As the August Wild Rice Harvest Moon of the Ojibwe waxes into full round, the stirrings of the fall hunting seasons are already apparent. Bow hunters are hanging trail cameras along well-traveled deer routes. Early season goose hunters are already bagging honkers in the Intensive Goose Harvest Zone in western and southwestern Minnesota, where high goose numbers are affecting small grain crop yields. Duck hunters are driving by favorite wetlands to check water levels and scout for waterfowl in anticipation of a historically early start to their season. Grouse hunters are hoping the low drum counts were wrong in their favorite aspen coverts.
Gun dogs too, energized by unseasonably cool August temperatures, seem to be bringing more intensity to their training sessions. New hunting gear takes on a must-have glow as it tempts from the shelves, catalog pages and websites of outfitter retailers. Sure as September follows August, the dogs and the hunters will follow their primal instincts into the fields, woods and swamps to validate another autumn, another hunting season.
Avid bow hunters Jason and Kate Howard of Plymouth already have seen tantalizing, digitally recorded proof on their motion-activated trail camera that the big buck that expertly eluded the range of their bows last year is still around. The couple, who are expecting their first child in November, is determined to bring their son, in uteri, to a September hunt. "I'll forgo my tree stand and be hunting from a ground blind," said Kate. "I'd like to point to that buck's rack on our wall when our son is 5 and tell him he was with me on that hunt."
For David Allen of Loretto, Minn., his anticipation for the 2013 waterfowl and pheasant seasons started 10 weeks ago when he enrolled his year-old yellow Labrador puppy, Dolly, in a professional basic training course at Sauk River Kennels near Osakis. Having owned several Labs, Allen knows his puppy is a work in progress and will make mistakes in fields and sloughs this year. He's working with her 15 minutes every day to limit the mistakes. "That first retrieve of a duck or rooster will make all the expense and all the work worthwhile," Allen said.
Tim Esse of Vadnais Heights anticipates the grouse season by tuning up his shooting eye and his English setter, Tina. "I get to a few gun clubs around town and shoot rounds of skeet so I can actually hit something in the woods," Esse said. "I grew up in Grand Rapids but considered grouse hunting a senseless walk in the woods. We didn't have dogs. Then my previous setter and now Tina came into my life."
That was 16 years ago and Esse has been hooked on grouse hunting ever since.
Esse's dog Tina, who is 11, is enrolled in a physical therapy session that includes running on an underwater treadmill to help strengthen a leg she injured last season. Then Tim will take Tina to Northwoods Bird Dogs, a professional grouse dog training center near Sandstone, for her annual tuneup. "My wife Tia will take Tina on her five-mile trail runs for additional late-summer conditioning. By the time the grouse season bell rings Sept. 14, I can guarantee you Tina and I will be ready," Esse said.
For duck hunters there is always a lengthy preparation to-do list. The sport is so equipment intensive. Waders, boats, dogs, guns, calls, shells and camo clothing have to be checked out. At the top of the list is the August preseason ritual of touching up the paint on decoys. Most hunters wouldn't think of going hunting until the decoys appear presentable for their feathered lookalikes. Many a limit of ducks can be taken just daydreaming with a small paint brush in hand.
Pre-hunting-season preparation, planning, scouting and training all come under the general heading of anticipation. The Minnesota hunting seasons are just ahead, and will have seemed far too short when they are over in a few weeks. Many hunters find that time spent preparing for the hunt has the effect of lengthening the season and strengthening their passion for the sport they love.