Are We Forgetting About Keeping The Older Generation Outdoors?

Now that I’m in my 50s I tend to look at life a bit differently than I did when I was…oh, say 20 or 30 years old.   When a person is younger they have an abundance of unbridled energy and enthusiasm.   As you age, the mind often says I sure want to do that, but the body doesn’t always agree with that misguided thinking.

This past weekend while I was deer hunting I looked up at several trees and thought…hmmm, those trees would sure be wonderful supports for a cobbled together deer stand for next season.   All a person would have to do is climb up the tree, start pounding some nails into wood, and contort the body into unusual positions to get the project completed.   Sure sounds like fun…NOT!   Well, it did when I was half my current age, but not now.DSC08896

As a sportsman ages you learn to adjust your activity to what your body can endure.   Unfortunately, there comes a time when many hunters (and certainly even fishermen) simply give up.   When the fun of an activity becomes a chore, that signals to many it is time to move on to other less strenuous activities.

Now, let’s contrast this with the efforts underway by many organizations to get more youth involved in the outdoors.   A very noble cause and I don’t mean to take anything away from those efforts, but I still have to wonder if perhaps we are forgetting about the other end of the sportsman spectrum?

I think it is time all of us as sportsmen don’t overlook the seniors in their hunting and fishing camps.   When things start getting tough—whether it be building deer stands, getting into or out of boats, walking long distances, etc.—several years can be extended to a sportsman’s outdoors fun just by providing a helping hand.   Trouble is, for many seniors acknowledging this loss of independence is a bitter pill to swallow and they will not ask for help…and sometimes will not even accept it when it is offered.

P1010015It’s fine and dandy to introduce youngsters to the great outdoors.   I think in many ways for our heritage to continue this is an obvious priority.   But realize older sportsmen, or those with disabilities, also deserve some greater attention throughout our ranks.

Consider the efforts you spend to help an older person continue their enjoyment of the outdoors simply “paying it forward.”   Eventually, God willing, we all grow older and our day will come soon enough to deal with these same dilemmas.   Do you simply hang up the outdoors life for the easy chair or accept some assistance from a younger, stronger, more able-bodied person?

Thankfully, I am not quite to the point where I need to curtail too many of my outdoors activities thanks to a decrepit body…but when the day draws closer it would be my hope that someone younger recognizes the importance of keeping me out in the woods…or on the waters.   If for only a few years longer than I otherwise could.

©2013 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

What Matters Are The Memories—Not Deer—Taken From The Woods

Don’t let anyone fool you…deer hunting is much more about creating memories than it is about the act of killing deer.

It’s a time for reflection about your life and there is simply no better place to do that than sitting out in the woods, nose dripping from the frigid cold, back stiff from a rock hard seat, churning stomach from a combination of jerky and candy bars, and who can forget the urge to pee when it’s often most inconvenient to do so.

One of my very first hunting partners, Gary Urness, still hunts with me in spirit each fall even after passing away from ALS almost 10 years ago.

Yet, most hunters who spend time out in the woods overcome all the discomforts and get hooked on deer hunting for life.   Admittedly, for some hard core hunting souls they are driven by the almost insatiable urge to hang bone (antlers) on the wall.   Others are motivated by the deep desire to put venison in the freezer for the many upcoming culinary delights.   Then, I contend, there is a good number of hunters, like me, who simply revel in the fact the good Lord has granted us one more opportunity in the woods to experience some of the best times possible spent in nature.

When you are a young hunter it is necessary to prove your predatory prowess to family and friends.   Bagging a deer makes or breaks the hunt during this stage of hunter development.   The thought of an unfilled deer tag sends a shiver up the young spine.   But for many hunters as they mature they develop a more sophisticated satisfaction from the deer hunting experience.   Oh, sure, don’t get me wrong as a deer hunter the goal of killing a deer is always in your mind.   But the truly mature and content hunter is the one who enters the woods knowing full well no matter what happens on any given day it will be a successful deer hunting experience.

When you get right down to it deer hunting is a peculiar pastime.   A person sits and waits for hours and if the hunter is lucky they might see deer for a few split seconds.   The majority of the time spent stand hunting is concentrating, looking, patiently waiting and wondering when that moment of sheer excitement will finally arrive.

Suddenly you hear a twig snap!   Your heart starts to pound as the natural adrenalin kicks in with a large bolus of energy to your bloodstream.   Ahhh!  Dang!  Disappointment soon overtakes you as you painfully discover it’s only a fox squirrel scampering around on a downed log behind your stand.

Then there are those long idle moments when nothing seems to be happening.   Actually, in the woods if you look closely there is always some sort of action taking place.   Maybe it’s a woodpecker scouring the tree looking for a meal…or maybe a tree finally losing its leaves at a rapid pace.   The deer woods is constantly evolving and changing before our eyes.

My cousin, Howard Braaten, passed away from Leukemia far too many years ago, but I still feel his lasting presence in the deer stand each fall as we continue to share special moments together in nature.

I sometimes chuckle when I hear a deer hunter describe they didn’t see anything.   Of course, what they mean is they didn’t see a deer.   But the truth is a person would have to be asleep not to be in the deer woods soaking up the total experience.

For me, deer hunting is also largely about memories of hunters no longer with us in body, but certainly still present in the spiritual sense.   I’ve said this before how I may be physically sitting in the tree by myself, but I am never feeling truly alone.   At no other time during the year do I feel closer to pals who have moved on to higher hunting grounds than I do during deer hunting season.

Young hunters just can’t understand this until later in life, but its the memories a deer hunter holds so dear that connects a person to this sport for a lifetime.   And when I talk about memories I am not just talking about deer, but also the memories of people you once shared those special moments with in the woods.

Indeed, the rest of the world might measure the true success of a deer hunter by the tangible venison and antlers he has to show for his efforts after the hunt.   What a terrible mistake.   As many deer hunters grow to realize over a lifetime, it’s the many intangible memories a person takes from the deer woods that truly matters after the hunt.

©2013 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Here’s What I’ll Be Doing Instead Of Pheasant Hunting

This coming Saturday in Minnesota opens the 2013 pheasant hunting season.   Now, you’d think an outdoors writer might be excited about the fast-approaching season opener, right?   WRONG!   To be honest, I couldn’t care less.   In fact, pheasant hunting in my particular area of the state has become so insignificant in recent memory I won’t even be holding a gun that day.

Instead, I’m going blogging.   Yup, that’s right…I’m going to the 4th Annual Minnesota Blogger Conference to be held up in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Now, typically this conference has been held in early September so it has not impacted any fall hunting seasons, but this year when it landed squarely on the Pheasant Opener it was still an easy choice.   Go blogging!

The problem is, for pheasant hunting in my western section of Goodhue County, Minnesota, I think a person might just as well write an epitaph for the sport of pheasant hunting.   It’s not what it used to be 30 years ago and it doesn’t take a seasoned wildlife biologist to recognize it will likely never be that way again.   The heyday for pheasants in my little world is a distant memory just like my first kiss back in grade school.   It will never happen again.

And quite frankly, I am frustrated.   I used to look forward each year during my youth to pheasant season.   Over the years I raised and trained several bird dogs just for such an outdoor uplands adventure.   But no more.   Sadly enough, I’m pretty sure this picture showing the entire staff at Pheasants Forever depicts more employees than the number of pheasants in my rural township.   This year on opening morning I would bet you lunch you could criss-cross the sloughs and grasslands of my local area and find nobody out pheasant hunting on opening morning.

And yeah, I hear what you might be saying.   If you love to go pheasant hunting so much then pack up your truck and drive west.   Certainly a possibility I might concede, but not something I am inclined to do anytime soon.

You see, when growing up pheasants were a resource found everywhere around me.   There wasn’t a fall night when I couldn’t hear the birds cacklin’ as the sun inched toward the horizon.   Countless times I grabbed my gun from the closet and set out for 20 minutes of impromptu hunting along some wooded fence line on my property.

It was fun.   It was spontaneous.   And I was young and full of energy.   Today, I’m not sure I could physically muster the amount of drive needed to trek the ground necessary to see even a single bird.   It’s no longer worth it to me.   In fact, if I do see a single pheasant these days on my property I’m not even inclined to shoot it.   It’s that depressing…and growing that hopeless.

Recently a fellow outdoors writer asked about coming down to my farm pheasant hunting.   I told him to save the gas.   I also have several hunting companions who no longer spend the big bucks on top bloodlines and training for their dogs.   The pheasant population around here these days just doesn’t justify either the effort or the expense

Yeah, I am down on pheasant hunting as I once knew it.   I tip my hat still to the throngs of folks who pile into their Suburban’s and head to the Dakota’s each fall on this rooster ritual.   More power to you.   I hope the resource out there doesn’t start disappointing you any time soon.

As for me, I’ve all but given up on pheasant hunting because to me it was always an activity I could do right here in my backyard without motels, long trips and out-of-state license fees.   In fact, there’s a part of me that simply refuses to jump in a vehicle and drive countless hours to enjoy a wild resource once abundant in my own back yard.

So, when Saturday rolls around and the the clock officially signals the opening of pheasant season in Minnesota, I’ll be sitting back in a nice easy chair improving on the craft of blogging.   Oh, sure, I would rather have sore, wet feet and a game bag heavy with long-tails sticking out.   But sadly, that notion has become a distant memory of my hunting past and I now must seek my outdoor thrills thanks to other wildlife species.

©2013 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.