Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

The traditions of the deer hunt mostly stay the same

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Kaboom! A rifle shot splits open the morning silence. It’s just after dawn. A soft lemony sun is hanging low on the eastern horizon. The thermometer outside the window reads a chilling three degrees, the coldest morning yet this fall. My ears are trained for another shot but none follows. It’s opening weekend of deer season, 2019.

The living room is strewn with blaze orange hunting garb, piled in every corner, draping from cardboard boxes, deceptively belying an effort at organization with each hunter’s name neatly printed on the flaps. “Tinks” scented hats and vests are intermingled with the much-loved fragrance of balsam bows. And a few emptied packages of hand and toe warmers lay a path to the porch where legions of boots and shoes are left in an attempted effort at a neat formation.

Two hunters left well before dawn. One is still snoozing in the recliner with Skinny, our little black pug, nestled in the warm nook of his armpit. This is the lucky one, the eldest of the three, who shot his buck opening morning and spent most of yesterday following the blood trail of his son’s “long shot”. Both returned at dark, exhausted and more than deeply disappointed. After sixteen years of hunting, this was a first for our son who has been the subject of many stories over the years. Most often those stories are harangues about how he’s “the one who comes up from the Twin Cities for a weekend of hunting and gets the first deer on his first day out,” in stark contrast to his father who is always preparing for the hunt weeks in advance, posting our land, checking stands, “scouting for deer sign”, building stands, siting in the rifles, washing the clothes and hanging them far enough from the house to avoid even the slightest scent of wood smoke, packing them in boughs, labeling boxes, stocking up on supplies and ammo, all with the purpose of fulfilling the welcomed expectations for another successful hunt. And often hunting for many days straight before getting his. It’s a tradition in our household as (or, I would argue, way more) anticipated and revered as Thanksgiving, “the other November holiday.”

I pour myself the last cup of coffee in the pot and start another kettle of water for a fresh batch. My opening role is to make a clearing of the debris accumulated on the kitchen table from the hustle and bustle of everybody’s getting out the door before sunrise. It’s a minor mess that must be dealt with and that has become my main purpose over the years, to maintain a semblance of order amidst the apparent chaos, the result of single-minded effort to get settled in the right spot at the right time to get the chance to get a “nice eater” or better yet, a chance at that “trophy buck” that’s been spotted in the area.

The other part that I play also stages me in the kitchen. As is so familiar to women around the globe for centuries, the planning and preparing of meals is at the center of everything! And in this case, the hike down the road, the traipsing through the brush, that sitting motionless perched in a tree in the bitter cold isn’t easy, and certainly will work up an appetite. So the smell of fresh coffee, a bowl of soup and toast are a great way to welcome them in! It also sets the table for some great stories, and this is just the beginning.

I’ve never had an interest in actively participating in the taking of a deer, but I always relish the stories. I enjoy most hearing about the antics of does and their fawns that lingered under the deer stand providing interest while anxiously hoping a buck will catch their scent. Or those stories that include the stealthy wolf who appears like a ghost, also on the trail of the vulnerable. Then there are their tales of woe about an annoying squirrel, chattering up a storm, alerting every living thing around with maddening attention-seeking antics! I can’t help but recall my kids, who once drove me crazy with the very same strategy. But I don’t say a word.

Everyone has finally found a place to lay their heads and catch up on a few “zzz’s”. I go about cleaning up and preparing for “the feast” that’ll occur after dark. Dinnertime comes early when the days are so short and everyone is in from the woods and hungry! Here the traditions continue. Homemade pasties purchased from the Methodist ladies in Hibbing, or homemade sarmas prepared with potatoes, onions, carrots, and fermented cabbage leaves harvested from the garden, with our own tomato sauce on top. And, as Da Yoopers would have it, there’s plenty of beer. Seems like that too is part of the tradition. How does that song go? “We drink, play cards and shoot the bull but never shoot no deer.” Well, we don’t play cards. My hunters usually get their deer. But the bull and beer parts sure fit! I love serving these guys. They seem to enjoy whatever I make, thank me profusely, and I get to listen to some very entertaining tales.

As traditions go, some things change while many things stay the same. I no longer help with dragging in the deer. John and I would call it our “annual cardiac stress test”, joking that if we made it home, then we’d be good to go for another year. Now, thanks to the trusty four wheeler, I’m no longer needed. I kinda miss being out in the elements but then again, braving the cold has lost some of its allure. So, I wait where it’s warm and see how the tall tales measure up with reality.

This year opener measured up quite nicely. Everyone carried on despite the expected highs and lows, and to top off the weekend, the Vikings provided some top-notch fan glow by beating “America’s Team”, the Dallas Cowboys. Honestly, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

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