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Sam Cook column: Drama in a deer hunter’s day

It’s the old story: the hunter and the hunted.

Sam Cook
Sam Cook
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The deer hunter calls. He has a story to tell me.

He was sitting on his stand north of Duluth one day during Minnesota’s recent firearms deer season, he said.

He was watching a ruffed grouse that was poking along the forest floor, as grouse will do, foraging for seeds or fallen berries, perhaps some remaining leaves of clover.

Most deer hunters would agree that it’s pleasant to have a grouse come mooching along during a morning on the stand. Grouse are enjoyable to watch — the way they seem to step carefully over the landscape or hop up to cross a deadfall. They cock their heads to the side often, presumably to get a better look above them, where most potential danger is likely to come from. And they don’t spook any deer in the process.

Spending a night on the ice of a wilderness lake puts everything in perspective.

Sitting in a deer stand, though the rewards can be significant, is not the most stimulating thing a person can do. It provides a hunter more time than he or she might need to contemplate a life in progress, to consider a potential career change, to reflect on choices made.

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Unless meditation is part of one’s daily ritual, most of us don’t set aside the time to simply sit in silence, breathe slowly and let the mind drift where it will. Deer hunting is sort of like an unguided meditation in that way, interrupted occasionally by the detonation of a high-powered rifle.

My friend knows something about that kind of patience and concentration. He’s also a steelhead angler, which requires a similar kind of prolonged and solitary focus, though it usually involves standing in a 40-degree stream.

On the day he was telling me about, though, he was up a tree in the November woods. Suddenly, he said, he caught the movement of a hawk on the wing. A goshawk, he said. A goshawk on a mission. A goshawk whose eyes were trained on the grouse feeding on the forest floor.

Goshawks are among the primary predators of ruffed grouse. These raptors are designed to dart and weave through dense aspen forests where ruffed grouse live.

But, in this scenario, the grouse my friend was watching had caught a glimpse of the goshawk at the last second. The grouse burst into flight and made its escape to heavier cover, just evading the predator’s dive.

The goshawk, foiled this time, winged away to continue its hunt for a less wary grouse.

It’s reasonable to assume this kind of predator-prey interaction occurs many times a day across the boreal forest. Critters live. Critters die.

And occasionally one of us humans gets a glimpse into their world.

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Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249 .

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Sam Cook is a freelance writer for the News Tribune. Reach him at cooksam48@gmail.com or find his Facebook page at facebook.com/sam.cook.5249.
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