found his dog. Fearing the worst, Rakow followed the man and there was Black Jack—right beside the country church where he was then pastoring.
“He was nothing but skin and bones,” Rakow recalled. “His nose and ears were covered in scabs from running through briar bushes.”
Instead of punishing the dog, Rakow went to his fridge and fed him a big stick of bologna and a pack of dinner rolls. “By the way, watch your fingers when you’re feeding a starving dog by hand,” he warned.
The point of the story, he said, was forgiveness.
“Chasing deer had taken control of him, just as alcohol and drugs had taken control of me,” Rakow said. “But Black Jack came back, just as God wants us to come back.
“If you do, forgiveness and redemption are there through his Son, Jesus Christ,” he concluded.
Rakow concluded his address by confronting one of the issues faced by Christian hunters—would Jesus shoot Bambi? “I believe He would, under the right circumstances,” he stressed.
Rakow also had advice for those who confront the animal-rights activists.
“Hunters need to know their Bible,” he warned, noting there are numerous references to animals being slaughtered either for sacrifices or for feasts.
Rakow is married with three daughters. He does most of his deer hunting with a bow now, but his eldest daughter, Abbie, got her first deer this fall with a 20-ga. shotgun slug.