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The Last Windrow: The pursuit of venison

I have come to the conclusion, after watching the traffic flow on the Friday before Minnesota deer season opening day, that it is impossible to spend too much money in pursuit of a member of the goat family, the whitetail deer.  

As the caravan headed into the northwoods last Friday, I watched out my office window at the imagination that some deer hunters have when it comes to “bringing it all with them.” I watched pickups loaded to the hilt with everything from a outhouse to a picnic table. One inventive hunter even had a stainless steel kitchen sink strapped to a tree ladder.

I wondered what this camp might look like in the middle of nowhere? One of the trailers sported a bright pink four-wheeler. No doubt the deer hunting fraternity has welcomed all to its ranks!

Traffic at the local cafe was brisk on Friday morning when men, women, boys and girls clad in various assortments of blaze orange sat down at tables and ordered more food than they would ever eat at home. Thoughts of lowering their cholesterol level was far from their thought process. Men with heart stents were seen downing biscuits and gravy while some favored eggs, crispy hash browns, a side of bacon and 10 cups of coffee. None of them looked as if they were the least bit remorseful.  

As the snowflakes drifted slowly to earth, the liquor store door swung in and out like a pendulum. Not that a hunter would ever think of imbibing on a glass of bubbly. I think they were buying whiskey for purely medicinal purposes. You never know when you might come down with some bug in deer camp. You can also use alcohol to cleanse a wound caused from missing the bottom step of your tree stand ladder. I remember how Doc used it once or twice to remove a bullet in Marshall Dillon on a “Gunsmoke” episode. Well, it evidently still works.  

The grocery store in town was perking as well. Men who hadn’t stepped into a grocery store all year were seen pushing carts up and down the aisles, picking up stuff like chips, bratwurst, pickled herring, cheese and crackers. And, they weren’t seen looking closely at the labels to see what the salt or fat content of their cart full of groceries totaled. There weren’t many green, leafy vegetables in those grocery bags when they left the store. If they do indeed ban trans-fats, these folks are in trouble.  

The bars and restaurants were full of people telling lies to other people they didn’t know. More deer were shot at the bar than ever were possible to shoot in a normal lifetime. And, they were mostly trophy bucks that were talked about. The serious hunters knew enough to leave the bar stools early. Sitting in a deer stand on a cold morning with a headache is never much fun. Those who stayed a little too late paid an awful price.  

Our little group of hunters gathered at the breakfast table on Saturday morning pretty well intact. No headaches, no upset stomachs. These days I eat just toast on opening morning lest I have to leave the tree early to, well, let’s just say if I eat too much too early on opening day I need to find a quiet place in the woods to ... well, you know. 

Success in garnering venison came rather hard for our troupe. Although brother Steve harvested a nice 10-point buck on opening morning, the rest of us went venison-less. There were plenty of stories about seeing a deer, but none other than the one amorous buck came home.

But, there was plenty of excitement in camp! One of our troupe had his deer stand collapse under him, one had a gray squirrel chew him out eye to eye, another of our band had a face to rear confrontation with a porcupine. So, all was not totally quiet in the deer woods.

Some of our group will return to fight another day. Some will never enter the deer woods again this year. It is not the same mentality as when our forefathers sat in the stand until the ending seconds of the season. We have mellowed a bit, I’m afraid. We’ve accepted the idea that a meal awaits us in our freezer at home. It is a different day.

But, I would guess all who entered the deer woods and fields over the weekend have a story or two to tell. It is the one tradition that never changes. I’m still wondering where that guy put that kitchen sink. 

See you next time. Okay?