My 14-year-old son and I recently traveled to Clearwater, Minnesota to hunt deer on a friend’s farm. Across the upper Midwest, hunting is a rite of passage along with the annual fishing opener. In Wisconsin, employees often request two weeks off at the time of hire. Hunting family traditions run deep - from work weekends at the hunting camp doing chores such as splitting wood that will fit just right in the cast iron stove, to scouting the land for the perfect place to set up the stands. Deer hunting is a time for family and friends to be together in nature, to bond and share stories.
This was our second hunt together, as basketball tournaments often pose a conflict. After being spooked opening morning by a monster buck who ran up behind us our first year, this time we were overwhelmed by the number of deer. In a slug zone, we are required to use slugs that are fired from what is traditionally called a shotgun, versus a rifle. The slugs come with limitations on the distance one can accurately shoot. The two guns we used are roughly accurate to 70 and 150+ yards. Sighting in a gun and knowing its limitations is crucial when choosing to properly harvest a deer. Without a range finder, thinking of distance in terms of a football field can help. In the zone, we hunted we could take a doe or buck. My guess is it is overpopulated and the DNR is trying to thin it out the herd. We chose our stand after looking at weather conditions and wind direction.
We were up at 5:05 a.m. As we walked into the darkness my heart was beating as the sounds in the field and woods came alive. As we settled in, the sunrise turned into “Sweet Tart” red and pink. Every bunch of grass or sticks in the distance looked like a deer silhouette. My heart raced as Kellen and I traded off different sightlines. A few deer appeared in the distance, but they didn’t have antlers. Then a four-point buck showed up trotting along the horizon. As he circled us at more than 250 yards out, he ended up coming in right next to the stand. Kellen took aim at this moving target, clicked off the safety, and the buck stopped for a split second only to jump a pile of sticks and trot off. It takes a split-second reaction. It was awesome to see the buck and to be out hunting with my son and my friend. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t get a deer - it was an experience. In my lifetime, I have good memories of hunting at my grandparents’ home but can’t remember a time when we were hunting in blaze orange shirts. This could have been the warmest deer opener on record. I know we will be thinking this year about how the freezer could have used a few packages of breakfast sausage and sticks.
With the two-week season, I wish everyone a memorable and safe hunt. May the safe hunting traditions be passed on for generations. I would love to see hunter safety training back in the classrooms - though I suppose at this point it would just be great to see kids in the classrooms again. Non-hunters out walking in the woods or an area that allows hunting need to be on the lookout this time of year. Always remember to wear at a minimum a blaze orange hat and keep any pets on a leash. It’s wise to have your pet outfitted with a blaze orange collar or vest, too. Did you know that it is illegal for dogs to chase deer? Hunter safety is required for hunters; the non-hunting public also needs to know where the risks are. People often wander into unsafe situations, frustrating a hunter while putting themselves at risk. With sherpa all the fashion rage this season, can you imagine what a person tying their boot or shoe on a trail might be mistaken for? During the hunting season, let’s make hunter safety education a priority.
Carter Johnson is publisher of Press Publications.