So, Tomorrow We Deer Hunt…

Best I can figure I’ve been deer hunting now for about 41 or 42 seasons. Been a long time. Seen lots of cool stuff in the woods. And yes, some of it has even included big deer. Yet, many non-hunters and hunters alike will not completely understand when I say this…but I no longer deer hunt with the sole purpose of killing a deer. Let me explain.

When you start out as a hunter you go through various predictable stages in the sport. Actually, I’m not even sure who coined the “5 stages of a hunter” concept anymore, but it goes something like this:

  • Shooter Stage — as a beginner you want to shoot your new gun. You’re proud of that gun or bow…you want to see how it performs. So much, in fact, that you sort of measure success simply by the fact you got to discharge your firearm or twang your bow. Oh, sure…getting a deer is always the ultimate goal…but when you’re in this beginning stage all you really need to make you happy is to have a chance. You’re more accepting if you shoot and miss…besides, in this hunter’s mind the goal is to just be given an opportunity to use your new “hunting equipment.”
  • Limiting-Out Stage — this stage is sort of the glutton stage. Success comes with shooting a limit of ducks, filling all tags you have with deer…you get the picture. When a hunter is at this stage of life the main point is simply bragging rights that he/she used up all available tags. The hunter got their money’s worth. In other words, they got to leave the woods early because…well, they were ALL DONE hunting because they could not legally hunt any longer. Nothing wrong with this stage or any of them…it’s just a stepping stone toward maturity that many hunters must take.
  • Trophy Stage — typically when a person has hunted for a number of years and achieved some success they aspire toward something greater. They want a bigger buck. They want a duck or a goose with that leg band. In their mind they ascribe to a conceived notion of what they believe to be a trophy and set out to accomplish that sometimes lofty goal. Truthfully, I know many hunters who never mature beyond this stage. And that’s okay. If a large deer with a record book rack is what stokes the hunting desire inside, there’s nothing wrong with that. What is important about this stage is the fact this is the stage where most non-hunters place all hunters…and it is just not so. After all, this is only the middle stage in what I call hunting maturation and appreciation.
  • Method Stage — now let’s be honest, this stage is often intertwined with the previous Trophy Stage for many hunters. Depending on the day or even the hunting season, hunters will take great pride in their strategy to waylay a big buck almost as much as actually accomplishing the task. The Method Stage can be interesting because this is where the hunter really develops a greater understanding of the outdoors. When a hunter lays in bed at night trying to “out think” the big buck the next morning by employing some fool-proof strategy, well, that’s when the hunter knows he has a fever for the hunt.
  • Appreciation Stage — this is the big one. Most hunters when they enter the sport don’t purposefully set out to get to this level. Nope, instead it just happens along the way. When a hunter gets to this stage he/she realizes that just being in the deer woods is all that really matters. This hunter might not see a deer all day, but by golly that was one heck of a sunrise worth getting out of bed for 2-hours earlier. The hunter at this point in their life doesn’t really care if they even shoot their gun. In fact, a hunter truly at this stage wouldn’t even mind if they left the gun back at camp still inside the case. Indeed, not every hunter makes it to this stage in their hunting maturity…but when they do it’s a thing of beauty. Imagine going into the woods knowing that it will be a successful day simply by spending the time outdoors. No pressure. No expectations.

And so I prepare today for the 2018 Minnesota Firearms Deer Hunting Opener where once again I will be hunting with my 10-year old daughter, Elsie, hunting by my side tomorrow morning. I’ll be carrying a muzzleloader giving me a one-shot opportunity for success. Elsie, well…she will be keeping me company in the blind by watching and learning. She’s developed into a great hunting partner. She has patience, she has a desire to learn about the outdoors, but most of all she simply enjoys the close-knit time spent with her Dad. Yup, it becomes a Daddy/Daughter bonding experience like no other.

We eat snacks. Drink hot-cocoa from our respective thermos containers. We each have assigned duties to keep a watchful eye and ear out for approaching deer from certain areas. We ask each other if either of us are getting cold yet. We sometimes laugh. Occasionally we text mom back home to see if she’s out of bed yet watching TV. BOOM! <sound effect> Where did that shot just come from. Elsie thinks it’s from her left. I’m kind of thinking it sounded like it came from my right. It seems like in the deer woods there is something happening to keep your mind engaged at all times. It’s great!

Oh, sure…there are times I sit there and think how nice it would be to be home back in bed all warm and comfortable. Nobody said deer hunting is easy. Nobody ever said deer hunting is exciting at all times. Yet, the time spent in the deer woods does something special to my soul. The best way I can relate it to a non-hunter is to describe how a person plugs their smart phone into a charger to bring it “back to life.” No doubt about it hunting deer is my method to recharge the batteries. Being outdoors…being close to nature…it truly does something special to the human spirit that is hard to describe. Moreover, when you share that experience with someone you love it takes on an even deeper meaning.

So, yes…tomorrow I deer hunt. I really don’t care if I end up shooting my gun. I absolutely have no interest in filling all the tags we have. If a trophy comes by it will be a “game time decision” on whether I shoot…because if it’s heading in the general direction of a younger hunter on stand…I will gladly give them the opportunity to make their day. In terms of methods, heck…Elsie and I are in the woods to have a good time and stay comfortable in the blind. We might even crank up the stinky old propane heater just to make things more pleasant by keeping our toes and fingers toasty.

Along with the fun comes the appreciation for the outdoors I’m trying to develop in my daughter. The moments we share together doing so will never be taken away from either of us. Deer hunting is the excuse we use to be outdoors in the woods together. How a person hunts goes a long way to determine what sort of memories are created and whether they are positive or negative. A proper attitude and a plan will ensure the deer woods experience always stays special in a deer hunter’s heart.

Time For Governor Dayton To Go Sit In The Woods

Ever since 2003 the Governor of Minnesota, then Governor Tim Pawlenty, has honored the deer hunting tradition in our state with the Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener celebration.   It mostly just amounts to a bunch of pomp and circumstance for the Explore Minnesota Tourism Department and the Minnesota Deer Hunter’s Association, but rightly so it spotlights a big industry in Minnesota which includes lots of orange-clad participants who enjoy their time spent in the woods.

IMG_0279In full disclosure, back in 2006, I got to host Governor Pawlenty here at the farm for that annual deer hunt.   Each year it bounces around to different areas of the state and this year the 2013 celebration is in Fergus Falls, Minnesota beginning on Friday and lasting into Saturday.

Okay, further disclosure I am not a big fan of our current Governor Mark Dayton.   Fair to say we don’t share many similar views on politics.   But apparently we also don’t share similar views on deer hunting.   Ever since becoming governor he makes a token appearance and departs the GDHO event stating he is not a deer hunter and doesn’t want to take part in the actual hunt.

Therein lies my frustration with the current Minnesota Governor.   Oh, sure, when he took office he was quick to leave his own impression on the sporting world by starting the Minnesota Governor’s Pheasant Hunt.   But he refuses to hunt deer.   Why?   Claims he’s not a deer hunter and doesn’t care to shoot a deer.

Fair enough, but there’s much more to deer hunting than actually pulling the trigger.   How the hell is a politician going to adequately claim they can relate to me as a sportsman when they refuse to experience the sort of outdoors activities that fuel my soul.   In Minnesota each fall there are over 10 deer hunters afield for every pheasant hunter, and that ratio is growing each year as folks give up on the AWOL pheasant population.

When Governor Pawlenty hunted with me he spent time with other hunters in my camp.   He learned what motivates a person to get up at outrageously early times, dress in layers of warm clothes, and then head for the dark woods to sit and wait.

When Governor Pawlenty hunted with our group he got to experience nature come to life as the sun peaked over the horizon to slowly warm the frosty morning air.   He witnessed nature at what I believe is its finest hours of the entire day scurrying to life.   Indeed, the deer hunter is sitting in a balcony theater seat watching the drama known as nature unfold 360 degrees in all directions around them.   How can life get any better than that?

Deer hunting is very different than pheasant hunting.   Oh, sure, both activities enjoy nature in its own unique way…but calling yourself a pheasant hunter in no way provides any understanding as to how life as a deer hunter is enjoyed.   There simply is no substitute for experiencing deer hunting first hand.

It’s almost like the backyard bird watcher who enjoys feeding and watching birds from the kitchen window.   Gives them a better sense of nature when they can observe it with their own eyes.

But remove that wall and pane of glass and suddenly it opens up a new dimension to be sitting out in the woods motionless and have a Black-capped Chickadee land on the barrel of your rifle completely oblivious to your presence.   Or a flock of wild turkeys completely surrounding your tree scratching in the leaves unaware they are being watched ever so closely from a perch above.   Or a pair of red squirrels frolicking in the nearby tree attempting their death-defying acrobatics.

Notice I made no mention of deer.   That’s right.   Deer hunting is so much bigger than just killing a deer and bragging about it to your friends.   Of course, I would expect a non-deer hunter to assume bringing home the venison is the sole motivation for being in the deer woods this time of the year.   Yet, that’s the sort of misguided notion people have about things when they don’t take time to experience an activity first-hand for themselves.

Surely, if deer hunting is important enough for 500,000 Minnesotans to spend countless hours out sitting in the trees this coming weekend, our state’s chief executive officer can share a few hours of his precious time discovering for himself the many wonders of deer hunting.   Governor Dayton, deer hunters deserve that sort of respect and showing of support from you when acting in the capacity of governor of a sportsman-oriented state like Minnesota.

©2013 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

2012 Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener–In Pictures

This past Saturday was the Minnesota Firearms Deer Hunting Opener and what has been the tradition now for 10 years running, Minnesota’s sitting Governor honors the blaze-clad sportsman of this state with a special celebration.   Each year the event bounces around to various areas of the state, but the last time it was in SE Minnesota was back in 2006 and that time I am proud to say Governor Tim Pawlenty hunted on my farm.  Read more HERE about that very special day.

But this time around things have changed slightly.   This time the event was held in Winona, Minnesota and not Rochester (or more accurately rural Kenyon, MN).   Moreover, Governor Pawlenty who created the special hunt no longer is Governor.   Now, it is Governor Mark Dayton who maintains the event by making an appearance, but does not partake in the hunt like Pawlenty did each year.

Even so, I give Governor Dayton credit for continuing the GDHO event and for taking the time to make a short appearance.   After all, with over a half million deer hunters in this state helping to stimulate the Minnesota economy to the tune of nearly a billion dollars annually, a Governor should honor the sportsmen and women of the Gopher State.

But enough of the boring stuff.   Let’s show some pictures and check out the fun.   What follows is how we spent Friday at the event enjoying what makes deer hunting in this state so proud.


Banner greeting event attendees.


Da Bad Axe traveling trophy presented to the team who competes and wins the MN Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener Outdoor Olympics series of events.


Of course, we formed a team consisting of Michelle Scheuermann (@LadySportsman), Todd & Dick Rost, and yours truly, Jim Braaten.


There were several events such as archery shooting, outdoor knowledge such as guess the hides, guess the animal tracks, guess the pistol/rifle cartridges…


Even the uniquely outdoorsy axe toss, which by the way, Michelle Scheuermann had never done before. So, we let her represent our team.


Whoa!!! Did Michelle kick butt. She got to throw three axes and the team only got a score if they stuck in the target. SHE STUCK ALL THREE!!! WooHoo!!!


Although only two axes are shown here…they removed the first one so it didn’t get chopped by her pinpoint accuracy. Way to go Michelle!!


There was also a timed obstacle course. Here, Todd is shown getting dressed and he had to do several things such as shoot at a target, pull a deer drag some distance…


And eventually hoist it up into a tree. Talk about working up a sweat! Great job, Todd!


In the end, Team Sportsman’s Blog crushed the competition with our superior skills and knowledge on the outdoors. Psst! In all honesty it was mostly Michelle who now possesses legendary woodsman skills. In fact, she is the only axe-wielding PR guru I know, so look out.


But the MN Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener is more than adults playing silly games. On the serious side of things is the community children by the 100’s who also take part in the learning.


Professionals, like these MN Conservation Officers, teach various stations to instruct more about nature, hunting safety, and how to properly respect the outdoors.


Here, a local Conservation Officer assists a youth in properly fitting a tree stand safety harness to his body for a live demonstration.


But the learning was fun for the kids, too. The shooting duo of Aaron and Steve Gould put on a trick shooting performance showing the kids just how much skill and fun gun handling can be.


While always emphasizing safety, the brothers showed one of the many ways shooting can be fun.


They shot clay targets while doing push-ups.


Their antics typically involved shooting multiple targets.   The kids really seemed to enjoy the performance.


But eventually Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton showed up and was most gracious to the folks in attendance.


He spent time talking about deer hunting and answering questions about the importance of hunting to this state.


Eventually the press conference got underway and media was present from throughout Minnesota, including several neighboring states.


Mark Johnson, Executive Director for the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association–one of the lead organizers of this event–took the stage to announce the special guests.


Tom Landwehr, Minnesota’s DNR Commissioner, took the stage to emphasize the importance of deer hunting in Minnesota.


Eventually Governor Dayton spoke and thanked all the volunteers who make this event possible.


A special group of local volunteers are shown here who the next morning would be taking media and other guests out to their carefully chosen deer stands to hopefully see some action.


Great food was catered in consisting of burgers and chili.


But really there was so much going on throughout the day. Here Todd Rost is down on the range shooting one of the big handguns that shot so sweet.


And Michelle again…what can I say. She test drove one of the new Polaris Rangers and the guys who gave her the keys never thought she would bring it back.

Indeed, another Minnesota Governor’s Deer Hunting Opener is in the books.   We’re told that next year we have to bring the trophy back and defend our coveted title of champs!   I suppose so.   Look out Fergus Falls, MN…looks like we’ll be coming back again with even more to prove next time around.

©2012 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.