Deer hunters know a little secret about the sport that non-hunters – or at least those who don’t have family members who partake – could never really understand.
It’s not just about the venison: It’s also about the stories.
At least that’s the case with my family. We love to tell tales about deer seasons gone by and reminisce about the big ones we’ve bagged and the big ones that got away.
I can remember and recall nearly every fine detail of nearly every deer I’ve ever shot over the past 30 years but I sometimes I have trouble remembering what I did last week or what my wife said 10 minutes ago.
Deer hunters live to go over every second of successful hunts – from the direction we were facing when the big boy stepped out of the woods to the moment we pulled the trigger.
Then we recount what we did after the shot, which way the deer ran, what we were thinking (was it a hit or a miss), how we found sign it was hit, the way we tracked it and what we thought when we spotted that beautiful animal on the forest floor.
Oh, and we can’t forget the details like how far the shot was, how the deer reacted to the shot, and how far it ran after the shot.
This type of storytelling takes place before we even start field dressing the animal and then is repeated at least once a year every year following, usually in November while standing in the woods.
We also like to go over the story at least one more time in November – at the Thanksgiving dinner table while enjoying some tasty venison chops.
And for me, it’s also been fun over my two decades at the Mesabi Daily News outdoors guy to share those stories with the readers.
I’ve had some doozies over the years: From the eight-pointer I shot through two small trees to the first buck I ever killed (a hip shot from a seated position that split the antlers of a six-point that happened to walk right up to a younger version of me sleeping on a fallen log), to the first deer my daughter harvested.
It seems there’s never a simple tale with me.
Until this year.
Before the firearms deer season began, I wrote a column pointing out the need to do preseason scouting in preparation for the hunt.
My advice was simple: Be prepared because despite what wildlife officials might tell you before November about how the whitetail population is doing or when and if the rut might be going, nothing is a given when it comes to hunting.
And so I spent any free time I had this fall scouting for what I thought would be the perfect place to plop down a deer stand since many of my old hot spots are gone.
I had some goals in mind when I started my search including that I wanted to be close to my vehicle and somewhere where I could easily follow the trail into the woods since the territory would be a little new to me and could get confusing in the dark. I also didn’t want to have to do much or any clearing for shooting lanes since basically it is illegal where I was setting up camp this year and my time was limited.
I knew the 80-acre parcel I wanted to set up on and spent late September and early October exploring it as best I could. It wasn’t easy, besides being extremely wet this year, the leaves on the trees made it difficult to really get a feel for the area.
It’s best to study the land you want to hunt during the deer season when the deer are moving around, and the trees are bare and plan for the following year. Having snow on the ground helps a lot. During this time of year a hunter can really figure out where deer like to travel based on the clues they leave behind.
You can do the same type of scouting in December, but I’ve found that the further we get into winter the more the deer habits change. My deer cameras have told the same story over the years as travel patterns sometimes change within a week or two of the firearms season ending.
Stands should probably be built in the spring when conditions allow for a northern Minnesota deer hunter to get into the woods and see basically the same scenery, they will see come November.
The only problem is that we usually only get a few weeks to do that type of thing because of snow and rain and cold and the next thing you know it is June, the leaves are dangling, and the mosquitos have arrived.
But back to the story (which is why you have probably read this far).
The location I finally settled on for a stand seemed like a good choice: The top of a gradual slope, with an open sight line of about 50 yards of swamp to my west that featured a nice, well-worn deer trail running north and south alongside of it.
On day one I arrived about 20 minutes before legal shooting hours.
Sunrise on the opener was 7:07 a.m., which made legal shooting time 6:37 a.m. (one half hour before). At 7:43 a.m. I heard a little crashing and banging coming from southwest of me and a few seconds later a beautiful 8-point buck stepped out of the shadows along the aforementioned trail that runs parallel to the swampy brush.
I took aim, fired, and 50 feet later he fell dead.
See ya next year.
Well, not exactly. I spent the rest of the season hunting with family but mostly watching nothing and freezing. Nobody got anything. We barely saw anything. The only other deer I saw was running away from me in the woods on a day I spent just walking around.
It was by far one of the slowest deer seasons I can ever recall, and we heard maybe a dozen shots around us over the whole of 16 days, most of which were in the field. It was odd and surprising considering we were in the heart of Deer Permit 177, one of the best in the state.
But the fact remains, despite optimistic preseason predictions and talk of the opening week lining up with the peak of the annual rut, it wasn’t a very successful year for our crew or many others. The total harvest was down across the state.
I’d like to say my preseason planning was part of the reason I found success, but it might have just been random luck.
Truth is, it was probably divine intervention – but that’s a different, more private story. One I’ll keep to myself and close to my heart.