DETROIT -- Between them, Ted and Nick Voutsaras have 150 years of deer hunting experience.
Ted, who will be 88 in a week, and brother Nick, 83, started hunting in the 1930s, when the deer population was exploding in the northern Lower Peninsula while the southern Lower Peninsula was virtually deer-free.
"We were hunting Up North then, around Gaylord and West Branch and Houghton Lake," Nick said. "That's where you had to go to find deer. Not like today, when they're all over southern Michigan. And when my brother and I came out of the Army in 1945, we were among the first people to get archery permits, and that fall I went up with a recurved bow.
"I had a 60-pound-pull metal recurved bow, and I saw a buck standing broadside to me, so I drew the bow and shot. The arrow hit a twig about the size of a cigarette, flew up and hit the deer sideways with the point sticking up in the air. I walked out of the woods and never hunted with a bow again."
But he didn't stop hunting, despite an accident that cost him his right leg 20 years ago, when another hunter shot him by accident with a .50-caliber black-powder rifle as they walked out of the woods.
"I'm still here, and I'm still hunting," Nick said. "But I only hunt deer. I don't hunt rabbits and pheasants anymore because I won't walk and carry a gun."
This year, the family had their best day ever on a farm they lease near Bellevue in Eaton County, with four family members from three generations scoring five bucks. Ted got two, with one each for Nick, Spiros (Nick's son) and Niko, 13, Spiros' son and Nick's grandson.
"I really look forward to coming up to Michigan to hunt every year," said Ted, who actually goes by Varas and not Voutsaras.
Ted Varas, who changed his last name when he went into the Army in World War II because he says a lot of Americans found Voutsaras too hard to pronounce, was a manager at Detroit's Roostertail restaurant in the 1960s and early '70s when it brought in acts like Tony Bennett and Wayne Newton to compete with the Elmwood Casino in Windsor. He later managed the Raleigh House banquet facility in Southfield and Hillcrest Country Club in Mt. Clemens.
Varas said "as soon as I get back to Florida after a hunting trip I'm already thinking about going hunting again next year."
Spiros Voutsaras, who lives near his dad in East Lansing, said, "We've never taken five bucks before. Four other guys who bow hunt near us said they hunted for five days straight and didn't see one horn. But we stay in our blinds all day; we glass the fields, and my dad and my uncle are incredible shots."
That was illustrated when Varas sighted-in the slug shotgun he had borrowed for the season. The first shot at 100 yards was about 6 inches high, so he made a slight adjustment and put the second one through the center of the bull's-eye.
"He can do that at 89," Spiros said. "Most guys I know couldn't do that at 29. But these two take their hunting very seriously."
For several years, the family has carried walkie-talkies, and it was that device the earned Varas the nickname of "A-OK." Spiros said that started years ago when he heard a gun go off and radioed his uncle to ask if he was all right.
The reply was the phrase coined by American astronauts, "A-OK," and Ted has used it since to announce a successful shot.
Spiros said when he started hunting with his dad and uncle, they usually were joined by Milos Cihelka from West Bloomfield, who became one of America's most renowned chefs and at that time was working with Varas at the Roostertail.
"When I was 15, 16, my dad and Uncle Ted and Milos used to take me Up North with them," Spiros said. "We hunted rabbits and pheasants around Detroit, but there weren't any deer to speak of down here."
Last year, Niko joined the group and at age 12 shot his first deer, a doe. This year he was sitting with his Uncle Ted in the waning minutes of the day when the youngster said, "I see a buck."
Varas said, "I couldn't see anything, so I handed him the shotgun. He fired and said, 'I got it.' But I still didn't see a deer."
By the time Spiros arrived at the blind it was nearly dark, and while Niko found a few tiny specks of blood, the consensus among the older hunters in camp that night was that the deer was long gone. But the kid was positive the deer was dead.
"The next morning I went back out with him and had him sit in the blind while I walked out to where he said he shot the deer," Spiros said. "I couldn't believe it. It was 110, 120 yards, but he was positive. I told him to line me up in the right spot, and when he said, 'That's it,' I looked over my left shoulder and there was the deer."
He didn't tell Niko, but let the kid wander through the high grass until he found it himself. "He was one happy young hunter," Spiros said.
For all of the men, deer season was A-OK.