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Meanwhile in Oz: Tradition, family all part of hunting
Matt Johnson, Publisher - photo by Matt Johnson

Wisconsin’s blaze orange legion of gun deer hunters will enter the woods this weekend in hopes of harvesting a deer in the nine-day gun deer season.

There is a significant positive impact for all state residents when it comes to deer hunting. It’s the best way to manage what has become an overwhelming number of whitetail deer in the state due to modern farming practices. Deer hunting also adds significantly to the state’s economy.

Animals need food, water and shelter to survive. Farm practices since the settling of Wisconsin by European immigrants have provided more and more food and shelter to the deer. When you have a deer herd as large as it is in Wisconsin — more than a million deer — it causes a considerable threat to people driving vehicles, crops and habitat. Without any significant population of natural predators for deer, the job to manage the herd falls on hunters.

Thankfully, we have a tradition of hunting in Wisconsin, which is built around family and friends. More than a half million hunters take to the woods each year to share friendship and camaraderie. It’s important for many hunters to fill their freezers with venison, which is a red meat with 30% less fat than beef.

I grew up in a family of deer hunters and have regularly participated in gun deer hunting with family and friends for nearly 40 years. I’ve learned a lot during that time and the lesson that’s the most important is to put safety first. If your practices as a hunter are fundamentally safe, the fun is sure to come.

When I’m in the woods it’s important to be comfortable and have a “good sit.” I don’t want to feel like I’m freezing. Each year I get colder and colder. I’ve come to understand that no deer is worth shivering for.

When I grew up hunting, my dad put a lot of emphasis on being quiet and still. Those are great attributes when stand hunting. However, during one particularly cold opening morning when I was 14, my dad got out of his stand early and put together a nice campfire. It was just too cold and it was a moment when I came to understand that being comfortable and doing something fun, even on opening day, was part of hunting.

One big thing that has always been a part of deer hunting for me is putting together a good lunch. It’s a big deal to make the sandwiches, bag up the cookies, ensure there’s a thermos of hot chocolate and handfuls of trail mix, fun-sized candy bars and fruit.

While we want to put venison in the freezer during the deer season, it’s more important to have a relaxing, enjoyable time. For some working families, deer hunting is their big vacation of the year. It’s the time when they see extended family and lifelong friends, get to visit, and also be part of the hunt.

One question hunters get from those who know them is, “Did you get your deer?” I remember a time when I always wanted to be able to say “yes” to this question. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more important for younger members of our hunting group to get deer. I like to hear their stories and see the excitement they share when talking about what happened.

I always refer to my dad as the ultimate storyteller and one of the best listeners when deer hunting stories are told. Dad turns 75 this year and no longer deer hunts, but he likes to hear about it.

As a hunter who is getting up there in age, I’ll admit that if I feel comfortable enough, I may take a snooze in my stand. Getting a mid-day nap while hunting means that 30-pointer could walk around me and I wouldn’t notice. At my age, when it comes to hunting, what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me.

Good luck to all deer hunters on a safe and successful hunt.

— Matt Johnson is publisher of the Monroe Times. His column is published Wednesdays.