Early last August I blogged about a secret I needed to keep that would eventually turn out to be quite an exciting event in my life and the life of my family. Indeed, the secret turned out to be that our farm was chosen to host the 2006 Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener. A big reason we were selected was that my family was celebrating 150 years of continuous farm ownership which, quite honestly, is a milestone that few farm families ever get to experience. Moreover, the history of this farm details how my ancestors used to trade with the Indians for venison and it was that subsistence that helped them survive during those first few rough winters of life in the new land. I guess I was not alone in feeling that the Governor had chosen a hunting location steeped in Minnesota deer hunting heritage by picking the Braaten Family Farm.
From the get-go we were warned that to pull this off would require the utmost secrecy. The fact is the planners did not want anyone, including the media, to know the specific location as to where Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty would be hunting during those first few hours of the traditional firearms deer opener on November 4, 2006. Let me tell you that was tough. Early on I discussed with all the members of my hunting crew what would be going on but told them they were sworn to absolute secrecy, too. You see…there were other hunter hosts lined up to serve as alternative sites if something went awry and news got out the Gov was hunting here at the farm. It didn’t…we did a good job…but I learned that keeping secrets (especially exciting secrets like this one) was very tough to do.
The neat thing about Governor Pawlenty is that he started this tradition of celebrating the MN Deer Hunting Opener back in 2003 right after he won his first term as Governor. For years the Minnesota Governor has been celebrating the traditional fishing opener (for walleye) in the spring…but not until the Pawlenty administration did any Governor tout the economic impact that hunting has on tourism for our state. Previously the Governor had hunted in Grand Rapids, Brainerd and the Perham areas…but this year it was southeastern Minnesota (promoted mostly as Rochester).
I guess that was my one big beef I had about the whole event. The DNR, as well as the Minnesota Tourism Department, found it necessary to promote the fact the Governor hunted near Rochester. Truth is the Governor, in fact, hunted near Kenyon…a good 45 mile drive from Rochester. I believe the event planners wanted to create the perception in people’s minds that the Governor was hunting in southeastern Minnesota…and a city with 100,000 people better accomplishes that goal than a community with 1,500 residents. Oh, well…I accepted the fact this was a media event and that such details are often not as important as achieving the overall goal.
Still, the event was incredibly exciting to plan for and to host. For security reasons I cannot get into many of the details for how we secured the farm, but suffice it to say this farm has never seen so many Conservation Officers and State Troopers as it did on that particular morning. Security was so controlled that the Governor’s Office did not even advise the local sheriff’s office of the event for fear someone within the department could possibly “spill the beans,” so to speak, about what was happening. Each of the hunters in our group went through thorough background checks and were issued special credentials so hunters could be identified even at a distance. Security had detailed maps of the farm and knew precisely where every hunter was located for the morning hunt. Trespassing hunters would have been quickly intercepted and cited for being in an area where they did not belong. Needless to say, when the Governor goes deer hunting it is not business as usual out in the woods.
I had to chuckle because ultimately the goal was to get the Governor a deer, obviously. But 24 hours before the event I knew the chances of this happening were going to be quite slim. For weeks in advance I had placed deer cameras in the woods and carefully tracked the deer movement by where the Governor’s stand would eventually be located. Of course, this was an exercise in futility. The day before the big hunt I was still taking security personnel back to the stand so they could do all their final checks. Every possible scenario for how something could go wrong was considered…plus all sorts of safety considerations and evaluations. It was all very necessary, but disturbing the hunting area showing security throughout the day is not how I normally like to carry on my activities the day before the big hunt.
I even had to persuade the Governor’s personal security representative to show up with the Governor for the hunt about an hour before they wanted to arrive. I told them it was imperative we all get into the woods much earlier than they were anticipating. I soon learned that the Governor has an awesome staff of individuals working for him, but that they weren’t real savvy when it comes to deer hunting knowledge.
Case in point…I thought I would drive the crew out early that morning so the Governor did not have to walk far into the woods (since we were starting to run a bit late). BIG MISTAKE! As we pulled up to the drop-off site I told everyone in my vehicle to slowly open the doors and not to slam them shut. This worked just fine…but I forgot that immediately behind me would be another State Patrol security vehicle where the security staff would not hear my warning. Guess what…almost before I could anticipate it happening three car doors went slamming shut. Ouch!
I then escorted the Governor and his brother into the woods and secured them into their deer stand. Again, we probably had more people follow me into the woods than would have been necessary…but I had little control over it. I also had no control over the fact that a pool photographer was out in the woods snapping photos with a strobe flash in the darkness of the woods. Again, I understood the photo opportunity and the fact this was a media event…but none of these happenings were conducive to scoring on a deer. Particularly if the plan was that the Governor would only hunt for about four hours and then call it quits to go back to the campaign trail.
As you guessed it…others in my party witnessed two big does go scurrying across a field from our location about the same time as our ungraceful entry into the woods. That didn’t surprise me…in fact, learning of this at first mildly upset me. Then I stopped to consider that everything that happens as part of the deer hunt does not always go as planned. That is to be expected. Sure, it would have been nice for the Governor to shoot a nice deer, let alone even see a deer that morning…but such are the breaks of deer hunting.
In the end, the fact that Minnesota has a Governor who is such a strong proponent of hunting is truly awesome. I only got to meet Governor Pawlenty for a few short visits here at the farm (and on the telephone), but I can honestly say that he made a real positive impression on everyone who met him. He especially liked spending time with kids…and I can tell you it is with an emphasis on recruiting youth to hunting that the Governor feels is where we must all focus our energy if we want to see this hunting heritage survive.
I’ve set up a link on another website that shows an online photo album of sorts, detailing our special day hosting the Governor here at the farm. If you’re interested…I hope you will take a moment to check out more of the pictures and read the complete story. Now that the event is over…there’s no more need to be keeping secrets. Quite honestly, I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it is to have that aspect of the event behind us. Now we can simply relish the fond memories while adding a new chapter to this farm’s interesting outdoor history.
© 2006 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.