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Weiss: With deer season upon us, defining what it means to hunt

What makes a hunt, a hunt? Post Bulletin outdoors columnist John Weiss explains what hunting means to him in this week's Outdoors column.

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When scouting for deer, or hunting them, it’s always fun to see other wildlife such as this fox squirrel.
John Weiss / contributed
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ELBA — Last year, in early September, I sat above the Whitewater bluffside where I traditionally gun hunt for deer, looking to shoot one of the deer damaging a sweet corn field.

I had special permits to reduce depredation and though I had my shotgun and shot a deer, it wasn’t a hunt. It did not totally feel like a hunt either because the pressure was on me to help the landowner. That was why I was there, to help.

The Department of Natural Resources, in fact, refused to call it a hunt because it didn’t want people to get the idea that curing such depredation problems is a hunt, said Ryan Tebo, assistant DNR wildlife manager in Rochester.

“We don’t want to associate that with hunting,” he said. “It’s removing problem animals.”

This weekend, I will be back in the area with my shotgun and I will be hunting.

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The difference? That’s where it gets a bit hard to define, at least for non-hunters. Ever since that special shoot, I’ve thought about what makes a hunt a hunt.

Let me try to explain it, from how I look at it. I’m guessing other hunters define hunting their own way. Some might say it’s a tradition that goes with a hunting camp where family and friends gather. Others see it as a challenge to scout, pattern and shoot a trophy buck. Some landowners might see it as another way to use their land, and maybe get back some of the crops in the form of venison.

At times, when I’m snugly at home when it’s cold and windy (perfect duck-hunting weather and not bad for deer) and I try to look at hunting rationally, it doesn’t make sense. There are a lot cheaper, easier ways to get meat in the freezer. When I’m out in the field or in the marsh, it makes all the sense in the world.

So here are some reasons I’ve come up with:

• It’s not easy. I recall watching a TV “hunting” program in which a famous outdoorsman and his guides drove around out west until they saw a nice pronghorn. The famous outdoorsman got out, walked maybe 50 feet and dropped the antelope at maybe 200 yards with one shot. He was a shooter; in my eyes, he wasn’t hunting. I like that hunting is a challenge, and it’s a great workout. 

• I deer hunt for the meat. I love a bit of the wild taste, it smacks of the outdoors, the cold, or sun, the wind, maybe rain. I’m not a trophy hunter, I’m happy with a nice fat doe which would give my family good meat and lower crop depredation.

• It’s satisfying. I feel good when I’m done, with or without meat to take home. Part is because it’s just me and the animals, I’m in their habitat, I’m the outsider, I have to know them to hunt well. It brings me back to the wild. We don’t always kill and killing is not what it’s truly about. But there has to be a chance for a kill. A friend, Tom Ryan, said it well: When you’re watching nature, you’re in the audience; when you hunt, you’re an actor. Life and death are what nature is all about, what nature is — one thing, be it a plant, fish or animal, dies so another can live.

• I’m part of hunting that, for humans, goes back tens of thousands of years. Sure, the technology is better, but deer are deer. I wonder if pre-historic hunters saw themselves as connecting with nature, or were hunting merely for survival? But I’ve read how native Americans would thank the animal for letting them kill it so they might live. I like that attitude. I always feel a bit of awe that I was able to outwit a squirrel, turkey or deer and feel thankful I reconnected with nature.

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• I’m one of hundreds of thousands of other hunters out there, we are a kind of clan. When we meet friends, or new hunters, we have much to talk about.

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Mature bald eagles are among the wildlife seen during hunting season.
Contributed / John Weiss

• It’s outdoors in a special way. When I scouted with my camera Tuesday, I was there alone well before sunrise. I could see Orion, the hunter, boldly dominate the night sky, I heard coyotes howling and felt the coolness of a great morning. Later, I saw two mature bald eagles fly side-by-side then face each other and spin talon-to-talon before disappearing. I saw only a flash of a deer trotting past but it was electric, it sizzled the morning, I instantly slipped from photographer to hunter.

I realize I haven’t perfectly explained what hunting is because it’s hard to explain. But in the last essay in the book “A Hunter’s Heart: Honest Essays on Blood Sport” Richard K. Nelson writes of shooting a nice buck and I believe he comes as close to explain it as possible: “It is a buck deer and all the seasons of four or five years, the bleating of fall, the supple does that moved beneath him and carried his fawns, and the moonlight and the stars, the wind, the fretting of the sea we stand besides. It is a buck deer and it is me, brought together as flesh poured out over the island’s rocks.”

• • • • •

A few more notes on the firearms season:

• Because of CWD in the region, most deer shot the first weekend in most of this region will have to be tested. Check the regulations book for more details and where the testing stations are.

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<br/>A broken twig over a plot of scraped down ground tell hunters a buck has been around. They make scrapes to mark their territory and tell does they are around.
John Weiss / contributed

• Tebo said there should be plenty of deer for hunters. Despite very liberal bag limits to reduce the overall number of deer, and lower chances of more CWD spreading, the region still has a lot of deer. In fact, they regularly see does with twins or triplets. Overall, “I would say there is no reason to believe it’s any different from last year or the year before,” he said.

• The DNR is asking hunters to keep track of deer and some other wildlife they see and report that daily in a special log. I did that two years ago and it was fun, it was something else to keep me alert, and maybe help wildlife management. To log on, go the DNR web page —  dnr.state.mn.us .

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John Weiss has written and reported about Outdoors topics for the Post Bulletin for more than 45 years. He is the author of the book "Backroads: The Best of the Best by Post-Bulletin Columnist John Weiss”

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The firearms deer hunting season opens in Minnesota today. With the opener upon us, Post Bulletin columnist John Weiss reflects on what exactly it means to "hunt."
Post Bulletin file photo

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