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The Last Windrow: My first deer season cancelled by DNR

When I moved to the Gopher State in 1971, I had visions of what a north country deer hunting trip might be that fall. I envisioned thousands of whitetail deer bouncing across the landscape in front of my rifle and venison in the freezer. Deer were tough to come by at that time in Iowa and I thought Minnesota had to be better! It was a dream I had many nights before we loaded the stock truck with our earthly belongings and headed north.  

The year was 1971 and northern Minnesota had just come through a series of winters where the snow piled window-high and filled the woods and lowlands to overflowing with the white stuff. I had experienced some snowy winters in northwest Iowa, but nothing like that.  

When we pulled our moving company into the driveway of our new home in March of that year we noticed snow on the roofs of our buildings piled three to four feet high. The three-foot high fence in front of the house wasn’t visible. This was some “real” snow. I had no idea of how the deer herd had been affected by this last of a series of snowstorms. I was to find out later that summer.

My hopes for my first Minnesota deer hunt were dashed when the DNR came out with a ruling late that summer that there would be no deer season in Minnesota. The deer herd had been so decimated over the past three winters that only a low population remained. What a shock to my hopes! And, I was new to the area. Those who had enjoyed deer hunting as a tradition were doubly affected. This year, 1971, they would have to stay home and help make lefse instead of climbing into a deer stand.  

Another reason given for the low populations of deer was the fact that up until that time, all deer, male and female were fair game. Game scientists felt that the deer herd could no longer sustain indiscriminate harvest, hence the does needed to be protected in order to rebuild the herd. The bucks only season was born.

Hunters who rode through those low times of deer hunting remember those years vividly. It was one of those instances in life when you remember exactly where you were at the time of a negative occurrence. Even today I  hear deer hunters recalling those years.    

The years following the cancellation were not much fun either. A hunter was forced to choose a three-day or a five-day license for bucks only. Gradually the seasons were relaxed as the herd began to recover, but one never felt totally confident that there would be a day when once again a nimrod felt they had a decent chance of seeing and garnering a deer. That time has now come.

I don’t know if it’s global warming, intense forestry, less hunters, more wolves or something else that is responsible for today’s deer herd. Today we have folks who are disturbed to no end when they spy a herd of deer grazing on their flower bed or robbing their sweet corn patch. These beautiful creatures of nature have no doubt rebounded to populations that could only be dreamed about in the early 1970s.  

I will join the thousands of blaze-clad beings that will be entering the woods and grasslands of Minnesota this weekend. Once again the cafes will glow with blaze orange long before the sun peaks over the trees in the east.  The highways will be filled with pick-ups pulling trailers loaded to the hilt with four-wheelers, tents, portable stands, deer scent and shooting irons. Tradition has returned.  

Our little group will head for the north gate before sunrise on Saturday. We’ll crawl up into time-tested stands and hope the steps up hold us and our gear. We’ll once again feel the chill of the early morning and watch the woods wake up around us. We’ll strain to hear that crack in the brush or the snort of a mature buck on the trail of his girlfriend.  

Whether or not we harvest a deer is not as important as it once was for our group. We enjoy venison, but just the journey to deer country and eating charcoaled ham sandwiches at noon seems to satisfy us.  

It’s a long way from 1971 when all I could do was polish my rifle and help my mother make Christmas cookies on opening day of deer season. I like it this way much better!

See you next time. Okay?