Consider Lifetime Hunting & Fishing Licenses

Back about 15 years ago I was working on a research project that required me to review the hunting and fishing regulations for all 50 states. It was an interesting project, to say the least, as I soon discovered that what is commonly accepted as sport in some states would be frowned upon in others. Yet, during that research I also discovered that a handful of states had an interesting option for purchasing hunting and fishing licenses – that option allowed for a lifetime license.

The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea of purchasing a one-time license. At the time I then contact my local legislator, Steve Sviggum, who is now Minnesota’s Speaker of the House in the House of Representatives. Steve did some checking with DNR officials about the concept, but ultimately it was concluded that the DNR had strong concerns about how those critical monies would be handled for the long-term benefit. In essence, the DNR was worried that if a fund of money (from lifetime licenses sold) was developed to become interest bearing, it would become a temptation for lawmakers to divert for other matters.

The whole concept of my lifetime license proposal was simple. I proposed that the license must be purchased for an individual anytime between the ages of birth and three years. This would allow a period of at least 10 years for this money to grow with interest before the individual would otherwise be required to buy any licenses (12 years is the earliest a license must be purchased for anything). I reasoned that this up-front money would be a great stimulus for the DNR if the money was used properly, however, my proposal failed.

Then low and behold about 8 years later I seen the issue reemerge and finally become law. Today, sportsmen in Minnesota (residents and non-residents alike) may purchase a hunting or a sportsman’s license (allowing both hunting and fishing). Moreover, the cost of that license is prorated based on your age…with individuals in the 16 to 50 year old bracket paying the highest one-time fee.

So why does all of this matter? Well, I was a big proponent of the concept for one very important reason. Certainly the cost of the license is a serious investment…but the investment that mattered most for me was not the financial one. Instead, it was the commitment I was making to that individual for whom I purchased the license. Remember, my original proposal was much more limiting than what is in place today. I concluded that if I suddenly became a new father or uncle of some youngster…and I purchased the license as a gift for the child…I was making a pledge to ensure that kid grew up to enjoy the outdoors.

I firmly believe that the future of our sports depends on us to instill an interest in the youth. With the ever increasing social pressures and free time possibilities for kids today, far too often the outdoors takes a backseat. Nothing makes me cringe more than to see a child who would rather stay indoors to play Xbox or PlayStation when they could be outdoors enjoying the fascinating world of nature. In large part I blame the parents. Our culture used to be that a child couldn’t wait until they were old enough to go hunting with dad or Uncle Charlie. The anticipation mounted as the child got older and closer to that first hunt. Similarly, even though many adults take children fishing at an early age, I sometimes wonder if more couldn’t be done to instill a lifetime interest in the child.

I applaud the Minnesota Legislature and DNR for finally recognizing the great value in the lifetime license system and what it can mean to our state. I also think the pricing structure they have established is a great value no matter what your age. Check it out by clicking here. Moreover, when you give a gift of a lifetime license to a child your generosity will be long remembered and appreciated by that individual as they grow older. Indeed, few other gifts you can give will have such a lasting impact and will leave fond memories of your outdoor spirit.

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

Fall Musky Fishing

Not too many people think about fishing this time of the year in the upper Midwest…but right now can be one of the best times to do a little musky hunting. That’s right…I call it hunting because in the fishing world there are few species you can actually target on an individual fish basis. Yet, musky fishermen do that…they learn the unique habits of their prey almost like a bow hunter who sits in ambush for that certain trophy deer.

Indeed, musky fishermen are a unique group of folks who enjoy the outdoors in a special way. They can cast all day until sore arms set in…only to be perfectly content by witnessing a fish follow their lure as it’s retrieved back to the boat. How many other types of fishermen do you know who keep track of follows and will then brag about it to their friends? I’m guessing musky anglers are one of the few…but even these close encounters will serve to fuel the passion of a true essox head.

I admit that when it comes to musky angling I’m lucky to get out but a few times a year. Still, it’s a sport that truly fascinates me. Obviously the thought of landing a trophy fish is exciting in and of itself; however, I can easily get intrigued about every facet of the sport. To be successful you need to be meticulous about your choice of equipment, you need to be in the right spot at the right time…and it doesn’t hurt to have a little luck on your side.

This time of the year one of my favorite lures to cast is called a Suick. Ask any serious musky fisherman to open his tackle box and I’d be surprised if you didn’t find one inside. Moreover, chances are if you find one you’ll find a half-dozen in an assortment of colors and sizes. Personally, I think the Suick is a bread and butter lure for the musky fisherman. It has the weight for extra long casts, depending on how it’s retrieved it can create all sorts of commotion (mimicking a wounded sucker), plus it’s a surface lure that will more likely than not cause an explosive and sudden strike. If I’m spending the time on the water casting for the “fish of 10,000 casts” then I want some drama when it finally occurs.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t relate a story that happened in Northern Minnesota on Grace Lake several years ago. I was fishing with my buddy, Mark Cook, who at the time was a Minnesota DNR Musky Researcher. We no more than landed the boat and were trolling past some vegetation near the landing when I made my first cast. BAMM!! I had a strike of epic proportions but…much to my chagrin; I wasn’t really paying attention yet. I made a critical error. Who would have thought that on the very first cast I would see hot musky action? Hell, I figured I had at least a few hundred, if not thousand, casts in me before things would get serious. Unfortunately, my lack of concentration on my very first cast proved to be the only opportunity of the weekend…and it was wasted.

In another incident with Mark, we were fishing on a different lake but this time in the boat with us was Mark’s wife. Mark and I were at the bow and stern of the boat casting feverishly working the shoreline. Mark’s wife was in the middle mostly just passing time with us. Eventually she picked up a bass rod and cast a hot-pink bass spinner bait to pass the time. After a few casts she suddenly had a huge musky follow the pink bait back to our boat. When she seen the size of the enormous fish following her lure…she got scared and quickly pulled her lure out of the water. Here we were seriously casting a complete menu of musky baits with no success…only to be out-done by a fisherman casting a lure that by all estimations should not equate success. You can imagine how fast both Mark and I worked the water after switching to anything pink we could find in our tackle boxes. Once again…opportunity missed and all we had to talk about is what could have been.

Perhaps to me that is one of the reasons that musky fishing is so intriguing. It’s not easy…and you never know what’s going to work. Even the experts who seemingly have musky hunting down to a science are fooled more often than not. Then again, if boating a musky was commonplace it probably wouldn’t be associated with the well earned mystique it carries in the fishing world.

In my mind a perfect fall day would be one spent grouse hunting in the morning…and musky fishing in the afternoon. Only, in my mind the next time I go musky fishing I plan to get the damn fish in the boat and not just take home the fond memories of what should have been.

**NOTE**: Mark Cook has since retired from the MNDNR and now owns a bait shop in Bemidji, MN called Bluewater Bait & Sports.

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

Cheating Death

Confession time…when’s the last time you did something really stupid in the outdoors and afterwards you got that sinking feeling, once the realization sunk in, that you could have been easily killed? Maybe it didn’t happen to you, but perhaps you can relate such incidents by living vicariously through some of your buddies. The truth is that spending time in the outdoors can be risky business…and sometimes, even when we think we are being careful, our actions can have dire consequences.

Today I’m going to chronicle several of the close calls I have had during my illustrious outdoors career. Granted, most of the experiences were committed in my youth…but even with advancing maturity the excitement of the outdoors experience can get the best of us. Consider some of these close calls:

Ice Fishing
Back when I was a teenager first discovering the joys of ice fishing, my buddy Mitch and I decided to take a short cut across the frozen lake to get from one group of houses to another. Much to our sudden horror, we soon discovered slushy water flying up from our wheel tracks…but thankfully our momentum carried us safely to our desired destination. It was only later we learned, after talking to an old-timer, that some dummies just drove across the lake right over where the spring creates thin ice. In fact, in that area of the lake it’s NEVER safe to drive all winter long and certainly all the locals know that. Well, little did that guy know…he was talking to the two idiots who made those tracks and who were now counting their blessings even more than before.

Duck Hunting #1
Picture a canoe loaded with three guys, all the necessary hunting gear and dozens of decoys. Now picture this same canoe traveling out on a Northern Minnesota lake in late October when it’s breaking ice at the bow just to make headway to our blind. Now consider this canoe is so loaded down that if we tipped it to the side more than two inches either way it would begin swamping. Finally, consider that in order to get to our destination it took about 45 minutes of paddling. Do you see any hazards here yet? Had the canoe capsized or any of us got wet…we were talking about a serious hypothermia situation…if not a potential drowning. Would I take such risks today…NO WAY!

Duck Hunting #2
While on the duck hunting theme, this scenario is perhaps the most frightening one I’ve experienced in my life. Again, it was the last weekend of October in Northern Minnesota on a lake that is about 20 miles wide. Temps in the mid 20s (yes, that is below freezing), winds between 15 – 20mph, nighttime, we didn’t know where we were going…and suddenly we ran the boat into a sandbar that killed the engine (and it would not restart). We now found ourselves drifting toward the middle of the lake with the prospects of spending the night in a small boat in bitterly freezing conditions surrounded by cold, deadly water that when it sprayed onto our gear and clothes seemed to immediately freeze. To compound matters…there was not another boat within site on the lake (everyone else had the good sense to stay home). Ultimately, we chipped the frozen ice out of the oarlocks and began to paddle into the wind toward land. Three hours later the boat touched soil and we jumped out to kiss the dry ground. Remember, this was in the days before cell phones so calling for help was not a simple solution…we had to facilitate our own rescue.

Deer Hunting
Generally I do not consider deer hunting to be a dangerous sport…but I did have a close call once with hunters on adjacent land. They were shooting at a running deer with no appreciation for what lies beyond their target (one of the ten commandments of gun safety). The slug shot thru the trees within 10 feet of me over my head. The offending hunters were quickly located and adequately lectured, to say the least.

Antelope Hunting
What can be worse than putting a Midwestern sportsman out in Big Sky Country (Montana)? Well, how about letting that sportsman think he can find his way around without a map. I had been hunting antelope in a pasture that measured 2 miles wide by 4 miles long fully enclosed by a fence. Okay, now it is pretty easy to figure out your bearings in this situation even if it covers 8 square miles. The problem began when I decided to look at ground just beyond the other side of the fence. Soon, I found my trophy antelope…shot it…proceeded to eviscerate it…and then start the grueling process of dragging it out. The only problem was that nice weather gave way to a storm system that was moving in. Worse, I was now lost (and I admitted it to myself)…the way back to that fence I hopped only two hours ago didn’t seem to be where it once was.

Here I am…darkening skies…sleet beginning to fall…and not certain where camp was…other than a 17 mile drive via my ATV. Worse yet…I had parked my ATV about 5 miles away from where I was now located so I could sneak on the antelope. Well, to make a long story short…I eventually got my bearings…found my ATV…was headed back to camp in the darkness when I met the others in my hunting party who were coming to look for me. Their concern quickly turned to anger for a moment…and then to relief. Yes, I was lucky here again because I did not have the proper clothes to survive overnight in the middle of the Montana prairie.

Elk Hunting
What would a close encounters confession be without the hunter possibly being the prey? Yes, I must confess that once while hunting in Colorado I did encounter a mountain lion while muzzleloader hunting. I’m not exactly sure who scared who…but I do know that my pulse quickened and during the rest of the hunt I watched the ground behind where I was walking nearly as much as the ground I was walking towards.

Musky Fishing
Little did I realize that a mid-September musky fishing outing in Minnesota’s Lake of the Woods country could be so exciting. I remember this almost as if it happened yesterday. We were back in this little bay (called Poacher’s Bay) where the waters were nice and calm…I dare say somewhat secluded. A perfect musky haunt. Well, those were no longer the conditions out on the main portion of the lake. We were unaware that the winds picked up and the weather had changed for the worse. Suddenly, we found ourselves faced with 6 foot swells in a 16.5 foot boat…with about 12 miles of lake to cover before we got back to our cabin. At times the ride seemed reminiscent of scenes from the movie “The Perfect Storm.” After a couple hours of being soaked and cold we finally arrived at our destination.

I guess the point I’m trying to make with each of these little stories is that enjoying the outdoors does carry with it some serious risks. As you read each encounter you probably drew conclusions that critical mistakes were made and perhaps I shouldn’t have been in those situations in the first place. Very true…I will give you that. But I consider myself a typical sportsman…one who is driven by the excitement of the experience and sometimes overlooks the obvious, especially when hindsight is always 20/20.

The way I’ve got this figured is that if you’ve been counting I’ve used up at least 7 of my 9 “cat lives,” so from here on out it’s prudent I be extra careful during each of my outdoor exploits. Furthermore, it’s my hope that whatever your outdoor “close calls” may have been in the past that you appreciate the second chances you were given…and modify your behavior accordingly so as not to repeat the very same mistake in the future.

In general, I don’t think any sportsmen should shy away from their activities just because the risk involved may be too great. Still, we all must accept and understand our limitations and avoid any reckless conduct that can unnecessarily hasten our demise. Be safe!!!!

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