Will Steger to a trapshooting phenom: Minnesotans share their 2023 bucket lists
New year, new possibilities, new plans. We asked people in Minnesota's outdoors, what is a planned bucket list experience in 2023?
In recent years I've been taking solo trips in the far north during late winter and spring breakup. This year I'm heading April 15 to Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories. I'll cross Great Bear, which is a couple of hundred miles long, and then head north to the Arctic Ocean. In the past I've pulled a canoe-sled with my gear, but this year I'll take an inflatable raft. I'll have 240 pounds of gear because resupply will be impossible. My plan is to float rivers north as they break up in May. By then I'll be low on food, so I'll fish to eat. The last 100 miles I'll have to hike out. I keep upping the ante on these solo spring trips. It's typically not a time people travel in the north, but to see the rivers open up and the ducks and other birds returning is unbelievable. My goal is to reach the little village of Paulatuk in the Inuvik Region of the Northwest Territories. From there I can fly back commercially to Minnesota.
Executive director, International Owl Center (Houston, Minn.)
In another four months, I'll be on a week of vacation — rising every day at the crack of dawn and hitting the road until dark in search of baby great horned owls to band. We'll eat from a cooler of food inside our vehicle between stops, there will be no bathroom breaks, and we'll meet some of the nicest people all over southern Saskatchewan. The nests are concealed in trees, abandoned buildings and other odd spots, and the goal is to avoid getting clocked by an adult while we're banding the fluffy owlets. It's pretty intense but I can't imagine anything more fun! I get to be the sidekick for great horned owl bander Martin Gerard, who took over the owl banding business from the legendary C. Stuart Houston. Back in 2017, Martin asked me at an owl conference in Portugal if I had ever heard the vocalization great horned owls make when performing a broken wing display. I had never even seen the display, so I enthusiastically accepted his offer to take me banding for a week in 2018. I went back in 2022. Broken wing recordings? Check. Owls personally banded? About 100 and counting. I hope the experience will qualify me for my own banding permit someday.
The Nature Conservancy science director (North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota)
Grasslands and wide-open spaces are my first love in nature, but I also enjoy traveling to natural places new to me. One very different (from Minnesota) place I have never explored is the Pacific Northwest. This summer I am planning a two-week camping trip with my family to the Washington coast. We will start the trip with bison and sunsets at Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, Canada. From there we will stop at Glacier National Park and Mount Rainier National Park on the way to Olympic National Park in the northwest corner of Washington. On the Olympic peninsula, my family and I are excited to experience both the incredibly lush, green temperate rainforest and the rocky coast with beaches and tide pools all in one place. As a nature lover, I am already thinking about field guides, but rereading "Twilight" might also be in my future.
Fertile-Beltrami High School trap shooter
I'm 15 years old and I've been shooting trap competitively for three years. My goal this spring is to be one of the top 25 female trap shooters competing in the Minnesota State High School Clay Target League. I hope to average breaking more than 24 out of 25 clays for the season and place in our conference. My goal for our Fertile-Beltrami team, meanwhile, is for us to qualify for the state championship. Last spring, I placed in the conference and had a 23.5 average and was among the top 100 clay target shooters in the state. I raised that to a 24.6 average last fall and was the state's top female shooter. This summer I'm hoping to make more Amateur Trapshooting Association meets with my brother, Kade, and my dad, Shawn, who is one of our coaches. Hopefully I'll make All-American someday. A longer-term goal is to shoot collegiately after high school. For my birthday a couple of years ago I got an English setter I named Remi, and a goal this year also is to hunt birds with him.
Department of Natural Resources commissioner
I'm hoping 2023 is the year I get out fishing for sturgeon through the ice on the St. Croix River. Sturgeon are amazing ancient creatures, and I'm inspired by the conservation work to return populations of sturgeon to their native waters. I've been sturgeon fishing on the Rainy River, but after seeing photos of people catching sturgeon through the ice on the St. Croix, I'd really like to give that a try.
DNR Northwest Region wildlife manager
For over 30 years, I've been fortunate to enjoy some far-away hunting, fishing and canoeing adventures with friends and family. Last summer, seven of us embarked on a 100-mile canoe trip in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. We saw 70 brown bears and caught big rainbow trout, salmon and pike along the way. We've also hunted elk and mule deer in the Colorado Rockies and Nebraska National Forest. This year, we'll keep the streak alive with a horseback hunting trip to the Rockies in northwest Colorado. It's a return trip with the same outfitter we used last year. We'll ride horses up the mountain to a drop camp. I'll tell you what … the horse ride is as much fun as the hunt. You pack your gear on a second horse and live out of wall tents, including one that's exclusively for cooking and eating. In that game management unit of Colorado, you can purchase an elk tag over the counter. Last year we were shut out. I hunted with a recurve bow and didn't get close enough for a shot. I also saw my first mountain lion. This year, we hope to hunt both mule deer and elk on our trip.
Firearms safety instructor and landscaping sales manager
I just finished an ice fishing trip to Lake of the Woods and, honestly, it was no good. But there are more outings on the calendar this year, including more ice fishing, spring turkey hunting, deer hunting, of course, and a fun hog-hunting trip to Iowa. It's not a hunt for feral hogs. It's a high-fence hunt on 200 acres for Russian boars. We've done it before and it's a lot of fun. But my ultimate trip lined up for 2023 will be to an all-inclusive South Dakota pheasant hunting estate near Frederick, not too far from Aberdeen. I live in Pierz, Minn., and the 400-acre preserve in South Dakota is operated by friends from the Brainerd area who raise English springer spaniels. It's a ladies' trip. We went last year and met two new friends who live in Ashland, Va. They're great people, novice hunters, and they're coming back to hunt with us again. There's nothing I don't love about this trip because it's a real vacation. You go out with huntsmen and their dogs, shuttled to different fields in a short bus. You see lots of birds and they encourage you to shoot a lot. They provide the shells, clean the pheasants and give your gun a cleaning at the end of each day. At 6 a.m. they send warm banana bread and coffee to your chalet. They serve a huge breakfast and all the meals are prepared by Rachel, the executive chef. It's really something. It's not cheap, but I don't really care!
Crow Wing County forester
I'm still in awe of a moose hunt last year that took me to the backcountry of Alberta, west of Edmonton. I won the eight-day trip at an auction at the Pope & Young Club convention in Reno, Nev. I had a deer on display in the category of "velvet typical whitetail." In Alberta, I saw at least one moose every day. On Day 5, I called in a bull that walked within range of my bow, a Mathews V3. But it was getting dark and I wasn't convinced to shoot. The next day, I took a long walk to the same area and got set up. I called and he answered back. He was quiet for a while, but then he started grunting and walking toward me. I was at full draw until he quartered in on me, eight yards away. I shot and watched him take off, falling 60 yards away. Now I'm saving money for my next trip to Alberta! At a minimum this year I will drive to western North Dakota where you can buy an over-the-counter, whitetail-only archery tag. That's usually the last Friday in August or the first weekend of September. The bucks are in velvet. Through a buddy of mine, we have a place to go. It's on a cattle ranch where we do chores in exchange for a free stay. That's been an experience in and of itself.
Former mayor of West St. Paul and board member at Bluffland Whitetails Association
My bucket list starts with teaching my two granddaughters how to fish. They are 6 and 4. They've already learned how to wrap Grandpa around their little finger. I'm fighting cancer right now and it does have a way of putting life into focus. My doctors tell me it's good to have a goal for when my treatments wrap up. So I've got my mind set on a few trips. Number one would be a return to the Hardangerfjord region of Norway, where my family comes from. One of my cousins will bring me fishing for cod and salmon in the ocean waters. I can see us chasing wild salmon that have been fattened by food pellets around the area's fish farms. There's no place more beautiful than the west coast of Norway. Being there again would be my reward for beating cancer. I also have a nephew who lives in Montana, and he takes me fishing in some good trout streams. He established residency while attending Montana State University. Another place in Montana I want to see is Glacier National Park. I'd love to see Glacier while there's still a glacier there!
manufacturers' representative of outdoor gear
At this year's onset I asked myself, "Will this year bring a new personal best muskie? A chance at a mature buck in archery range? A banded duck or goose?'' I've been hooked on waterfowl hunting since my dad introduced me to the sport at age 6. It's become a year-round passion that's taken me from Minnesota to North Dakota to Montana in pursuit of these beautiful birds. One goal that's been on top of my waterfowl list is to harvest a specklebelly goose. Until last fall, I had never seen or heard a specklebelly. Then, oddly enough, a few hundred of these birds found their way over our decoys in the Fergus Falls area. Despite pleas from our calls, the birds wouldn't come close enough for a shot. Will 2023 bring a wayward specklebelly within range? I hope so.
Minnesota Bound TV show host
The shortlist of hoped-for adventures I compile at the beginning of each year includes new experiences, once-in-a-lifetime adventures and others I've pursued. Last year I accomplished two big ones: ice climbing and camping on the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska, as well as white sturgeon fishing (catch and release) in British Columbia. Both were incredible and educational. This year I would like to go winter fly fishing in Montana, because I haven't tried this and I love new outdoor experiences. I also put red stag hunting in Patagonia, Chile, on the list. Not sure if I'll make it but it's on the vision board. Of course, my dream of landing and releasing a 50-inch or larger muskie is always on my mind, and hopefully on the end of my line this year.
Editor of Minnesota Trails Magazine
I've always wanted to stay in a remote, rustic cabin with a wood-burning stove in the middle of the woods in the winter. That sounds like it would be easy to do in Minnesota and should have happened a while ago in my line of work, but I'm after the real deal. For my 50th birthday, my wife and I will be spending a few days at Log Cabin Hideaways in Ely and we'll do just what the name implies: Hide away in a log cabin at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I look forward to skiing, snowshoeing, fatbiking, French press coffee, getting beat in Yahtzee, and hacking a hole in the ice to jump in after the sauna. Our cell phones don't work up there. It'll be heaven.
Retired Star Tribune outdoors writer
Retirement has only lengthened my bucket list. Last summer a buddy and I spent two weeks paddling Ontario's Woodland Caribou Provincial Park, where large swaths were scorched by forest fires. It was surreal but starkly beautiful. We caught 20-inch walleyes at will. We're already plotting our 2023 multiweek paddling destination. And there's the annual family BWCA canoe trip with our three daughters. My wife and I also will hit the road later this winter in the small RV we bought last year to explore the desert Southwest for a month or so. Lastly, my 2023 bucket list includes more pheasant hunting. A double-whammy of poor weather — temperatures that were too warm in early season and too much snow in late season — curtailed my 2022 season by 10 days. I'll rectify that in 2023.
Third-year dental student at the University of Minnesota
I hope to spend more time this year grouse and pheasant hunting with our dog Sal (her full name is Sally). For me, one of the biggest joys of hunting, aside from the time spent outdoors with loved ones, is being able to spend time with her chasing that common goal. While hunting grouse and woodcock with her this year, I got to see just how far along Sal has come as a bird finder. Not only with holding her points and tracking grouse and woodcock on the move, but also how much smarter she has gotten while reading and using the landscape. It's always fun to watch her doing what she loves, and she has really hit her stride. I haven't been on pheasants with her, so that is an absolute must for 2023.
Lynn Melling and Jodi Gruhn
We Do This for Fun podcasters
Gruhn: Bucket list 2023? I just say the words, "El Capitan" and eyes widen and jaws drop. I've long been fascinated by the iconic El Cap in Yosemite. Then after viewing the movie "Free Solo," it became a place I wanted to experience. But I'm not a climber. So how? This is what I love about the outdoors — it will meet you where you are. We can craft experiences based upon our skills and abilities. El Capitan was out of reach if I looked at it through a rock climbing lens, however, if I considered other options to experience it, it became much more accessible. We can all design personal challenges based upon feats that have inspired us. I'm no Alex Honnold, so I will backpack this beautiful rock with daily elevation changes exceeding 3000 feet with four other strong, capable women. I can't wait!
Melling: My family is a little bit obsessed with the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. We make the trip there multiple times each year, and, in fact, just rang in 2023 with a winter camping trip on Alton Lake. This summer, however, we're going to explore a new place: Quetico Provincial Park…which is Canada's version of the BWCA. Since we already have all the gear for the Boundary Waters (canoes, backpacks, DEET), planning this trip will be a bit easier than an excursion into an unknown place — which is a bonus for busy parents of two kids who outgrow gear every six to nine months.
My highest hope for our trip to Quetico is absolutely no cell service, which (I've been horrified to learn) is no longer always the case in the BWCA. For me, falling off the grid is the most liberating feeling. It's why the outdoors are so important to me. It's where I'm able to recharge my heart, soul and mind.