The opening day of deer season looms near and it’s important to remind folks there are things which can trip up a successful hunt—I know, I’ve tripped a number of times. Actually, there are hundreds of things that can mess up a hunt so I’ll share several experiences here so that other hunters may benefit. If you’re not a deer hunter, this is an excellent spot to take the “off ramp” and get back to doing something more productive, but, of course, you’re quite welcome to come along for the ride so to speak.
First, we go back to circa 1980, to a cold, still opening morning that found me walking an open 40-acre pasture at our family farm to a stand that lay beyond. It was dim morning light and I was halfway across the pasture when our herd of Hereford cattle at the opposite side could be made out—their white faces all quite trained on my progress. Soon, the faces were all coming in my direction, slowly at first, then in a full out stampede.
Now I’m not really afraid cows but I know a stampede when I see one and any friendships established between me and the cows while feeding them at the barn were of little comfort. My guess is they took me for a predator or, at least, a curiosity. Either way, I took off at a full-out run to the far end of the pasture where, approaching the fence, I threw my gun and rolled under the fence just as the crazed cattle came to a noisy, mud-churning halt just a few feet away.
It was a moment of déjà vu from an earlier experience of outrunning a herd of cattle at the Ollikila farm in Greaney Township as a small boy which, by the way, was where I set the world record for the 200- yard pasture dash and roll. It was a great feeling to have survived a stampede yet again by the swiftness of foot, but the trouble was, when you are dressed to sit for hours in below zero temps, then run
a 200-yard pasture dash, you become soaked to the bone in sweat. Within a short time of reaching my stand another quarter mile distant, I was freezing up— literally. My advice: never cross a cow pasture on the way to your deer stand. Or face the consequences. It was about a decade later when my young son and daughter were taking in their first hunt. Walking a forest trail, we were surprised by a huge buck following a doe that leaped across the trail in front of us. I had a hunch as to where they were going so we took off running as fast as we could from the direction we had come to intercept them. As we got to the place, out of breath, the doe was already crossing the small clearing.
Within a couple seconds, there emerged the monster buck which fortunately took pause to look our way. With crosshairs set, I slowly pulled the trigger. Click. Nothing happened. “Huh?” I screamed to myself.
In our rush to intercept, I forgot to load a shell in the chamber. I quickly did so and again eased the scope up just as the deer of a lifetime popped out of sight. It was all over, just like that. I could have just about cried (or cussed), but that of course would have been a poor example for the kids’ first hunt. Instead, I kept my chin up and decided to mope about it privately for the next couple decades. My consolation: it only looked like a 300-pound, 12-point buck; it might have been smaller.
A few years later, all three of our children were taking part in opening day of deer season. It’s not easy getting three kids up at four in the morning, feeding them breakfast, getting them clothed and equipped for the hunt, but it was a special time nevertheless, Hunting with kids is great stuff. As we prepared, time and again I quizzed them if they had their gloves, deer licenses, snacks, guns and their bullets until finally we were all loaded in the truck and underway to the hunting shack. Halfway on our journey, I realized I had not packed my bullets. We made a mad dash back to the house for the bullets and still managed to scurry out to our stands to be ready at first light. My lesson: remember your bullets; tape them to your forehead the night before if necessary. The last tip comes from an experience we had just a couple years ago, only this time I was with my daughter, Beth and grandson, Alex. This particular opening weekend coincided with the first day of Daylight Saving Time and we dutifully reset our clocks the night before so the morn would find us approaching our stands just prior to sunup. To make a long story short, we somehow got the clock thing wrong and found ourselves sitting in the truck with over two hours to go before sunrise, sweating in our warm clothing. My thought: Daylight Saving Time is stupid.
Thinking back to these mishaps, there may be a larger underlying theme that suggests still one more piece of advice and that would be to dress light for opening morning. Consider even, tenner shoes. It seems, for our family anyways, there’s often a lot of running and sweating on opening weekend and that’s even without shooting a deer. May as well be prepared. Remember bullets.
Leo Wilenius lives in rural Cook, MN, with his wife Lindy. He is retired from Lake Country Power in Mt. Iron.