The Last Windrow: Deer hunting has changed since 1970


Things have changed in Minnesota's deer hunting world since I came on the North Star State scene in 1970.

Minnesota's deer season was once a nine-day season that carried it through Thanksgiving week. Two weekends of intense activity in the woods. Those who participated in those hunts speak of large family deer drives through the woods, taking any sex deer, blistering cold weather and wading through snowdrifts at times. There were many hunts that happened after a Thanksgiving Day dinner where the calories washed off like rainwater.

That doesn't happen anymore.

Actually the first year I was planning to hunt deer in Minnesota the season was canceled. The heavy snows and long winters of the late 1960s had depleted the herd to the point where no hunter entered the woods.

Then came the highly regulated seasons whereby a hunter could choose to hunt the first two days of the season or choose to hunt three days later in the season. Those who made the second choice usually ended up with no deer in camp. I didn't harvest a deer in Minnesota until 1975.

It seems so far away when the deer herd was in those dire straits. Today's deer herd is in relative abundance as witnessed by the deer that have frequented my bird feeders and garden this summer. Just last week as my wife and I returned home after dark our headlights shown on a large doe that had taken up her bed in the middle of our driveway. The deer seemed a bit put out by having to move out of the way of our car.

That was a day before open season and I doubt we will see her in the yard until after the season closes.

Deer hunting equipment and clothing have undergone extreme changes from those early days. Blaze clothing has replaced the old red wool worn by earlier generations. I have a wonderful heavy, red wool coat that once was worn by some hunter. It hangs in our closet only to be worn to town on occasion.

Now we have every possible clothing item in blaze orange, including underwear. You never know when that bright colored underwear might come in handy if nature calls among the pine trees.

A solid stream of traffic was seen last Friday, the day before the "opener," many heading for deer camps strewn across the landscape. There were campers, wheeled fish houses, motorhomes and trailers of every sort pulling ATVs and other mechanical machines.

We all used to actually walk to our deer stands. Now it seems that motorized transport is in vogue. I still walked to my stand, but the stand seems to be getting farther away each passing year. I find myself stopping more along the trail to gather energy for the next leg of the trip.

One of the changes that I don't like to think about was the CWD (chronic wasting disease) checking that was visited on our part of the state for the first two days of the season. I know it is important to check for the possible spread of this deer disease and I don't argue with the effort, but having another rule to deal with kind of takes the fizz off the pop. I hope none of the wild deer in our area test positive for this menace. We'll know in a few weeks.

The hunters in our party consisted of a computer programmer, a scientist, an aeronautical engineer, a salesman, a carpenter, an employee of the Ordway Theater and me, now a chamber of commerce director. Not a farmer or rancher in the bunch. One can see the move of hunters from rural homes to a more urban way of life among deer hunters everywhere.

Will that fact impact future deer hunts? Only time will tell.

My daughter, Anna, and I each managed to bag a deer over the weekend. It was the first time we had ever both harvested a deer on the same day. We did blaze orange "high fives" on the shores of the Popple Swamp next to the Nail Keg stand. We registered our deer in the woods over the cell phone and checked it through the CWD checkpoint on the way home.

Deer hunting has changed a bit since 1970.

See you next time. Okay?