Dealing With Hunting Failure

Strandquist, Minn.

There it was. Just a few dozen yards in front of me. A deer skipping through the woods, its big white tail flopping as it leaped over a fallen branch.

Unfortunately, this scene played out on a walking path in Thief River Falls, Minn., on Sunday and not on hunting land. And as it turned out, that doe within city limits was the only deer I have seen to this point while taking part in the Minnesota firearms deer season.

I didn’t fire a shot on Monday. Didn’t even see a deer. My dad didn’t see anything either. That’s nothing new, of course, for those who know me well.

I’ve had friends this time of year say they could never go deer hunting. They say they can’t imagine shooting an animal.

An awfully quiet morning spent in the moonlight near Strandquist, Minn. Hayden Goethe / The Forum

My response? “Don’t worry. We don’t shoot any either.”

Dad and I ventured out early Monday morning. My alarm was set for 5:30 a.m., which is about four hours earlier than I normally wake up. Even my dog – which is part greyhound, part border collie and all energy in the mornings – remained sprawled out on his dog bed with a look at me that seemed to suggest I must be crazy to be awake that early.

We made the 30-mile drive northwest from Thief River Falls to Strandquist, a city of about 70 residents that’s not too far from where we normally hunt. I don’t spend much time in Strandquist outside of hunting season, but I have to assume that it’s probably the most active week of the year for that small community and many like it littered throughout northwest Minnesota.

As we got out of the pickup just before sunrise, my dad asked if I wanted the harness to make sure I didn’t fall out of the tree stand. And that’s pretty funny when you consider he’s the one who if left unattended to for more than five minutes while sitting down in the living room will fall asleep. “If anyone needs the harness,” I said, “it’s you.”

We made the trek through the woods, stomping along the path surrounded by nothing but some pretty lifeless-looking trees. I stop at the “gray stand,” a two-word name that falls in line with other places we typically hunt from like the “rock pike” and the “wood post.” Not sure why all of our markers are known by two words, but they all are.

Sitting 12 feet in the air on the “gray stand” with total silence interrupted only by the rustling of brush or the occasional rodent scampering on the snow-covered ground, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about family, work and fantasy football. Three of the pillars of my life, really.

The weather wasn’t bad compared to some recent hunts. Temperatures were in the upper teens, and the wind was relatively tame. We’ve had better, and we’ve had a lot worse.

At times while sitting in that tree stand, I thought I heard movement on one side of me or the other. But in the end, nothing emerged. Dad returned from his tree stand after a few hours to call it a day, muttering occasionally about the lack of seeing anything on our way back to the truck. It’s deja vu, an all-too-familiar feeling for us. But there is still plenty of time.

So if anyone asks how Monday went, here’s another two-word phrase we use a lot when hunting: “Saw nothing.”