By Shawn Perich
In a recent email conversation with a Canadian friend, the topic of baiting deer arose. Actually I brought it up by mentioning how pervasive baiting has become in northern Ontario. My friend agreed baiting seems to be the new norm for Ontario deer hunters.
However, it wasn’t his norm. He replied:
“I can state without any hesitation, that it is my least favourite way to hunt deer. Sitting in a blind or stand for 8 hours and peering out through a tiny hole is boring beyond belief. Almost any other approach to deer hunting is far more engaging, challenging and fun. And you have hunting stories worth remembering!”
When it comes to my outlook on deer hunting, my friend was singing to the choir. I have no more desire to shoot a deer over bait than I want to shoot a dog raiding my garbage can. Of course, baiting isn’t legal in our state, but—despite protestations to the contrary—whacking a deer over a food plot intended to attract hungry whitetails during the hunting season is a pretty close approximation. In either case, you artificially manipulate deer behavior by offering a consistent source of food. Then you take advantage of the manipulation to ambush the deer when it visits the food source.
But my friend’s comments strike more to the heart of the matter. Crawling into a box blind and then peering out through tiny hole is “boring beyond belief.” Sure, sitting in a blind is warmer than being out in the open and keeps you sheltered from rain or snow. But unless you seek such comfort due to health reasons or advanced age, is it really necessary to box up your hunt? Considering how common box blinds have become across Minnesota, many hunters must think so.
Maybe Sigmund Freud, were he a deer hunter, would have an explanation. Perhaps, by going inside a dark box, the modern deer hunter reenters the womb. If so, the comfort those hunters seek may be less about cold and rain—and more about their psyche. But hey, what do I know? I didn’t take Psychology 101 in college.
Actually, I went to college to learn how to write stories, so I could tell tales about deer hunting, among other things. But my friend points out there are no stories to be told when you wait in a box and then shoot a deer as it ambles up looking for something to eat. When I think of the many deer hunting stories told to me over the years, virtually none had anything to do with boxes, bait or food plots.
What’s interesting is that I have a funny feeling ‘inside the box” hunters, along with the rest of us, will say the primary reason they go hunting is to get outside, spend time with friends and family, and commune with Nature. Unfortunately, only one out of three reasons is true for them. Yes, they can spend time with friends and family, but their hunt occurs inside a box, with a wall between them and the natural world. Heck, they even miss out on the simple pleasure of having a chickadee land on their gun barrel.
What’s sad is that the farther we slide away from Nature in our outdoor experiences, the less likely we are to return to the same. I’m not suggesting we go back to the era of the flintlock rifle and coonskin hat, but if you shield yourself from experiencing the natural world, even when you are supposedly doing so, I’m not sure you can truly appreciate it.
Maybe that why it seems why so many hunters seem to be trapped inside a box when it comes to speaking out about the ongoing diminishment of hunting opportunities for pheasants, deer and ducks in Minnesota. If your view of the outdoors is no more than what you can see when looking out of windows of your blind, maybe you can’t grasp a bigger picture. But hey, when you get bored in the box because you haven’t seen anything to shoot, you can always retreat to the couch and the boob tube.
Last weekend the dog and I went for a walk along the Pigeon River, which follows the Canadian border. The Pigeon encompasses one of the North Shore’s largest drainages, so I wasn’t surprised the river was still open. What did surprise me was the lack of game sign along its banks. I saw no tracks left by moose or deer. Two or three wolves had wandered through, but they appeared to be traveling, not hunting.
Apparently wolves don’t like to eat snowshoe hares, because there were hare tracks everywhere. I saw more hare tracks than I’ve encountered anywhere since the late 1970s. Back then, there were so many hares in northeastern Minnesota that my teen-aged friends and I would often shoot a dozen of them in a few hours of hunting.
What’s interesting was that back then, we saw few deer tracks in the places where hares were abundant. Predators such as pine marten and fisher were uncommon, too. Thinking about what used to be got me wondering if I was observing a parallel situation. Not long ago, the Pigeon River country supported an abundance of moose. As their numbers declined, deer became common. Now, populations of both are in the tank. The same can be said for pine marten and fisher populations.
Now, I understand hare populations rise and fall on a 10-year cycle, similar to ruffed grouse. But when deer, pine marten and fisher became more abundant during the 1980s, the ups and downs in hare numbers were less pronounced. Only in the past couple of years have I heard folks in my neck of the woods say hares are numerous. Is it possible these little herbivores fill a void when large herbivores, such as deer or moose, are absent?