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.

Online Auctions Exclusively for Sportsmen

There’s no doubt about it…the Internet has really changed the way many of us enjoy our lives. From the ease of using directory portals such as Yahoo or Google, to conducting online banking or stock buying, the Internet has literally changed the way many of us live.

But the Internet has had a tremendous impact on outdoorsmen, too. You can book hunts, check on fishing reports, buy your licenses, in effect you can accomplish almost everything leading up to the hunting or fishing trip itself. You can talk with other sportsmen on message boards, follow the migration of waterfowl, view aerial land photos and maps…just about everything you could hope to do short of pulling the trigger or casting a plug.

Today, however, I’m going to focus on two web sites of particular interest to sportsmen. Both of these sites seem to be patterned after the very successful on-line auction site eBay, but these sites perhaps go a bit beyond what is typically allowed on the world’s number one auction site. Still, before we get on to these sites it should be pointed out that eBay is a tremendous resource for almost everything hunting, fishing and the outdoors…but, it has limitations as you will see.
One of the things you cannot purchase on eBay is firearms. To some extent you can buy firearms components, such as magazines, stocks, parts and accessories, but when it gets into purchasing working firearms those are strictly forbidden on eBay. But not on This web site has become one of the fastest growing online auction sites, of particular interest to sportsmen and gun aficionados.

Part of the reason that works is the involvement of your local Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer. You see, when you bid and eventually win a firearm if you are not an FFL dealer than you must make arrangements with one to receive the firearm and ultimately complete the paperwork for legal firearms transfer. Click here to enter your zip code to find a willing FFL dealer, if you do not already know one. Likewise, if you plan to sell a firearm you must send the firearm to an FFL dealer whom the buyer of the item has designated. The fee the FFL dealer will charge to make the legal transfer is usually quite reasonable ($20 – $30 additional to your purchase price).

Even if you are not currently in the market for a new gun I find interesting because it will give you a good idea just how much that family heirloom is actually worth. And if nobody is selling a gun similar to what you have, there are specialized services to look up the gun’s value and even have it appraised, for a nominal fee.

Furthermore, has much more than just guns. The best way to equate it is like a virtual gun show where you browse the aisles looking at knives, books, war memorabilia, etc. by simply clicking on the mouse. Imagine, you can do all of this from the comforts of your home while sitting in your underwear at the computer.
The second website does not have the proven success as the first, but I give this one an A+ for the concept. is the brainchild of a Michigan sportsman whose dream was to use the internet to connect sportsmen with landowners. Simply stated, the web site’s goal is to give sportsmen the ability to search and make connections with landowners and then bid on those rights in the form of a property license. The land license issued by the landowner can be for a week, a month or even the entire hunting season.

The main problem I see with is the fact it has been operating for over two years and currently (at the time of this writing, anyway) there are no properties being offered up for auction. The web site, however, boasts of over 800 registered users looking for a place to hunt. This tells me that for this concept to succeed the owner of the site, Mr. Mike Bazzle, must place greater effort toward getting landowners involved…and that appears to be what he is doing by advertising in agricultural medias.

I applaud this effort because the day will come when more and more sportsmen will need to find creative ways to open up new tracts of hunting land. On the other hand, many landowners are not opposed to hunting but they would like to be paid for granting these special privileges. This web site could nicely cover both goals. Personally, I see web sites like as a positive step toward making connections between sportsmen and landowners when those opportunities likely would not ordinarily be available.

Finally, as with all online auction sites, I cannot emphasize enough that the buyer needs to beware. If a deal seems too good to be true then its prudent on the buyer to dig a little deeper to discover why. Before you place your bid ask yourself why hasn’t anyone else considered that item to be worthy of your contemplated bid price? Remember, your next deal might just be a steal…but make sure it’s for the buyer and NOT for the seller.

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

Calling Cards…The Ones Deer Leave

Right now is an exciting time in the woodlands. Not only are the trees going through their obvious transformation…but nature in general seems to have stepped up the pace as the doldrums of winter can be sensed by creatures large and small. Indeed, most of the woodland creatures are active for reasons as varied as the creatures themselves.

Yet, this time of the year is particularly interesting in the life of the whitetail deer. It’s a time when a buck’s thoughts turn to sex and the never-ending process of finding mates. For does, on the other hand, it can be a game of playing coy and staying distant until they come into their estrus cycle (meaning they are fertile and receptive to mating). This process of courtship is truly one of the most fascinating dramas that sportsmen get to experience, if only on a limited basis.

It all began several weeks ago when the bucks, or male deer with antlers, began the process of removing velvet from their summer antlers. Throughout much of the summer those antlers were a living, blood circulating bone that could grow as much as a ½ inch per day on top of a buck’s head. Then suddenly back in late August or early September the blood flow to the antlers began to shut down and the antlers hardened. The once soft “velvety” texture eventually dries and begins the process of sloughing. Experts tell us that at this stage for a deer it’s akin to us having a never-ending itch. Except for the deer, their goal is to remove the dried velvet and begin polishing the antlers for the upcoming courting process.

So how do deer accomplish this interesting process? Well, they leave their little calling cards all over in the woods for us hunters. During scouting sessions a keen eye will often spot numerous tree “rubs,” as they are called. Observing these rubs tell hunters several things. First, it is proof-positive that the woods contain a buck…as does will not leave such signs (caveat: there is a small percentage of does that will grow antlers, but typically it is only male deer). Second, rubs will also give some indication where deer like to hang out; they may even expose certain travel routes. But most importantly, the size of the rub can give the hopeful hunter a better understanding if there are any trophy deer carousing through the area.

Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is that a deer will choose a bigger tree or sapling based on their size. For instance, a young forkhorn might only use saplings the diameter of your thumb to rub the velvet. Then again, a very mature trophy buck might also use that same small sapling. But if you find a tree with a diameter the size of your clenched fist or bigger…well, then…you have likely stumbled upon one of the most encouraging sights to be found in the deer woods.

Experts contend that deer rubs serve many purposes besides removing velvet alone. It’s speculated that the larger the size of the tree the bigger the deer…and the reason is simple. This tree is much like a sparring dummy. Think of a boxer in a gym using a punching bag to prepare for an upcoming big fight. The deer is doing much the same. If it wants to be the king buck doing most of the breeding in a certain geographical area it will likely have to fight other would-be dominant bucks with sort of a winner-take-all championship. Thus, bigger trees will in turn build bigger neck muscles and perhaps give a big buck the edge it will need to win the courtship rights to most of the does.

An observant sportsman will use the discovery of rubs and put it into the proper time line for what is happening in the deer woods. A fresh rub will mean the breeding season is underway…albeit, the peak is probably another month or more away.

When you see a deer rub think of it as the equivalent of a wildlife business card with some opportunistic buck introducing itself to you…letting you know it’s in the woods. Then when you stumble upon a BIG deer rub, think of it as a business card akin to meeting a big-shot CEO showing lots of embossing, gold hot-stamping, etc. While each card can be equally effective in its purpose, the card that stands out is the one holding the most promise for future opportunity. This fall, don’t squander the introductions these deer try to make in your life…pay attention to all the signs they leave for you.

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