Seven Days Hunting Alone in Northern Minnesota

November deer firearms opener in Minnesota is second in importance after walleye opener in May. Every small town in Northern Minnesota has a big signs “Welcome Hunters.” (in May, the signs say “Welcome Fishermen.”) Suffice to say, fishing and hunting brings in the largest income of any industry in Minnesota. Yeah…like who cares about the Superbowl? Many people have inherited family property for hunting, or they have hunting leases from lumber companies or use the scarce public land. Public land is not like out in the western states, but small tracts of state or county land. Those who purchase hunting land pay a hefty price.

My hunting lease is from Potlatch Lumber company. They lease land to hunters while their trees grow for about 20 yearsrs and then they do a cut. My land was cut last year and was planted with pine trees in sandy soil. The lumber company left the 40 acre plot with a clear-cut resulting in large furrows in the soil making it hard to walk, with stumps and logs laying everywhere. The entire property is ringed by tall stands of Pines. This year prairie grasses and bushes have grown to 5ft. In the middle of the property are several large piles of logs, sticks and timber debris. Standing on top of these heaps allows a 360 degree visibility over all of the 40 acres. Deer can sleep in the high grasses and it would be hard to see them. I chose to put my blind on top of the highest debris mound that is about 12-14ft above the landscape. I noticed that a bear dug a den inside this debris last year and covered the door with sticks, grasses and mud. It was probably a sow with cubs, since it was large. The bite marks looked old so I thought that maybe this year she went to a new den or was dead. In November bears are usually denned by then, but we had unseasonably warm weather. It was cold in the mornings at 28F and warmed to 50-60F in the midday.

Trailer and camp. (Kalina Photo)

I have a 21 foot travel trailer that is my hunting camp. My dog, Daisy, a Springer Spaniel, goes with me. My 2000 watt Honda Generator uses about 1 gallon of gas in 4-5 hours. So I use it at night to watch DVDS and to turn on lights. My refrigerator, furnace, hot water and stove run on propane. The trailer has a freshwater tank that holds 24 gallons of water, which can last me 5 days if I am conservative. This year I was hunting alone. If I hunt the southern part of the state with friends, the state allows shotgun only. In the northern part, a rifle is allowed. A rifle can shoot a deer at 300 yards, compared to the 75 yards for a slug in a shotgun.

In my younger years, I worked in the field as an Environmental Scientist and spent weeks in remote places alone. So I am knowledgeable about survival skills. Now that I am 59 years old and have widespread arthritis, and just had a total knee replacement this year, I am still trying, within limits, to keep hunting in remote areas. A lot of people can’t be in the quiet and darkness of the forest for very long. They must talk or feel protected by others around them.

On Saturday, the opening day, I walked to the middle of the property in the 5 am darkness to climb the debris mound to get into a Killzone blind (see the Killzone review). It was 20F and windy. I waited an hour until the noises in the distance of other hunters driving ATV’s or talking rankled the air. When dawn hit, the shooting began. I wondered why deer weren’t running through my property. I saw two deer run at the farthest border for an instant, all day. I used my range finder to determine they were both around 600 yards, before they disappeared behind a hill. Ruts and small hills hide a deer quickly before I could swing the 30.06 around to shoot. The next day, I saw nothing. For two more days, I saw nothing. I sent text messages to Linda Burch (President of Women Hunters) who was hunting her land an hour away. She wasn’t seeing deer either. She encouraged me that the rut was about to start and a new weather front was coming. This really psyched me to wait it out.

When you are alone in the woods for several days, you begin to hear sounds more sharply. Every little leaf sounds like a blast. Sounds are magnified. You know that everything that works or doesn’t work has to be repaired by you. The first night the furnace started to vibrate and make a terrible noise. I read the RV repair book and looked at the schematic diagram of the furnace. So the next day I took the furnace cover off and checked the blower wheel for a loose nut only to see nut was tight. The furnace worked better after that.

On the sixth day I was out of water, propane and gas for the generator; time to pull the trailer into town and get supplies. Luckily, the propane guy also had a water hose to fill my freshwater tank. He told me that several bear sows with cubs had been seen that week and that it had been too warm for them to den up yet. I hoped that the bear didn’t come back when it’s dark and I’m in the blind.

Bear den opening where he put sticks in to cover the opening. (Kalina Photo)

Eating in the café, I heard the local deer reports. This little news gave me an idea of what was moving and what was not moving. I could now stick it out even 5 more days.

Deerblind (Killzone turret xl) on top of bear den with bushes in front of it. (Kalina Photo)

From my blind on top of the bear den, dusk was approaching fast. Suddenly, I saw a doe 225 yards ahead in a small depression. The angle of the shot put the setting sun directly hitting my scope, yet I was able to get a good shot. When my first shot hit, the doe didn’t move. Dead on her feet. I shot several more times to make sure she was down. I didn’t want her running or making me track her in the dark. As I came up to her, I stopped about 20ft away and she suddenly jumped straight up in the air, I shot her again. She was dead now. I could see that I had hit her with every shot. Some deer just don’t fall easily.

After tagging her ear with the license, I walked back to the trailer to get the tarp, rope and Hunter Safety vest™. I couldn’t budge the deer without putting her on the tarp. Wrapping the deer in the tarp and putting the ¾ thick rope through the grommets made it possible to slide the deer. The Hunter Safety vest™ has a very strong deer drag attachment in the back for the rope. Without the vest to displace the pulling weight, I wouldn’t be able to drag it. Inching slowly with my headlamp lighting the way, I weaved around stumps and other obstacles trying to keep only on grasses that were slicker. Telling myself that there was no rush, that I could just inch it for hours if I had to, was really good self guidance. I felt it was sliding and that’s all. It was 60F and hot weather for heavy work. I was in a T-shirt and really out of breath by the time I made it the 600 yards to the trailer. I called Linda Burch and was concerned about what to do with the deer in this heat. I couldn’t load it in the truck and drive home tomorrow to my usual butcher, it was too hot. It was getting late, where would I find a local butcher? I would have to unhook the truck from the trailer, pull equipment out of the truck so that I could push the deer in.

Author after dragging deer 600 yards wrapped in tarp. (Kalina photo-self timer)

After driving the 19 miles to the nearest town, I stopped at the first convenience store to ask about the registration station and a butcher. The teenager only knew directions to the registration station. There I was able to find a flyer for a butcher. Relief! I had persevered and the deer went to the processor.

The next morning, I was so sore that I could hardly move. My first goal was to get the blind from the debris hilltop. The weather was changing and dark clouds were coming in. On my way to the blind, I noticed it was lying on its side and I wondered if it had been windy during the night, since I endured some really high winds in that blind and it was tied down tight to the logs at the top. As I got closer, I noticed the window screen had been pulled out and was lying on the outside, with the window material ripped. That is when I realized that the bear was back. I looked at the den door and it was still locked up with sticks.

Stump next to trailer that was chewed up by returning bear. (Kalina Photo)

Near the trailer, I noticed the stump only three feet away was now torn and chewed up. I had put deer cane on it earlier in the week, but the bear scratches and bite marks were clear. Yes, the bear was back. During the night when this was going on, Daisy kept getting up and growling. I would open the blinds by the bed and flash a light outside and say “There is nothing out there, now go back to bed.” The dog is always right.

Visit killzone to see the blind that I used: