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.

This Is What Deer Hunting Is All About…

Actually, this is what all types of hunting should be about. Get. Kids. Into. The. Outdoors! Seriously, youth need to learn how spending time hunting and being outdoors can be a very natural activity in their development. Unfortunately, far too often in today’s world it doesn’t happen that way for many different reasons (or should I say…in some cases, excuses).

“GIRL POWER” During The Minnesota 2018 Deer Hunting Opener.

Not in our deer camp. Nope. We embrace the notion of exposing kids to the outdoors. And yes, often it’s at the expense of adults being successful bagging a deer…but we don’t care. When you take a kid deer hunting the adult is achieving something much more important.

Indeed, the child is learning how it’s okay to step away from the computer…the iPad…or the smartphone. It’s okay to get off the couch and occasionally experience wet toes or cold fingers for several hours each fall. Moreover, for many kids it’s perfectly fine for them to understand shopping for their food from a hunting blind rather than a grocery store aisle. Kids need wholesome experiences during their maturing years and the deer woods certainly provides that incredible learning opportunity.

This past weekend (and again this coming weekend) we welcomed kids to join us during our organized deer hunt. Six adults were hunting in our woods…and so were 4 kids all under the age of 12 years. Not only that…each of the children shared something else quite special—it was “girl power” time. Yes, it just so happened there were 4 girls the first weekend and possibly there will be 5 tagging along this coming weekend. How cool is that? Seriously, it’s one thing to have the youth out hunting…but it’s even better when you teach young women just how much fun it can be hunting with their dads.

Elsie Taking A Break From The Boredom To Do Some Reading.

Actually, my 10-year old daughter, Elsie, has now been hunting with me since the ripe old age of 4 years old. Last weekend for the opener I think it was safe to say she was even more excited about hunting than her dear Ol’ Pops. I say this because even though we had to rise from bed early for opening morning…she informed me how she had experienced a very sleepless night waking 5 times due to the excitement of what was to soon occur the next morning.

And that’s wonderful. It’s important to harness that excitement from an early age and then find ways to turn it into fond, lasting memories. At this point, Elsie can’t remember spending early Novembers doing anything other than deer hunting. She was too young to remember the days when deer hunting meant staying home with mom waiting for dad to return with stories from the woods. Now, she’s out living the stories and developing the vivid images of what she experiences in her own mind.

Honestly, whether you duck hunt, pheasant hunt, fish, or whatever you do in the outdoors it’s so important to involve your kids. Don’t have a kid…borrow one from a sibling or even a trusting neighbor. It truly is that important to expose all youth to the outdoors at an early age if they’re to develop a life-long appreciation for living a life as a sportsman.

When I look at so many other hunters and fishermen I see their reasons for not taking youth along to be rather selfish. Oh, sure, quiet time in the blind or tree stand is probably not going to happen. You bet…you can count on kids to move or make a noise when it’s least opportune. And, of course, they will cough or sneeze without ever even trying to suppress such bodily actions…but they’re learning.

With Elsie, I’ve discovered that if we’re going to sit in a blind for 5+ hours we need to seek creative ways to fight boredom. I often encourage her to bring a book so she can read. In fact, that book reading was rather challenging last weekend in the rain. Oh, we were in a blind offering some protection…but with windows open there was constantly water spraying as it hit the screen windows. You can bet dad, as well as Elsie, kept a watchful eye on the school library book to make sure nothing was damaged.

Smiles In The Deer Stand Is Always A Good Sign.

But there are other ways to fight boredom. Play guessing games…quietly sing songs by changing the lyrics to use the word “deer” and mention things found in the woods…heck, occasionally we even watch and look for deer or other wildlife movements.

Certainly for me when (or if) the day ever comes to go hunting without my little partner it’ll be a sad day, indeed. We do some of our best bonding while together in the woods sharing various outdoors experiences. Every once in a while I get to teach her something about the outdoors to better help her develop into an outdoors savvy person. Then, every once in a while, she reminds me just how wonderful it still is to view the natural world through young eyes willing to appreciate even the simplest of things nature has to offer.