Tuesday, December 11, 2007


Minnesota's Deer-Hunting Season

Originally published in the New York Mills Herald on November 14, 2007 and credited to my alternate identity, Elisa Korentayer.

I started to notice it when I first got to New York Mills last spring. Murmurings about hunting. Detailed conversations on preparing for the November deer season. The oft-repeated question: “Did you get your deer this year?” I heard more on deer in six months than I ever have before. As the months approached November, more and more conversation revolved around hunting. I heard about hunting equipment, traffic patterns around meat lockers on Monday mornings, deer meat, hide retrieval, shooting, and other topics that were once foreign to me. Comments about last year’s deer. Expectations about next year’s deer. Deer for hunting. Deer for skinning. Hides. Hides in exchange for gloves or money. Food. Sausage. Venison. Canned deer meat. I learned that venison tastes less strong when canned. A good buck. A good doe. The look in their eyes as they die. The long walk to the deer stand. The long wait for a deer. The cold. The meat locker. So-called ‘hunting widows’ filling up the hotels in Detroit Lakes and Fargo as they entertain themselves while their husbands are out in the woods.

I particularly loved the concise message gracing the sign at Designs by Tes, “Flowers. Happy Wives, Happy Hunting.”

In the sports stores, I learned about products I’d never heard of before. Metal tree-climbing steps. Deer stands. Reversible hunting suits: one side in forest camouflage and the other in vibrant Day-Glo orange. The reversible hunting suit seems to me a great metaphor for life in the woods during the days of the deer season: you’re either a hunter or the human being trying to get through the woods without getting shot. Anyone can be either, just choose your role and don the right set of colors. It’s a curious way of life to one who is unfamiliar with it. A way of life that seems closer to the way it used to be: there’s less in between a man and his meat.

Deer season is so normal in Minnesota, such a part of the fabric of life, that it seems that people plan their their years around it like the rest of the country plans around Christmas. Stores tell you that service will be delayed because of the staff going away for deer hunting. I didn’t know what to expect as I experienced this event I had heard about for over a year. On Saturday, as the sky began to show signs of imminent sunrise, the first pops of bullets sounded through my window. Though it had been recommended to me before, it became abundantly clear that unless I was actually planning to clad myself in appropriate hunting attire, claim a rifle, and wait for deer, I ought to remain far away from the woods.

As someone who grew up in the suburbs, guns were always something dangerous and bad: those contraptions that were illegally gained for malicious use. As someone who lived in a big city, the sound of gunshots was cause for dropping down out of range of the window. Guns didn’t have anything to do with food, and I didn’t know that they could be a tool to help humans survive the elements. I used to read about pioneers from long ago who used their rifles to protect against threatening wolves or bears, but, in the hermetically-sealed human-ruled world of my suburban childhood, nature was relegated to charmingly cultured hedges and flower patches that served as visual relief from the repetitive development housing. Similarly, in the city, nature is a small square of fiercely protected dirt that is home to a weary, pollution-blackened tree, sometimes surrounded by knee-high fencing and a sign that reads “Curb your dog.” It’s amazing how precious a small patch of land is when vast tracts of the surrounding land are covered in concrete. In New York City neighborhoods, apartment blocks full of people clamor for a small patch of dirt the size of a bathroom in a community garden that exists because citizens spent years lobbying not to develop an abandoned, and furiously fought over, lot. Here in Minnesota, though most of the land has a human stamp on it, humans live more in collaboration with the land than in competition with it. Farms make use of the land to encourage nature to grow products humans can use. Most Minnesotans hunt and fish. And everyone seems more aware of their natural surroundings. I recently heard a statistic that per capita Minnesotans spend more time outside than citizens of any other state in the U.S.—and this in the state that boasts some of the coldest temperatures in the country.

So far, my only experience with deer is worrying about them rushing out in front of my car as I speed down Highway 10. I’ve learned to keep an eye on the edges of the road past the shoulder. But I think that next year, I’d like to go out and experience deer hunting. I’d like to don my own reversible hunting suit and see what all this fuss is about. Now, if I could only find the local adult education course that teaches city girls about gun safety.

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