Deer Hunt 2006: Redux

I figure that if God had intended for man to hunt deer out of a 20-foot-high tree stand, He'd have made the ground a whole lot softer. The urge to be alone and pursue deer can be very strong. Therefore, this correspondent set up two camouflaged, ...

I figure that if God had intended for man to hunt deer out of a 20-foot-high tree stand, He'd have made the ground a whole lot softer.

The urge to be alone and pursue deer can be very strong.

Therefore, this correspondent set up two camouflaged, flop-tents in a field freckled with small pines in the rolling hill terrain of the Nemadji River drainage of Carlton County. Into both were put fold-up "bag" chairs. One tent contained a Daisy propane heater, a modern powder, rifle gun and a brown bag lunch. You could walk between the two blinds during the course of the hunting day.

The 40 acres upon which all this was taking place was laden everywhere with deer manure, sapling rubs, well-worn game trails and fresh beds in the high grass, numerous new scrapes - and deer snow tracks, especially on the planted food plots. In the mornings, it looked as if a flock of sheep had mulled through there.

From in the blind one could watch in the distance the ice form on the pond edge as the beavers V-lined back and forth-all day long.


Nothing came.

The second day after sitting on post for a few hours, I tramped to the top of an adjacent brushy ridge, glassed about the 360 degrees, and settled a gaze on the tent blind on the far bench land.

Oh!! No!!

The 12-point "Christmas-tree buck" was sniffing the scent rag on my Ameri-Step tent. Locals in this zip code often had seen this monster, antlered Romeo on the field during the fall. They had begun to describe him as having a rack as "wide as a Christmas tree." If I had stayed in that flop blind, I'd have shot down the buck of a lifetime.

Oh well.

Later I got onto his dew-clawed tracks and followed him down into an area of lowland springs called "The Hole." He crossed a river to the southeast while I traversed to the southwest. Truly, it would have been impossible alone to drag the big boy out of there if I'd been lucky enough to heave a ball into him.

After a truck drive down to a township on the county line, I met, in singles and groups, a dozen members of the pumpkin army during an hour of pussy-footing in the woods. Almost all were from the Twin Cities, from various camps and one fellow - actually a local - had shot down two fine deer on Opening Day while doing yard work.

This bosky woodlot in the wilderness county that Ruben Carlton gave his name to seemed more on this day like Grand Central Station than a deer yard in Minnesota's Arrowhead Country. So many chaps from the Big Cities were wandering around looking for something to shoot dead. I felt as if I should have put on clothes made of orange Kevlar.


In 1532, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador in Peru, told Atahuallpa, the chief of the Inca Indians, "We suffer from a disease that only gold can cure!" These gun-toting pumpkin-ites were all possessed by a passion that only thick-beamed, high-tyned, heavy deer racks can cure, to be sure.

I couldn't "pink" a deer to save my soul. A conclusion: More deer bring more deer hunters who spook more deer, which alert the whole deer herd sooner.

I bought a muzzle-loading, deer license upgrade and set out. During the black powder season, of course, there are not the great numbers of hunters as before. Many of the big bucks no longer stand in a swamp for two weeks as they might during the regular rifle season. Some tell me that the big bucks get back at that time into their daily, regular routine.

The last several seasons have been pleasantly mild and sometimes warm. Shooting a 50-calibre "front-end-loader" is a pleasure: There is not the bruising stroke on your shoulder when you fire the piece. But rather it is akin to lighting a Fourth of July rocket off your upper arm.

Unfortunately, this writer only saw a feeding distant doe during all of the black powder time. I stopped in lower Twin Lakes Township to talk with a Christmas tree rancher. He told me the entire deer herd in the area seem to cycle in a wide radius. They follow the broad sweep of the Blackhoof River in his part of the county, including the antecedent headwaters behind his place. That is why he said you might not see fresh tracks in the snow for a half a week or so.

I thought the phases of the moon might be a factor. Was the moon at night prompting the deer not to show during the day?

After the bow-rifle-muzzle seasons were over, I picked up some information on the Solunar Game Tables. It claimed the best time to deer hunt is when the moon is "straight up or down." If the dawn comes and there is a full moon in the morning, the feeding deer do not retire to their beds until after the start of the morning light. If the moon is set, the big bucks are back in bed in the brush.

I talked about it with a nationally-known Carlton County trapper. "You know," he said, "there could be something to those Solunar Tables. I know, I usually eat at night when the kitchen light is on."


Decades ago there was a highly educated fellow from the Twin Cities who had a weekend cabin in Carlton County. He was a man of repute and great gravitas. He is dead now but his name and accomplishments literally are known all over the world, in small circles. Ask me sometime and I'll tell you about him.

He woke to eat a snack and saw a monarch whitetail of a lifetime feeding in his front yard during the deer season. He shot the muy grande buck through the glass of his living room picture window at three in the morning. This is the true story told of the demise of a crepuscular buck.

On the sunny morning of the last day of the muzzle-loading season, I called my good, knowledgeable Mahtowa friend, Rueben. He was in camp in southern Missouri. He was just getting organized to go fly-fish for big brown trout in North Arkansas. I told him my troubles.

"Rueben, I just can't seem to wallop a deer this year. What am I doing wrong? I've put in almost 60 hours. I'm seein' fresh tracks everywhere, but not encountered any deer to shoot dead."

Rueben took time to ponder the problem. He enunciated in that slow Ozark drawl he comes back with after weeks of fishing down there.

"Well, John, it seems to me that the key to successful deer hunting is not to be where the tracks have been, but to hunt where the tracks are going to be."

And I can't dispute that advice.

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