By Shawn Perich
Dad never paid much mind to prognostications about upcoming deer seasons. Whether deer numbers were said to be low or high really didn’t matter. He was going hunting. Complaining about poor deer numbers doesn’t put venison on the table.
About the complainers he said, “These guys think there should be a deer behind every bush. They don’t want to get out and hunt.”
No opening weekend warrior, Dad spent as many days in the woods as he could during deer season. All day. Every day. Hunting. For Dad, the hunt was what mattered. A kill was just part of the overall experience.
This year, the DNR is actually recommending hunters lower their expectations, because back-to-back tough winters, and recent liberal distributions of doe tags, have reduced the size of the deer herd. No matter where you are in Minnesota this November, you likely won’t encounter a deer behind every bush.
But you know what? There are still lots of deer out there. Just because you don’t see one on opening morning, or maybe all of opening weekend, doesn’t mean you never will see one. All you have to do is hunt a little harder.
Over the course of many years in the woods, I’ve shot bucks on opening morning, but I’ve also killed one in the final minutes of the last day. The vast majority of deer I’ve taken were somewhere between the first and last days. In fact, I’ve killed deer at all times of day throughout the course of our 16-day northeastern Minnesota rifle season. That’s what happens when you spend as many days you can in the woods. All day. Hunting.
Just because you hunt hard doesn’t guarantee you’ll fill your tag. I didn’t last year, but my partner, who spent more time in the woods than me, killed a nice buck. Maybe he was rewarded for his extra effort. Or maybe he just got lucky.
One thing I’ve noticed is that my success rarely correlates with the supposed size of the deer herd. I’ve shot deer in the seasons following hard winters. Then again, I’ve blanked out in years when the deer population was said to be at record levels. Maybe I was just unlucky.
No matter how or where you hunt, you’ll spend time, perhaps lots of it, in the woods when deer simply aren’t moving. Whitetails are primarily creatures of the dark and dusky hours. They often spend much of the day bedded down. Sometimes they’ll be stirred up by other hunters, although this is less likely when most of those hunters are confined to a tree stand or ground blind.
Where I hunt on the North Shore, most deer activity is natural movements. As such, it’s entirely unpredictable. Some days, it doesn’t seem as though there are any deer in the woods. Then, suddenly it may seem as though you’ve stumbled into a herd of them. I don’t know what flips the ‘on’ switch for whitetails, but I do know that you have to get out in the woods to be there when it happens.
Actually, deer in the northern forest do seem to move around in loose herds or at least hang around in the same vicinity. I think there are a couple of reasons for this. First, several generations of does and fawns may comprise a family group. Second, sticking together may make it easier for whitetails to detect and avoid wolves. The passage of the local wolf pack is also unpredictable, but can affect your hunting. In my experience, most of the deer in a relatively small area will move out when the wolves come through. But they start coming back as soon as the pack moves on. At any rate, bear in mind that deer and wolves coexist in your hunting area all year, not just during the few days in November when you happen to be sitting in a tree stand. Blaming your lack of hunting success on the wolves is kinda dumb.
The other target for the blamers is, of course, the DNR. Apparently some hunters believe those DNR hotshots sit in their cushy St. Paul offices scheming of ways to foil hunting success. It must be easier to blame some distant bureaucrat when you walk out of the woods empty-handed than to admit that maybe today just wasn’t your lucky day.
But the funny thing is, all hunters spend many, many days in the deer woods and come home with nothing to show for it. After all, the vast majority of us shoot only one deer per season, in spite of party hunting and higher bag limits. We certainly don’t kill a deer every time we go hunting. So why do some hunters get their knickers in knots when deer numbers are down?
If your knickers are knotted now, let’s take a short walk down Memory Lane. Do you remember the Polar Vortex? How about all of the lakes that were frozen or nearly so when fishing season opened? What about record-setting snowfall? Winter deer feeding? If you need to blame someone or something for your lack of hunting success in 2014, how about blaming Old Man Winter?
Better yet, shut up and go hunting. Don’t call it quits after opening day. Skip the Sunday football game and spend more time in the woods. And keep hunting as long as the season is open. Nothing pays off like persistence.
If you don’t shoot a deer, so what? It’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the company of your fellow hunters. Take a deep breath of fresh, November air. Relax and appreciate your time away from everything else. And above all, hunt like you mean it.