Jim Braaten

Jim Braaten lives near Kenyon, Minn., and has been an avid outdoorsman for more than 35 years. He lives on the family farm that was first settled by his ancestors 152 years ago. He has been an outdoors writer and photographer, and he owns a business producing and marketing calendars.

The spirit lives on long after the deer hunter

Posted by: Jim Braaten Updated: November 15, 2009 - 9:59 AM

When Kevin Rokenbrodt went deer hunting last weekend he finally got to hunt with his Uncle Gary.   Since around the age of 10, Kevin’s uncle talked about deer hunting and the dreams he had of Kevin someday joining him for the annual hunt.

As a youth, Kevin took the Minnesota Firearms Safety class and did everything a youngster should do to prepare for his first firearms deer hunt.   Kevin’s uncle even gave him one of his favored shotguns which he ended up using during last weekend’s Minnesota deer hunting opener.

The only thing physically missing from the experience was Uncle Gary.

You see, several years back Gary Urness passed away after a long and difficult struggle with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (also known as ALS).   As Kevin found out, his uncle might not have been with him “in body,” but he was definitely along for the deer hunt “in spirit.”

Kevin patiently sat in the same deer stand his uncle painstakingly built many years ago.   He experienced the same sights and sounds his uncle had enjoyed each fall during his healthy years.   He hiked the same path to the stand his uncle would have walked oh so many times before him.   In fact, as Kevin discovered, there were moments just sitting quietly in the deer stand when he could sense his uncle sitting right next to him—encouraging him, coaching him, and probably explaining the virtues of being patient as a deer hunter.

It was 25 years ago when Kevin started hearing about these deer hunting dreams shared by a respected elder.   Today, however, Kevin is 36 years old and lives with his family in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.   After all these years the unfulfilled promise of getting to go deer hunting with his uncle had never been forgotten.   Even though the young kid had now turned into a man, the desire to live out the dream always lingered in Kevin’s mind until this fall when he finally chose to go deer hunting with his uncle.

I can certainly relate.   In fact, deer hunting to me is much more than lining up the sights on a deer and then pulling the trigger.   Much like Kevin experienced, deer hunting is also about spending solitary time in the deer stand and contemplating what’s important in life.   Thinking about things past, present and future.   Inevitably, as you grow older as a hunter, there will be those partners who have moved on to higher hunting grounds.   Their memories remain important and there’s no better way to honor their spirit than to do so in the deer woods.

My father passed away when I was 10 years old.   We never got the opportunity to hunt together and share that sort of bonding experience.   Yet, each season when I step into the deer woods my dad is right by my side.   My actions in the woods are guided by doing the sort of things I feel would continue to make him proud of his son.   In so many ways I can still feel his presence when I hunt deer…and the deer woods feels much more real than visiting a grave site and paying any such proper respects at that venue.

Fall 2010 will be the next big step.   It's when Kevin Rokenbrodt plans to bring his young son deer hunting with him for the very first time.   In the deer woods Kevin will teach his boy the proper and safe ways to hunt the whitetail.   But that’s not all.   It will also be done in Uncle Gary’s beloved deer stand where Kevin finally introduces his son to an important life influence that continues to live on and thrive—even, if only in the deer hunter’s mind.

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