STURGIS, Mich. – The opening of deer season is one of the most eagerly anticipated mornings of the entire calendar year for hunters. However, it's not often that pastors see the action inside their place of worship.
As early dawn broke across Michigan on Monday, the first day of deer season in the state, hunters were already perched in their stands to try their luck at bringing home some venison.
But for one stag, he thought to outwit his chasers by seeking sanctuary inside Grace Christian Fellowship in Sturgis.
"When we came to work at the church in the morning at 8 a.m., my wife noticed something peculiar in the sanctuary," Pastor Luke Eicher said. "Normally it’s completely dark unless the lights are on, but it had light in there. So she opened the door to see what was going on. She immediately saw the broken window and yelled, ‘We’ve had a break-in.'"
Hearing the "intruder" still inside, Eicher dropped his bag and came running.
Then they locked eyes
"I immediately flipped on the light and yelled, 'Hey!' Then my eyes adjusted to what was actually happening," Eicher said. "There, at the altar, was a 10-point buck just standing there and looking at me."
After locking eyes, Eicher and the buck both panicked.
"I shouted, 'Oh, my word!' And the deer began running all over the place, jumping into walls and acting frantic," Eicher said. "Then, he headed toward the stage. I immediately pictured him destroying our new drums, keyboards and everything else on the stage as images from ‘Tommy Boy’ flashed through my mind."
After a few minutes of chaos, the buck left "strengthened in the Lord to go face his battles" through the same window he entered, the church said on their Facebook page. There was little damage done to the building, and pastors said they were left somewhat traumatized.
"I was dumbfounded," Associate Pastor Justin Wickey said. "A deer inside the auditorium … you just can't put the two together in your mind."
Since the church's founding in 1985, nothing like this has ever happened.
"No, no. Not even close," Wickey said.
In retrospect, Eicher wished he would have taken a little more time to pray with the big fella and share some encouraging words from scripture.
"I’m thinking he may have really connected with one of the Psalms," Eicher said. "'May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay. Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.'"
Hunters' impact on Michigan's economy
More than 550,000 deer hunters will head into the woods and fields of Michigan this year, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources said.
Hunters are an important part of the state's heritage and economy. A recent study by Michigan United Conservation Clubs estimated that hunting and fishing in Michigan generate $11.2 billion each year, with the state's hunters contributing $8.9 billion – about 80% – of those dollars.