Although our 2020 firearms deer season will probably end with a whimper compared to our 2016 firearms deer season that ended in a wild blizzard, horrible road conditions and up to thigh-deep snowdrifts in some deer countries, because of the pandemic, 2020 was not like any other deer season – save for the WWII days. As far as the basics like the weather, it was definitely far from ordinary. The first several days were a mixture of July-like balmy weather, followed by a day of rain, then snow and wind and more wind carrying that inevitable Great White North deep freeze blast. Deer moved for some during the first four days and due to the unseasonable high temps harvested animals had to be taken care of quickly. In this regard, we tip our hats to not only the diligent hunters who processed their deer post haste, but also to our expert commercial deer processors who took great pains to ensure there was no spoilage, some even renting “reefers” – refrigerator trailers, that is.
This year our deer camp was hoping the closing Sunday’s hunt would end like last year’s, not just with a deer (although that would be nice), but with swans honking over our deer country against a blue/pink sunset. Even though the phrase “swan song” is a metaphorical phrase from the Greek for a final gesture, effort, the swans’ actual sounds are a mixture of magic and melancholy, much like the closing of deer season. Moreover, even though for many of us traditional deer hunting gatherings had to be cancelled, we know they will be back and as the old-timers often said, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
In 2016, at sunset as we watched a fawn up to its belly in snow, trudging into what had to be its first snow and cold, because they cannot migrate like the swans, many of us questioned how our deer herd would fare that winter and thought about the two terrible winters of 2013 and 2014. FYI, following a very mild winter, the spring of 2012 was Minnesota’s earliest ice out ever and 2013 and 2014 were its latest, respectively, and among our worst deer survival winters on record.
Let’s hope 2020 is not a repeat of 2016. That said, perhaps it’s also time our DNR revisits the components of the Winter Severity Index (WSI). The Minnesota DNR calculates the WSI by accumulating a point for each day with an ambient temperature below 0 degrees F and an additional point for each day with a snow depth above 15 inches and that end-of-season values of 100 indicate a mild winter and 180 indicate a severe winter.
Some of the talk we have been hearing is maybe other factors besides depth of snow and cold should be considered, for example how early the snow comes and leaves, which could affect vital food sources even though the snow is not near the 15” range. Another is wind chill. To wit, here is an old-timer’s gem about determining how bad a winter is for deer - all you have to do is take a look at how much fuel you use to heat your house, implying deer only have so much fat fuel to burn and when that is gone so are they.
Congratulations, of course, are in order to all who put venison in their freezers. If you aren’t sure you are going to eat all of it, though, bring some over, cooked or not, to those who are in need, don’t hunt or can’t hunt anymore. Better yet, have some venison sausage, brats or sticks made and bring them over. Many of us were brought up with the adage, “You eat what you shoot.” Now, however, we should add, “or let someone else enjoy it.”
After mentioning the 2016 storm, we feel obligated to reference legendary outdoor writer, Gordon MacQuarrie, who on Armistice Day November 11, 1940, was sent to cover a story straddling the line between straight news and the outdoor pages. His account of the infamous 1940 “Armistice Day Storm” became one of his most famous works as a newsman and it is still highly regarded and widely reprinted on the anniversary of the event. Later, writing the scene was the most horrific he had ever experienced, Mr. MacQuarrie’s report was grim and graphic: “The ducks came and men died. They died underneath upturned skiffs as the blast sought them out on boggy, unprotected islands. They died trying to light fires and jumping and sparring to keep warm. They died sitting in skiffs. They died standing in river water to their hips, awaiting help.” Over forty died. Look it up, it’s a life-changing read. In that mode, also consider the horror and devastation of those who have fallen victim to the Western fires and other hurricanes in America and worldwide this year. Please remember how important your prayers and any financial support you can provide are to those in need.
In a lighter vein, allow us to report that one hunter in our crew did have a couple issues this season. One instance involved markings on 2”x2”s he used to revamp a steel portable stand. What he had done was take a store-bought laddered, platformed, steel stand and add a floor, trapdoor, walls, a roof, etc. Because they are pretty hard to get into the woods, he made it to be disassembled. His plan was to put the parts in a big ice-fishing sled and reassemble them on his chosen deer stand site.
After seeing it assembled on the ground by the builder’s pole building and not on the platform because it featured almost two-foot roof overhangs, another in our crew dubbed it the “Hot Dog Stand” because it looked like a back-in-the day baseball and softball field hot dog stand. Did it work? Well, because some of our “workout-fit” hunters turned into human “Bobcats,” it worked flawlessly.
So, what was the problem? Actually, nothing in the construction, but when the stand owner marked his bolt holes for reassembly, he Magic-Markered several large Xs to indicate the spots for the bolts. When first climbing into the stand on opening day using a flashlight, the black magic marker slashings looked like big wood spiders and the stand engineer is so terrified of all things spiders (his bride has to dispatch spiders that infiltrate their house) “freaking out” would be a good description of his reaction. Another hunter’s son learned a hard economics lesson when he left his high-end jerky in the stand overnight and a whole “mischief” of mice feasted like they had never before dined!
Hopefully most of you, although muted by social distancing and not having those regular attendees who chose not to hunt, still had some sort of a blessed hunt. And, who knows, as we look back on this dastardly year of 2020, perhaps in some strange way we might even have learned to appreciate the little things in life more.
Like many camps had to forgo various time-honored rituals, we, too, had to cancel our memorable second weekend deer shack party at Walt and Corey Dimich’s “Big Swamp Deer Camp.” Even though it is a decades old tradition filled with great food, stories, reflections, observations, family and visits from friends, alas, it was not to be. But, like “there is no crying in baseball” (Tom Hanks’ “A League of Their Own” 1992), there is no crying in deer hunting. And, so should it be. Again, as per the old-timers, there are far worse things in life than not having a party or two. Still, we missed having the second Saturday of deer season party as this Big Swamp Deer Camp backwoods gala celebration features Slavic music (on cassette tapes, of course), deer heart in a Lawrence Lake traditional barbecue/green pepper/onion sauce, cubed and fried in butter deer tenderloin/steak and the annual cacophony of “calling for Squatch” led by the Dimich ladies and their friends.
To hopefully help calm some of your pandemic angst, we will leave with an uplifting quote from the courageous, inspirational, beacon of hope and role model for the afflicted, Bethany Hamilton, “Strive to look for things to be thankful for and just look for the good in who you are!” As we approach Thanksgiving, also remember, “Hope and faith are the only things stronger than fear.” No matter how muted, how distant, how different, have a blessed Thanksgiving…
Nik and Rod Dimich are on Ray’s Sport & Marine’s pro staff and Rod is a pro-staffer for L&M Supply. To contact Dimich Outdoors, please email: email@example.com. Kristin Dimich contributes to this column.