The time is six a.m. on this brisk November morning and my objective is clear; get to stand quietly. Coffee has been consumed, breakfast bar was inhaled, and I join the leagues of men and women donning blaze orange in preparation for a day of tradition. Excitement pulses through me as I dream about a successful hunt. It’s the Minnesota deer hunting rifle opener and the rut is on.
Over the hill and through the woods, to deer hunting stands we go. The frozen ground crunches beneath my boots and pierces the still of the morning as I “stealthily” make my way to the deer stand. I can imagine thousands of hearty northlanders hiking through the woods like a pulse of warmth through the veins of our great state.
Rung by rung, I ascend the rickety metal stand and perch atop my station. The dark is just beginning to subside and my snow dusted sight lines reveal themselves. Last check has the temperature at 20 degrees with little to no wind; a great forecast for opener. I load my rifle, uncover my scope and settle in.
The scene is set; legal shooting hour has arrived and I peer through my scope down a sight line. All is calm and silent as sun begins to crest the wood line. A brilliant show of pink and orange is painted across the sky greeting those who chose to sit this morning. The familiar crunch and rustle of a grey squirrel interrupts the calm of the moment. This particular sound is known to have poked at many-a-hunter as they listen for deer sauntering through the woods. A low rolling thud floats through the air; growing pains from nearby Big Sandy Lake as the ice expands.
The powerful bark of a distant rifle booms like a starting shot of a hundred meter dash. This boom is joined with more shots. As the first hour passes I count eleven shots various distances away from me. I listen enviously hoping that my rifle will get to join the cold steel chorus. More time passes and the buck fever I recently contracted begins to subside.
Another hour passes and the tips of my toes begin to warn me that if something doesn’t change soon, my morning hunt will end. I muscle out another half hour and begin my descent. Retracing my steps through the woods and back over the hill, I return to the excited faces of my children.
“Did you catch a deer daddy?” my five-year-old asks.
“Not this morning honey, hopefully tonight.” I reply. Already plotting my next hunting session.
The coffee pot grumbles and spits out a pot of fresh coffee. As I wait to pour a cup, I reflect on a new experience. This morning’s hunt is different for me. Usually I trek much further north to a classic Minnesota deer camp. I usually join a rosy-cheeked gang of iron rangers, but due to conflicting schedules, opted to stay local and hunt. Normally my morning would start out crawling out of a bunk surrounded by tired-eyed hunters; great friends and family and friends. Then we would share a breakfast, discuss morning hunt plans, and head our separate ways to various locations for the hunt.
I compare my current rifle open experience with my traditional deer camp experience and can see the value in both. I cherish the time spent with my friends and family deer hunting. I also have gained a new appreciation for the quiet solitude of a solo morning. All week long I was somewhat disappointed in not being able to make the trip to our deer camp. I thought that missing out on the experience of deer camp would make for a poor hunt and a lonely opening morning. This feeling was quickly erased as my kids pelted me with questions about my hunt and suggestions for how to “catch a big buck”.
I did not successfully harvest a deer in the opening hours of deer season, but did not leave the stand empty handed. I left with the realization that no matter what your deer hunting situation is, the important thing is making the effort and getting out there. Even by myself, solo in the woods, I did not feel alone. With every thud of a rifle in the distance, I realized that I was participating in a long standing tradition and was in good company with hunters across the state. This will be a wholesome lesson to pass on to my kids when they come of age to hunt themselves.
The message will be simple; whether you have the comforts of a well insulated and heated deer stand, or the barren rusty old ladder stand, it’s important to get out and hunt. Whether you slay a massive buck or end up cold and meatless, the effort was not wasted. The rewards of your hunt may not be as instant as a giant buck harvested on opening morning, but will reveal themselves overtime.
Be safe and good luck to all the hunters out there.