This Deer Hunting Camp Won’t Be The Same

Tomorrow we hunt deer. Yep, it’s the Minnesota Firearms Deer Hunting Opener.

I’d like to say it’ll be like any other opener, but truth is that’s simply not the case this year. Since my last post on this blog we now live in a very different world. A Covid world that has changed so many things about how we enjoy our lives. Up until this year I thought our annual deer hunting ritual was spared from most of this ridiculousness. Well…not so!

Last year our hunting party, of about nine people, had one family in quarantine. No big deal. We just kept our distance and all was good. We enjoyed the hunt and could still banter and carry on like we’ve done for decades before.

Last fall was a mixed up world. Schools were shut down until after Thanksgiving here in Minnesota and folks were working and going to school from home. It was our new reality. With the holidays approaching we were being asked to forego gathering…”to slow down the spread.” Many of us did that. Many of us had virtual gatherings for the holidays. It was different. It was sad in many ways. But we made the sacrifice.

This year things are different for the hunt. Actually, quite sad in many different ways.

Our hunting party is greatly impacted by Covid this year. You see, back 17 days ago my nephew, Neil, became hospitalized with Covid and the complications were exacerbated by his asthma. He’s still in the hospital. This year, he won’t be hunting with us. His stand will be empty. Fact is, one of our deer hunting partners is fighting valiantly for his life.

Neil during Fall 2008

As I write this he’s on day 11 of experiencing life sustained via a respirator. He’s struggling. The doctors have stated they know he has permanent lung damage. It’s not good. Now the doctors are talking they may need to do a tracheotomy. It goes without saying my nephew, my life-long hunting buddy, is at a pivotal moment in his life. We all pray that he makes it and continues to heal. We have faith.

But it means an empty deer stand tomorrow morning on the Braaten Farm. It also means there will be an emptiness in our hearts with him not being part of our hunting experience this year. We hope and pray for the best, but we don’t know what the future holds. Covid is a dastardly virus that I wish would just go away. We’ve had enough!

As I walk to the woods tomorrow morning, Neil will be in my heart and constantly on my mind. For that matter, all of the hunters with whom I have once hunted will occupy some space in my thoughts. It happens that way every year. The older I get the more I think about hunting partners who are no longer able to be physically with me.

For those hunters who have passed on, I still feel their spirits hunting beside me. Spirits who once mentored me I still feel them providing that encouragement. Spirits who once teased me still provide jovial moments that lighten the mood of camp. And, of course, the spirits of other hunters who have passed on provide so many good memories I will cherish for all my living days.

As for Neil, you’re still hunting with us, buddy! You may not be here physically this deer season…thanks to Covid…but we’ll will carry on being mindful of the life-or-death struggle you’re enduring this year.

Rest assured, Neil, come next fall your deer stand will still be here waiting for your triumphant return to the Braaten Farm. We have the faith. We all share your deep passion for the deer hunt. And we all can’t wait to see your smiling face back where it belongs on opening morning. May God bless you to ensure that happens.