What Matters Are The Memories—Not Deer—Taken From The Woods

Don’t let anyone fool you…deer hunting is much more about creating memories than it is about the act of killing deer.

It’s a time for reflection about your life and there is simply no better place to do that than sitting out in the woods, nose dripping from the frigid cold, back stiff from a rock hard seat, churning stomach from a combination of jerky and candy bars, and who can forget the urge to pee when it’s often most inconvenient to do so.

One of my very first hunting partners, Gary Urness, still hunts with me in spirit each fall even after passing away from ALS almost 10 years ago.

Yet, most hunters who spend time out in the woods overcome all the discomforts and get hooked on deer hunting for life.   Admittedly, for some hard core hunting souls they are driven by the almost insatiable urge to hang bone (antlers) on the wall.   Others are motivated by the deep desire to put venison in the freezer for the many upcoming culinary delights.   Then, I contend, there is a good number of hunters, like me, who simply revel in the fact the good Lord has granted us one more opportunity in the woods to experience some of the best times possible spent in nature.

When you are a young hunter it is necessary to prove your predatory prowess to family and friends.   Bagging a deer makes or breaks the hunt during this stage of hunter development.   The thought of an unfilled deer tag sends a shiver up the young spine.   But for many hunters as they mature they develop a more sophisticated satisfaction from the deer hunting experience.   Oh, sure, don’t get me wrong as a deer hunter the goal of killing a deer is always in your mind.   But the truly mature and content hunter is the one who enters the woods knowing full well no matter what happens on any given day it will be a successful deer hunting experience.

When you get right down to it deer hunting is a peculiar pastime.   A person sits and waits for hours and if the hunter is lucky they might see deer for a few split seconds.   The majority of the time spent stand hunting is concentrating, looking, patiently waiting and wondering when that moment of sheer excitement will finally arrive.

Suddenly you hear a twig snap!   Your heart starts to pound as the natural adrenalin kicks in with a large bolus of energy to your bloodstream.   Ahhh!  Dang!  Disappointment soon overtakes you as you painfully discover it’s only a fox squirrel scampering around on a downed log behind your stand.

Then there are those long idle moments when nothing seems to be happening.   Actually, in the woods if you look closely there is always some sort of action taking place.   Maybe it’s a woodpecker scouring the tree looking for a meal…or maybe a tree finally losing its leaves at a rapid pace.   The deer woods is constantly evolving and changing before our eyes.

My cousin, Howard Braaten, passed away from Leukemia far too many years ago, but I still feel his lasting presence in the deer stand each fall as we continue to share special moments together in nature.

I sometimes chuckle when I hear a deer hunter describe they didn’t see anything.   Of course, what they mean is they didn’t see a deer.   But the truth is a person would have to be asleep not to be in the deer woods soaking up the total experience.

For me, deer hunting is also largely about memories of hunters no longer with us in body, but certainly still present in the spiritual sense.   I’ve said this before how I may be physically sitting in the tree by myself, but I am never feeling truly alone.   At no other time during the year do I feel closer to pals who have moved on to higher hunting grounds than I do during deer hunting season.

Young hunters just can’t understand this until later in life, but its the memories a deer hunter holds so dear that connects a person to this sport for a lifetime.   And when I talk about memories I am not just talking about deer, but also the memories of people you once shared those special moments with in the woods.

Indeed, the rest of the world might measure the true success of a deer hunter by the tangible venison and antlers he has to show for his efforts after the hunt.   What a terrible mistake.   As many deer hunters grow to realize over a lifetime, it’s the many intangible memories a person takes from the deer woods that truly matters after the hunt.

©2013 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Time For Governor Dayton To Go Sit In The Woods

Ever since 2003 the Governor of Minnesota, then Governor Tim Pawlenty, has honored the deer hunting tradition in our state with the Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener celebration.   It mostly just amounts to a bunch of pomp and circumstance for the Explore Minnesota Tourism Department and the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association, but rightly so it spotlights a big industry in Minnesota which includes lots of orange-clad participants who enjoy their time spent in the woods.

IMG_0279In full disclosure, back in 2006, I got to host Governor Pawlenty here at the farm for that annual deer hunt.   Each year it bounces around to different areas of the state and this year the 2013 celebration is in Fergus Falls, Minnesota beginning on Friday and lasting into Saturday.

Okay, further disclosure I am not a big fan of our current Governor Mark Dayton.   Fair to say we don’t share many similar views on politics.   But apparently we also don’t share similar views on deer hunting.   Ever since becoming governor he makes a token appearance and departs the GDHO event stating he is not a deer hunter and doesn’t want to take part in the actual hunt.

Therein lies my frustration with the current Minnesota Governor.   Oh, sure, when he took office he was quick to leave his own impression on the sporting world by starting the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunt.   But he refuses to hunt deer.   Why?   Claims he’s not a deer hunter and doesn’t care to shoot a deer.

Fair enough, but there’s much more to deer hunting than actually pulling the trigger.   How the hell is a politician going to adequately claim they can relate to me as a sportsman when they refuse to experience the sort of outdoors activities that fuel my soul.   In Minnesota each fall there are over 10 deer hunters afield for every pheasant hunter, and that ratio is growing each year as folks give up on the AWOL pheasant population.

When Governor Pawlenty hunted with me he spent time with other hunters in my camp.   He learned what motivates a person to get up at outrageously early times, dress in layers of warm clothes, and then head for the dark woods to sit and wait.

When Governor Pawlenty hunted with our group he got to experience nature come to life as the sun peaked over the horizon to slowly warm the frosty morning air.   He witnessed nature at what I believe is its finest hours of the entire day scurrying to life.   Indeed, the deer hunter is sitting in a balcony theater seat watching the drama known as nature unfold 360 degrees in all directions around them.   How can life get any better than that?

Deer hunting is very different than pheasant hunting.   Oh, sure, both activities enjoy nature in its own unique way…but calling yourself a pheasant hunter in no way provides any understanding as to how life as a deer hunter is enjoyed.   There simply is no substitute for experiencing deer hunting first hand.

It’s almost like the backyard bird watcher who enjoys feeding and watching birds from the kitchen window.   Gives them a better sense of nature when they can observe it with their own eyes.

But remove that wall and pane of glass and suddenly it opens up a new dimension to be sitting out in the woods motionless and have a Black-capped Chickadee land on the barrel of your rifle completely oblivious to your presence.   Or a flock of wild turkeys completely surrounding your tree scratching in the leaves unaware they are being watched ever so closely from a perch above.   Or a pair of red squirrels frolicking in the nearby tree attempting their death-defying acrobatics.

Notice I made no mention of deer.   That’s right.   Deer hunting is so much bigger than just killing a deer and bragging about it to your friends.   Of course, I would expect a non-deer hunter to assume bringing home the venison is the sole motivation for being in the deer woods this time of the year.   Yet, that’s the sort of misguided notion people have about things when they don’t take time to experience an activity first-hand for themselves.

Surely, if deer hunting is important enough for 500,000 Minnesotans to spend countless hours out sitting in the trees this coming weekend, our state’s chief executive officer can share a few hours of his precious time discovering for himself the many wonders of deer hunting.   Governor Dayton, deer hunters deserve that sort of respect and showing of support from you when acting in the capacity of governor of a sportsman-oriented state like Minnesota.

©2013 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.