Dan Pidde hunts the same northern Minnesota country his grandfather first hunted in 1941.
Deer aren’t overly abundant in this woodsy location north of Grand Rapids, though Pidde and his small bunch of hearty souls do manage a good buck now and then.
But every year they bag their limits of tradition.
“We camp in tents in the same spot for the deer opener that we do for the fishing opener,” said Pidde, 39, an engineer who lives in the Twin Cities. “We also come to the same place at the end of September to fish and camp.”
Often on the deer opener ice will greet them when they launch boats to cross to campsites on the other side of a lake. This year ice wasn’t a problem, of course, because warm weather prevailed on the season’s first days.
“My grandfather not only hunted the same land for 50 years,” Pidde said, “he hunted the same stand for that long.”
In the 25 years that Pidde has scoured the same public property for whitetails, he’s taken perhaps 16 deer, the largest a 10-pointer he felled three seasons ago.
On opening weekend this year, Pidde’s dad, Mark Pidde, 65, of Shakopee; his brother-in-law, Tony Posterick, 37, of Bloomington, and friend Jim Distad of Shakopee were in camp.
The hunters crawled from their tents at 4:30 each morning, and after eating breakfast and packing lunches, Dan Pidde and Posterick climbed into Pidde’s boat and headed across the lake to their stands, while the elder Pidde and Distad fanned out on foot.
Deer or no deer, a bonus of hunting where the men do, the way they do, is that they almost never see any other hunters.
Except this season.
This year, Pidde said, a chance encounter with a lost hunter reminded him and everyone in his party that, even at a time when cellphone coverage blankets much of the state, and when electronic devices can be purchased relatively inexpensively that can bring emergency help if needed, mistakes can be made that can turn deadly, or near deadly.
“This year my dad and Jim went into the camp the Monday before the opener,” Pidde said. “There’s a lot of gear to get in, and it takes time to set up camp. Plus, the weather was good, and there’s pretty good fishing in the lake, too.”
Pidde and Posterick followed on Thursday, arriving in time to spend the evening around a campfire while anticipating what might await them on the season’s first day.
“I don’t know why, but we just didn’t see the deer this year we usually see,” Pidde said. “It was that way on Saturday, and again on Sunday, too. Just not much happening.”
When Pidde and Posterick motored across the lake and back to camp Sunday evening, the sun had already set. By then the elder Pidde had a campfire going, and after each hunter had shed his heavy clothing, the group gathered around a campfire to recount the day’s events — or non-events.
“It was probably about a half-hour after we returned to camp that we heard three shots from a rifle,” Pidde said. “It was already well after dark, so we thought, ‘Who the hell is shooting at this time of night?’ ”
Shots fired just before or just after legal shooting time occasionally punctured the darkness in the far distance from their camp, Pidde said. But these shots were closer, and the three shots in sequence might have indicated that someone was in trouble.
Another shot rang out a half-hour later, this one much closer to camp. “Help!” someone yelled.
The group shined flashlights in the general direction of the shots. Then Pidde shouted, “Over here!”
“Down the shore!” Pidde said, walking to his boat and turning on its navigation lights.
Five minutes later, a hunter walked into camp. His phone was dead. Judging by his open jacket, he appeared overheated, Pidde said. He had no compass or GPS, and little of his water remained. The man said he had never hunted the area before.
“It’s very hilly terrain and quite swampy,” Pidde said. “He said he was hunting with friends, who had dropped him off at a stand, but that he had gotten turned around after he finished hunting.”
Pidde estimated the man’s age to be about 70.
Mark Pidde reached the man’s wife on his cellphone to confirm to her that he was safe.
“Not using up your battery on a deer stand is an important safety reminder if that’s the only communication you have,” Dan Pidde said. “You never know when you’ll need it. You might wound a deer and get lost trailing it. If the man’s phone had worked, he could have reached his party. There were five bars of service in the area.”
Pulling up Google Maps on his phone, Pidde figured out where the man’s day had begun. By foot, the trip to that location would have been messy in the dark. But by boat, the trip to the lakeshore home where the man was a guest took only 10 minutes.
Rain fell later that evening, and the temperature dropped to 35 degrees.
“The whole episode reminded me how important it is to be safe, and how little has to go wrong to make for a bad situation,” Pidde said. “Keeping at least 40 percent of your cellphone battery in reserve is a good idea. Carry a compass. Mark your trails. Carry a Bic lighter. Pack a folding saw to cut branches if a shelter is needed. And packing an emergency space blanket is a good idea, too.”