PINE RIVER -- This fall I went deer hunting for the first time. I've hunted gamebirds since I was 12, but until now had stayed away from big-game hunting.
I had good reason. I feared getting lost and freezing to death. And every year, it seemed, there was at least one story about a hunter getting drunk and breaking his neck after falling out of a tree stand or mistaking a horse or hunting companion for a big buck, neither of which looks anything like a deer, especially when it's chalk white or dressed head to toe in orange.
This year brought a new twist. The chilling story about the St. Paul man accused of shooting to death six hunters in Wisconsin is enough to make any marginal deer hunter swear off the sport forever. And then there's the issue of boredom. I'm not a patient person. Heck, in the time it took me to bang out the three paragraphs above I had to break the writing monotony by buying a can of Diet Pepsi and a bag of Cheez-its and then looking out the window to check the weather.
According to folks who hit the woods every November, my lack of focus would greatly reduce my chances for a successful hunt. Hunters who get a deer, I've been told, are usually those who can sit in a treestand for hours and hours without moving too much, clearing their throats or talking to themselves (another of my bad habits).
But awhile back I accepted an invitation from my brother-in-law, Gary Morgan, who's the most ardent outdoorsman I know, to go deer hunting near his family's cabin near Pine River. He assured me that my chances of falling out of a treestand or getting shot or lost were pretty low. We would hunt during muzzleloading season, "after the regular rifle season, when the crazies and drunks are long gone," he said.
Now, before I get myself in trouble, I must make it clear that 99 percent of the deer hunters I know are cautious, intelligent people who would never handle a firearm while intoxicated or mistake a deer for a gray-haired gelding or accountant. It's only the screw-loose one percent of hunters -- and drivers, cell phone users and NBA basketball players, for that matter -- who give their brethren a bad name.
Gary also told me that where we would hunt it would be impossible to get lost. "Just walk in any direction for a half-mile or so and you'll run into a trail," he said.
Oh, sure, I thought, he says that now. But how will he feel when I end up being one of those hunters who think they're heading in one direction but who actually walk in circles for hours before dropping from exhaustion, ripping off their clothes because they're hot, curling up in the fetal position and freezing as solid as a microwave dinner? Of course searchers will find me the next day a mere 200 feet from the trail.
Well, I didn't get lost and I didn't get bored, although I had a compass around my neck and a paperback novel in my pocket just in case. I used the time to clear my head and appreciate the quiet. There was no traffic, no radios or television blaring, no computers whirring, no dogs barking, not even any insects buzzing. All I heard was the creaking of the pole-like pines as they swayed in the breeze, a red squirrel scampering over oak leaves covered in a light layer of snow and occasional conversations between crows and bluejays.
I won't feed you a line about how I felt a kinship with the pioneer families of 150 years ago. They didn't have fool-proof muzzleloaders powered by synthetic gun powder, or polypropylene underwear, 1,000-gram Thinsulate boots, chemical hand warmers, pre-made deer stands with butt-friendly seats and gasoline generators to power lamps, TVs and coffee grinders.
No, I just enjoyed the temporary solitude of being in the woods, the thrill of the hunt and the venison. Yes, I was lucky enough to bag a deer.
I don't know if I'll hunt deer next year. If Gary finds out I had a novel in my pocket he might not invite me again. But now I have a better understanding of why so many people are hooked on it.
Greg Sellnow, a former Brainerd resident, writes for the Rochester Post-Bulletin. He can be reached at (507) 285-7703, or by e-mail at email@example.com
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