By Nick Simonson
Driving back from a buddy’s backyard range, I glanced at the dash thermometer of my truck. The digital readout displayed the late afternoon high of 61 degrees. In the calm conditions which were ideal for our final sight in of the season, it was almost hot, especially in comparison to the cold snap earlier in the week which saw single digit temperatures in portions of the state. My neighbor, who I had helped introduced to still hunting for deer remarked on the warmth as I pondered the opening weekend heat wave which was predicted to push temperatures into the upper fifties and lower sixties.
“There used to be snow,” he commented about his seasons deer hunting as a youth while we headed back to town under the sunny skies, “and it was cold, so cold you couldn’t sit still, you had to keep walking,” he continued.
He was right. Not that we haven’t dodged some snow and cold weather over the past few years ahead of the season and after it, but I can’t recall an outing in recent firearms deer seasons where I was anything but comfortable, and in some situations downright warm. Last year on opening afternoon, I sat on the hillside in the lightest long-sleeved t-shirt I owned as the temperature neared 70. Even later into the month of November, highs in the 30s and 40s were a far cry from those Thanksgivings I remembered from my youth, where we played bone-chilling (and bone-crunching) backyard football in a foot of snow Thinking back to my first few hunting seasons in the early 2000s, I had to strain to recall white on the ground as I did in those younger years.
There was an inch or two my first year along the lakeshore north of Valley City, and flurries in the air while living and hunting in the woods of northeastern Minnesota. In southwestern Minnesota on the first day of the season, when I tagged a buck from a borrowed stand at a buddy’s family farm, I watched moths, and flies and lacewings take to the air to the point where it was as full of insects as a summer evening before the four-by-four whitetail wandered into view. Over the last two decades though, I can’t pick out a firearms deer season where I saw any significant snow on the ground.
Maybe it’s climate change. Maybe it’s a seasonal shift. Maybe it’s the fact that the human mind blocks out severe trauma, such as the onset of winter (especially following that one of 1996-97). I don’t know. It might be all three and then some, but with the warm start of another firearms deer season, the days afield without a parka and that blaze orange bomber hat with the fur-insulated ear flaps (unless that’s your style) continue to be limited. Perhaps merely writing about it will trigger a shift, but with the warm years piling up however, it’s doubtful.
With a mix of trepidation for the trajectory of the climate, and the long term effects on the local area’s weather patterns, its habitat and the habits of wildlife and their seasonal activities, and the enjoyment of not having to dress like Randy from a Christmas Story to hunt, the warm start to the season has come. While it isn’t the colder deer seasons of when I first started, or from the tales that I’ve been told of those years where hunters trudged through hip-deep drifts to drag their bucks from the river bottom, I’ll take it for the next sixteen days, hope for the best and do what I can to ensure it is safe and comfortable, regardless of the layers I may have to add after writing this.
Featured Photo: Seeing Green. Firearms deer seasons seem to be warmer, with more green on the ground than white in many areas of the region in recent years. Simonson Photo.