One doesn't always have to garner venison to make a deer season worthwhile. There are other rewards.

A week before the Minnesota deer hunting opening day this year, my wife and I paid a visit to the trail that led to my party's deer hunting land. I was interested in seeing the condition of the unmaintained roadway that sometimes can be a challenge to drive over.

The trail is surrounded by pastureland, and this time of year a local rancher pastures hundreds of horses on this landscape. It was no different this year, and a multitude of horses dotted the green, grassy hill in front of us.

As we topped a small knoll, I noticed a movement to the left of our vehicle. I thought at first it was a large dog, but then out of the creek bed emerged a large, gray timber wolf. The wolf looked back over its shoulder at us as we watched it lope across the trail into the pasture that held the horses.

At first I thought the horses would bolt and run when they saw the wolf heading their way. But no. They did not move, and only raised their heads and pointed their noses toward the wolf. The wolf trotted up the far hill through the horse herd and twice stopped and looked back at my wife and me sitting in our pickup. It then disappeared over the hill and out of sight.

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My first thought was one of human nature. The wolf was heading for the area of our hunting land, and I wondered if there would be a deer left due to the wolf's presence. In the back of my "reptilian brain" I became somewhat possessive in my thinking that the wolf might acquire my venison food source before I did.

I think that feeling is only natural to we humans who think we are at the top of the food chain.

Other things happened this year on the way to the deer stand. My stand occupies a place near a recent cut over an area of forest. In place of mature aspen trees, a new aspen plantation grows with new trees trying to find space for themselves. Local folk would say the stand is "thicker than dog hair," and one cannot walk through the new trees easily.

But the new aspen have produced an abundance of buds on their now bare branches. On my way through this growth, I was surprised to see four ruffed grouse thunder from those thick branches and jet themselves away through the tangle. I have not seen that many ruffed grouse in a number of years.

I told myself that even though I could not roam through the new growth of trees, it was a good thing for the grouse that will live on those buds through the long winter to come.

I crawled up into my deer stand in the warmer than usual November morning and readied my rifle and Thermos bottle, hoping to hear the crunch of leaves that would announce the arrival of a white-tailed deer on its way to or from its feeding grounds.

No such sound would greet me on that opening weekend. But there were other rewards abounding.

The tundra swans were in constant flight over my stand. The sound of their honking drowned out any other sound that might have been in the air. As they departed to the east, I heard a sound equivalent to that of a jet engine. That sound turned out to be coming from a huge flight of northern bluebill ducks. Two flocks of the birds roared overhead looking for a shallow lake on which to land and rest for the remainder of their trip south.

Their appearance told me that colder weather was coming soon. They don't leave the north country until they have frost on their tail feathers. Watching and hearing those birds more than compensated for the lack of deer.

My party saw bald eagles fighting, squirrels gathering acorns, chickadees landing on gun barrels and mice making their way under the leaves covering the forest floor. Even a frog was heard croaking in the late fall warmth of the weekend.

No venison has come to our freezer yet this season and I don't know if any will. But, the season has already provided its prizes. You don't always have to harvest a deer to be happy.

See you next time. Okay?