There are stories clinging to the leafless branches of the trees on our deer grounds. They float through the woods like ghosts. Many of the tellers of the stories have now departed this planet.
But the stories remain and will be relived when hunters enter the woods this weekend, the opening of the Minnesota firearms deer season.
Our deer woods were purchased back in the 1950s, probably as a result of a tax forfeit sale. I joined the group of hunters in 1975 and have spent every deer season since in those woods on opening day of the Minnesota firearms deer season, the second unofficial holiday of the year in this state next to the fishing opener.
Pre-COVID, schools actually allowed students to take a day or two off to accompany their family on the annual deer hunt. Students actually carried deer rifles in their cars in those days past. I wouldn't recommend doing that today.
But, back to the stories. I started hearing the stories when I began hunting with the group. As hunters gather around the noon campfire, the stories reappear as if by magic. Even though the tellers of the tales are no longer with us, their stories, some actual and some imagined, resonate around the smoky fire where ham sandwiches are duly charcoaled and coffee is drained from Thermos bottles.
There is the story of one of our party who borrowed a rifle from one of his friends for opening day. I was in my deer stand when I heard this guy open up with a volley of five shots. There was a pause and then another five shots rang out across the swamp and near a beaver dam.
I envisioned a bevy of white-tails lying around this hunter's stand. I looked forward with excitement to his report at the noon campfire.
"Hey! How many deer did you down?" I asked.
"None!" he replied. "I can't understand what happened. I had three deer directly in front of me and I emptied one clip, put in another and emptied it and the deer didn't move!"
We checked out his borrowed rifle and found that the sights had been bent and when fired at a large piece of cardboard at the campfire, no bullet came close. Our hunter went home empty handed.
Another tale came from one of our expert hunters when after downing a nice buck he proceeded to straddle the deer with the intent of field dressing the critter. When the point of his knife touched the deer's belly, the buck came to life and kicked the hunter's knife out of his hand and the deer took off through the woods never to be seen again.
Our hunter finally found his knife in the scattered leaves with no venison attached. He had only a black and bruised backside of his right hand. His trigger finger was affected.
There are always stories about long shots made but this story tops them all. A hunter and his guide had pulled up on a forest road adjacent to a large beaver pond. As they crawled out of their pickup they spied a deer 500 yards away on the far side of the pond. The guide, who was not humble about his shooting prowess, pulled his rifle out of his case, loaded one shell, leaned across the hood of the pickup and leveled a shot across the pond.
He calmly slid his rifle back into the case, looked back across the pond and watched as his deer toppled over. There is no one alive to prove this story was true. That is no different than many stories the swirl through the campfire smoke every opening day.
Stories will be made again this weekend in the woods. Some will be more true than others. No hunter would dare challenge any of these tales. It would not be good to call another hunter in your hunting party a liar. Your partners are armed. Suspicions are let go to be told again by others who will occupy this timber.
The stories make the experience richer, even if they seem unbelievable. Stories are a big part of the hunt. They are the only thing left after the venison has been devoured from the freezer.
Good luck to my Minnesota deer hunting comrades!
And, it is not hard to practice social distancing in a tree stand. As far as I know, deer do not carry the virus.
See you next time. Okay? Stay safe in more ways than one!
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