In honor of the 2013 Minnesota deer hunting season opener (rifles, of course), happy hunting to all those participating. I dedicate this column to all the non-hunters struggling with day-to-day conversation this time of year.
I live in northern Minnesota. I’ve lived here all my life. I don’t hunt.
Yes, I eat meat. And the reason I don’t hunt has nothing to do with a felony preventing me from owning or transporting weapons. This, after all, is the most socially acceptable reason any able bodied man between ages 11 and 97 wouldn’t be out in the woods this morning looking for deer to shoot. People here understand probation; it might even garner you some sympathy. People don’t know what to do with the guy who doesn’t hunt on purpose.
“You hunt?” it starts.
“Nope,” I say.
This is the sound that triggers my defensiveness. There is judgment in that wordless, amorphous sound.
“Nah, I figure I can afford hamburger. No reason to tromp out in the cold.”
“Hmmf.” (A repetition of the first sound indicating this is not an acceptable answer).
“My family hunts,” I continue. “They’ve got a shack up by Cook. Three generations. I take my boys up there a few times a year to ride the trails, hang out with grandpa.”
If I’m lucky this conversation ends shortly with the understanding that I really am from here; I just don’t hunt for some reason. Maybe I’m just embarrassed about being on probation or am impaired in some way not visible from the outside. As long as I don’t mention having a newspaper column to write or anything involving the internet I still have an outside chance at begrudging social acceptance.
See, it’s not just about the sport of harvesting trophies and venison from the woods. The rifle deer hunting season is a 16-day venerated cultural tradition, usually consciously veering into the realm of tractor pulls and pit parties by the second weekend.
Hunting season on the Mesabi Iron Range is 24 percent eating; 12 percent sauna; 25 percent riding ATVs; 20 percent riding trucks out to pull ATVs out of the mud; 15 percent driving bigger trucks out to pull that truck out of the same mud; 37 percent driving whatever’s left to town to buy all the parts that broke in this process; 4 percent in the outhouse; and 41 percent standing around a fire that slowly consumes wood and various things that are not wood. The remaining time is spent actually hunting deer. That amount varies. I forgot drinking. That’s in there, too.
And no, these numbers don’t add up because what is this, math class? We ain’t building a watch here. Cell phones don’t work up there. Don’t call. See you Monday. Or Tuesday. Whatever.
I once met a guy whose family still lived off the deer hunt; they ate venison year round on their working dairy farm. That’s getting to be quiet rare. Most hunters enjoy the season for the sport, the socialization and the simple act of getting away from a workaday world. A not insignificant number of hunters like the evaporation of social norms that occurs at the hunting shack. Still other men in this stoic Iron Range society deem hunting season to be the only time of year to impart any concept of value to the next generation.
In other words, you have to go to deer camp. It’s a long year of harrumphing over the Vikings, politics and weather between real conversations.
Indeed, I don’t hunt. It’s true. I could. I still don’t. I just like to observe nature and leave it alone. I don’t want to field dress a deer. When someone hands me venison jerky I’ll eat it and pretend to like it, but I just don’t care. I have a blog to maintain. Hey, someone’s got to edit this audio file on my iMac. I just … OK, fine. I’m on probation. I beat a guy up in a bar. That’s why. It’s just easier that way.
Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Nov. 10, 2013 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.