By Mike Austreng, Editor
From what we’ve been told we’ve been going to the north woods in Minnesota since we were around six years old. We remember some of it, but not all. Apparently we used to go with dad to his stand and sit (or stand) under where he climbed into the tree, waiting for a deer to show up so dad could shoot it. We remember a lot of the years we hunted, but not too many of those earlier years.
Back in the early years hunting deer was necessary to put some meat in the freezer for our family. Deer in the woods then were more numerous and we still have some of the antlers that tell us the deer were much bigger too.
During our first few years of going with dad into the woods we didn’t have far to drive. It might have been about 12 miles or so to our dad’s uncle’s farm north of Blackduck (where we were born and lived for the first four or five years of our life).
When dad moved the family to Sauk Rapids the drive to hunt became much longer, but we still did it every year. Many years we stayed with grandma in her home. Us boys would sleep on the floor in the living room. Grandma would be up at 3:30 a.m. (or there abouts) cooking us a breakfast before we left for the woods. She tried to be quiet, but wasn’t. She even cooked some mornings with light from only a flashlight, trying to let us sleep a little longer – it never worked, we were awake as soon as we heard her walking down the hall from her bedroom to the kitchen.
As the years went by we used a few different “venues” for sleeping. One of them was an old school bus converted to a motor home of sorts. We’re not sure if we used that for more than a couple years, it just didn’t work well for the number of hunters trying to sleep in it – especially when the battery that ran the heater would give out in the middle of the night.
It was a good number of years ago that our family was offered the opportunity to purchase the farmstead, but non of us had enough money and making payments was out of the question so a small section (6.8 acres) was purchased and mom and dad bought a used mobile home to put on the property to be used for hunting and other family get togethers. The first home we had there didn’t have electricity so we packed lanterns and fuel for our lights and we heated the place with a fireplace and wood we cut from the property.
As the years went by that home surrendered to old age and when the farm sold and the buyer informed us that 1.5’ of one of the corners of our home was over the property line mom and dad surprised us one year with a brand new mobile home set up in a different area of the property. During the next couple years electricity was added and a well was drilled. The well water was strictly for washing out our deer and has never been plumbed to the home (so, yes, we still use an outhouse as our toilet).
We’ve been making this trip to the woods north of Blackduck for about 50 years now. Each year we go to the grocery store to stock up on food for the hunting weekend. We get other supplies we think we’ll need and every year we end up buying WAY more than we need for a single weekend – sometimes it feels like we’re packing for a month! What’s funny is that no matter how much we pack we always feel like we’re missing something.
Traditions have changed a little since our dad passed seven years ago (almost eight years now), but we still head north, sit around the campfire (which is our main cooking source), have a few adult beverages, talk about the hunt (present and past), enjoy a day in the woods (even when we don’t see a deer), and head home with half (or more) of the stuff we packed from the grocery store. Some years we’ll haul a deer or two or three home, some years nothing.
Years ago we used to go north for the second and third weekend of the hunting season (if we didn’t have enough deer hanging) but not for a lot of years – now we hunt the first weekend and let others continue the hunt the other weekends – time became a factor and we just never felt like we could spend more than one weekend making the trek north.
We’re not 100% sure, but this year may be our last one climbing into a deer stand to hunt. There are several reasons behind that thought, but even if we don’t hunt, we may make the drive so we can sit by the campfire with brothers, sons, grandsons, and anyone else who might join the hunters for deer hunting opener.
Have A Good Week!