Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Annual Deer Hunt 2009
I just got back from my 24th consecutive deer hunting adventure. Between 6 and 10 of my family gather in northern Minnesota every year to eat, hang out and sit in the woods. My father and uncle have been hunting deer like this for over 50 years. Deer hunting is part of my heritage and my culture. We are responsible, safe and ethical in everything we do while hunting. Our "deer camp" is NOT the drunken red-neck stereotype that is so often made fun of by many.
Although killing deer is the point of deer hunting, I'm not sure if it's the #1 reason that I go. I enjoy being with relatives that I don't often see. We have many long standing jokes and rib each other frequently about the same old things. We tell the same old stories and make new ones every year. We eat very well and all get along great. This camaraderie is very important to me.
It may seem counter-intuitive on the surface but I really love nature. You know this already if you read my blog and visit my Flickr page and YouTube channel. I've seen many interesting and beautiful things while sitting in the woods with my rifle. This year I watched a porcupine eat on a tree for over an hour. A gray jay landed about 3 feet away and looked at me quizzically. I also saw: a bald eagle, many black-capped chickadees, some gray jays and pileated woodpeckers. I saw a beautiful sunset that looked like the entire forest was on fire. I came across some tracks I'd never seen before this hunt. There was even a bit of vandalism that I can neither confirm nor deny. In years past I've seen: weasels, a black bear, trumpeter swans, snow geese, wolf tracks, a freaky 10 minute snow storm and game wardens. One of my favorite memories is of a red squirrel that jumped on me. I was sitting on a log and very still against a tree and it apparently didn't notice me. He ran across the log, hopped on me and scurried up the tree. He stopped in the above me and chattered away until I moved. Then he took off leaping from tree to tree and out of sight.
I also enjoy the relatively peaceful calm out in the woods. I really enjoy hearing the wind. It can rustles through the trees and I can hear it approaching. Very cool. I can also hear the rain and snow coming for some time before it reaches me. Fascinating. The spot where we hunt is in the Chippewa National Forest. It's not very remote as far as wilderness goes and we don't "rough it" like some do. We stay at a very nice lake resort in a top notch cabin. In years past we stayed at other resorts without running water and little heat. This year they added cable TV and WiFi. There really isn't anything to complain about. The gravel roads are getting more paved every year. The traffic is picking up around our spot and more hunters are invading "our" territory but I can still go for hours without hearing a car.
Since we hunt on public lands, our tactics are probably a little different than people who hunt their own private lands. We get up and eat breakfast around 5:00 AM so we can make it into the woods at first light. We never know who may be out there so we wait until it's bright enough to see mostly so we don't tempt someone to take a shot at us (that's never happened, by the way). We often see the same deer hunters every year. There are some of us regulars to the area so we know where we are all are and try to maintain a polite distance between groups. We usually sit alone in our own regular areas first thing in the morning and late in the afternoon. We don't have permanent stands. I carry a small beanbag like seat and look for a tree stump or lump of dirt. Some of us have small portable chairs. Sometimes new people are near "our spots" so we have to find a different spot. Every few hours we come out to the truck for lunch. We trade observations and head back to the woods. Sometimes we organize "drives." A drive is when some of us sit in certain spots while others walk towards us. It's usually done with some sort organization based on the terrain. We hunt in a mix of deciduous and coniferous forest land that contains thick dark cedar swamps and small open grassy meadows so there is ample opportunity to design effective drives. Our sit times and drive times are often dictated by the weather. When its real cold we move more often and eat more.
I saw a couple deer this year. Two were running away so all I saw was the raise white tail or flag as it's known. On the last hour of the hunt, I saw a doe approaching me at a good run. When I turned and raise the rifle, she veered to my left. It might have been a good idea for me to wait until she got closer but I didn't. Being still and very quiet is paramount. A large buck was running behind her. It was the rut so he only had one thing on his mind. I don't know how many points because as we say "if you can count the points, it should be dead." It was a far shot with my rifle's iron sights. The front site covered up almost half the deer. Had we not had any deer for our party, I probably wouldn't have taken the shot. I whistled because sometimes deer will stop but he didn't so I took two shots at about 100-125 yards. Miss. Alas he ran off unscathed. We searched for blood but found none.
To briefly sum up our deer hunting: It's almost forty hours of sitting or walking in the woods for a chance at 1-5 minutes of heart pounding action and an hour or two of gross gory field dressing and strenuous dragging.
This year we didn't get a deer but that's ok. I got to hang out with nature and my family. It was a great time.
If you like, feel free to ask me about how we hunt in the comments. I have some pictures, sans blood and guts, from this year's excursion here.