PIERZ, MINN. At about 7:15 a.m. Saturday while I and roughly 450,000 other deer hunters trudged into the woods to await daybreak, the gurgling call of a raven echoed over the dark treetops.
Welcome to Minnesota's firearm deer season, the 2007 version.
If it's the cry of the loon that has meaning for spring walleye seekers, it's the raven's fetching songs that greet deer seekers in the north woods.
Fifteen minutes later, a rifle report replaced the bird music. The hunt for deer was under way. And the start was near-perfect; a brisk, windless sunrise was about to unfold.
Following a long ATV ride and a long walk, I reached a tree that has held my deer hunting stand for nearly a decade now. Carefully, I climbed the ladder, hoisted my unloaded .270 Winchester (pre-1964 model) and sat down to a view of the woods as familiar as the back of my hand.
As always, it felt good to be there. I settled in, sharpened my senses as high as they would go and began the waiting game.
Truth is, deer hunters wait the whole year for the opener. Our deer camp was rekindled Friday with the arrival of John Larson of Burnsville and later his son, Scott. My two brothers, Robert of Hutchinson and Rick of Fergus Falls, also were on hand.
We unloaded gear, stored the groceries and, slowly, what was a mouse house became a warm and cozy place of memories and tradition. Bro' Rick served his hot chili, and Bro' Robert hauled out the cribbage board to challenge the elder Larson. I don't know who won because I was hanging out around the campfire with a guest, Joe Harewicz of Eden Prairie, who was hunting with a video camera. We talked about the magnificence of a whitetail deer, its sense of smell, its keen hearing, its grace and beauty.
Minnesota may be harboring 1.2 million deer, but none of them are stupid, and all of them are equipped to survive hunters, be they wolves or coyotes or bear or mankind. Sadly, deer don't do well against 70-mile-per-hour traffic.
Fortunately, the whitetails around deer camp don't have to worry about looking into headlights or highways. They follow their own trails. Deer tracks seem everywhere, old and new. And the telltale sign of the rutting (breeding) season for whitetails are scattered in the woods -- fresh circular scrapes on the ground, made by unseen bucks on the make for female company.
What happens in the woods stays in the woods.
By 9 a.m. opening morning, my view from the tree stand hadn't changed much.
I heard a branch snap and thought it might be a buck, but the ghost of the woods didn't show.
The waiting game continued.
Maybe it was time for a cup of coffee. If I reached for the thermos, I figured, that surely would prompt a deer to appear.
The coffee could wait, I decided.
Meanwhile, Scott Larson was guarding a different part of the woods when a big doe, acting nervous and looking behind her, came into view. Scott said he figured a buck might be on her trail. Sure enough, a buck appeared, but only a teenager, a spike buck.
"The spike also acted nervous," Scott said.