Minnesota DNR…Stop Messing With My Traditions!!

I hate change…and the older I get the more disdain I have for the Minnesota DNR when they go and change one of my hunting or fishing seasons in some manner. Call me a traditionalist, but I like my outdoor experiences to feel much the same from year to year.

Today marks the opening of the Minnesota duck hunting season in our great state and, of course, there is a change. I believe for the first time ever the shooting begins promptly at 9am. for opening morning. What’s with that? A 9am start? The only hunting season that is supposed to begin at 9am is for pheasants…and now opening morning for the waterfowl season has moved from noon to a 9am opener. Was this really necessary?

You see, for years and years the opening day of the Minnesota duck season commenced promptly at noon on the first day of the season only (the duration of the season would open each day at one-half hour before sunrise). The reasoning here was that a later start on the first day would give the local ducks a better chance to get used to all the commotion of hunters, dogs and their boats that were suddenly invading the marshlands. It was purely an effort to give ducks a fair chance to get used to these new disruptions…and hunters, well, shall we say a chance to get all of the kinks out of their rusty hunting techniques…and to do so in daylight. Certainly it was far better for hunters to set up their spread and get ready during daylight hours on opening day than in the darkness of pre-dawn surrounded by potentially deadly water.

But of course, the DNR succumbed to the pressure of a group of hunters who thought they have a better way. Biologically speaking, it probably makes no difference when the first gun fires on the opener. What it comes down to is a tradition broken only for the sake of doing something new.

I’m still frustrated about when the waterfowl season opens on the calendar. It used to be that waterfowl season ALWAYS opened on the first Saturday of October in Minnesota. Then goose populations got out of control and there was early goose seasons…and, I guess, the next logical step was to creep the duck season earlier, too. I understand the DNR works within framework established by the Feds. And I understand that when you are given “extra” days for your season it makes more sense to allocate them early…rather than later in the fall when cold temps might have pushed most ducks south. But there’s just something that seems wrong to me about hunting ducks in September. Hell, the leaves haven’t even turned color yet and the corn fields are still standing mostly sporting their summer green colors. Duck hunting is a fall activity and it ought to look like fall when you are out wearing your brown marshland camo.

Indeed, traditions no longer seem to be a sacred cow with the powers to be at the Minnesota DNR. And don’t even get me started on how they have messed up my traditions when it comes to deer hunting. Sure, the wildlife managers play with their population models and must continually come up with new systems in an effort to reach desired harvest levels. But I will save this rant for another month when the eve of the deer opener is much closer.

I view the activity of hunting to be a pure experience rich in tradition. When I go out on opening morning…I want that same feel that my father and uncles might have experienced 40 years ago. But each time change takes place it somehow deteriorates the experience in my mind. Tradition is what reaches across the generations and makes the outdoors such a wonderful place to connect with the past. Oh sure, I understand that at times there may be good reasons to make changes…whether it be for safety…or even a newly recognized wildlife management purpose.

Still, I contend that every time there’s a change in some hunting or fishing tradition that action should not be taken lightly by us sportsmen. Change should only occur when it has a fundamental purpose paramount to the outdoor tradition it attempts to destroy.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.

Do Your Housekeeping…in the Woods!

If you’re anything like me, you’ll do whatever it takes to avoid doing housekeeping chores. It’s boring…it can waste a good portion of your day…and let’s face it, the work is not easy, either. Still, I think we can all agree on the importance of keeping our house in some semblance of order.

But today I’m not talking about keeping your house clean…I’m talking about doing your “housekeeping” chores out in the woods. There is no better time of the year than to spend some time now out in the deer woods doing some of the putsy things that need to be done. Furthermore, I’m convinced that with anything in life…you get out of it how much you put into it. Investing a few hours around your deer stand now can pay big dividends later this fall.

This year my schedule is just too busy to find time to bow hunt…so I’m focusing all my energies on the November firearms deer hunt. That doesn’t mean I must wait until late October to get serious about the hunt. Now is the best time to accomplish the following:

1. Check over your deer stand. Has any of the wood become rotten since last year? Perhaps a board or two is missing and needs replacing. Now is the best time to disrupt the woods so that the deer have at least four weeks to get used to those changes you’ve made before firearms season begins.

2. Locate your deer lanes. Where are the deer trails? Not only will it help you anticipate where you might see a deer this fall when on stand…but maybe you can make it easier for the deer to travel thus increasing your chances. I always bring a saw and pruning shears with me and make the little cosmetic improvements necessary. I figure if I can move more easily on the trail…so can the deer. Hint: Try not to walk directly on the deer trails, if possible.

3. Bring a broom. You probably think I’m kidding…but I am completely serious. Once you have “improved” your access trail to the deer stand take the finishing touches necessary by sweeping the trail. Get rid of all those little sticks that go “CRACK” at the most inopportune time when you are sneaking into the woods.

4. Mark your access routes. There is nothing more frustrating than walking carefully into the woods and then getting disoriented in the darkness. I use biodegradable flagging material making little trails by tying pieces to twigs every 6 feet or so. Alternatively, you can buy the little reflective pushpins that will reflect light from even a small flashlight.

5. Avoid making one of my biggest pet peeves in the woods. Don’t spit, don’t pee, don’t do anything that is going to unnecessarily serve as evidence that you spent a few hours in the area. Nature has such acute senses that it could literally take weeks for your scent to completely dissipate. Take a lesson from a trapper who owes his success on odor management. Most trappers use rubber gloves and NEVER touch any of their trapping equipment with bare hands. Likewise, they wear rubber boots when they walk their trapline and would never think of wearing tennis shoes or leather boots. Why then does it make any sense to urinate next to your deer stand when you are taking all these special efforts to fool one of the wiliest critters in nature? Well, it doesn’t!!!

I’m not saying that housekeeping in the woods is any more fun than it is in your living abode. But I can assure you one thing…that party I’m throwing the first weekend of November (Minnesota Firearms Deer Opener) has some special guests on the invite list…and I’m not taking any chances that some little detail might go wrong.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.

Take Steps To Ensure You’re Fit For Hunting

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit it. At 41 years old I’m not in the best physical condition of my life. I certainly know better…but taking the time to get into a “fitness routine” has not been something I’ve been able to accomplish successfully during the past 8 years.

I must also confess that during these past eight years I have worked part-time for one of Minnesota’s largest private ambulance services – North Memorial Ambulance. While I’ve let my body slowly deteriorate…I’ve also witnessed countless heart attacks and other serious medical conditions befall individuals who were just not as lucky as me.

Case in point was last fall when I was “off-duty” but my pager alerted me to a “hunter having a heart attack” in the woods about two miles from my home. I did the Good Samaritan thing and responded to help out however I could. After driving my truck back into the woods about ½ mile (in deep snow, I might add), I finally located the hunter lying in the snow on the road. He was in his early 50s, looked quite ashen in appearance and was definitely having a serious acute medical condition. I safely drove him out of the woods…met up with the ambulance…and knew right away this guy needed help…AND SOON!!!

As things turned out…he wasn’t having a heart attack. Instead, he was having a “brain bleed” which required immediate surgery to evacuate the pressure this was causing in his head. At the scene he was in such denial and simply refused to go to the hospital. Eventually, however, I wore him down and explained the seriousness of his symptoms. Had he not listened to me…well, there’s a good chance he might now be dead.

Denial is one of the signs we are trained to look for in medical patients. It is particularly present in men (who are stubborn) and will not accept the reality of a situation. On top of that add the fact that deer hunting season only lasts a few days each year…well, most hunters quickly reason they do NOT have time to get sick during hunting season.

Well, I am announcing publicly that I am making some changes to my once-upon-a-time mostly sedentary routine. What am I doing? I purchased one of the neatest little devices that is slowly adding some “wellness” back into my life. I purchased an Omron Digital Pedometer that is truly an awesome little device. My goal is to add 10,000 steps daily to my routine. This device even measures aerobic steps (that would be walking at a pace of 100+ steps/min.), distance, calories burned, etc. Check it out here.

To complement this new toy I have also signed up at www.JustMove.org. This is a wonderful web-based fitness journal that can help you track your progress and set important weekly fitness goals.

This fall, when I’m out pheasant hunting or tracking a deer, I don’t expect to get winded quite as easily as I may have in the past. I’m accepting the reality that I have plenty of work to do to get this decrepit old body back into its mid-20s physical condition…but to better enjoy the outdoors somehow seems to be an incentive making it all worthwhile.

© 2004 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.