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Deer hunting, my serenity

I love nothing more than to be in the woods in the fall. This November, the opening day of rifle deer season will be full of excitement. Executing our camp's morning plan, who goes to what stands, a mad dash to grab some breakfast and head to the...

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Leonard Johnson, center with baseball cap, with family and friends at deer camp in 2013. (Photo submitted)

I love nothing more than to be in the woods in the fall. This November, the opening day of rifle deer season will be full of excitement. Executing our camp's morning plan, who goes to what stands, a mad dash to grab some breakfast and head to the woods while still dark. A mile walk in the woods from the vehicle to the deer stand, down a winding path with only the light of my flashlight illuminating a few feet before every step. That morning is a rush of adrenaline for all hunters, wondering how this opening day will unfold.

Those who have not grown up as I to have with a deer hunting tradition may not understand my perspective, but I hope they will someday, if they so choose. I feel privileged that I had a dad who took me and my brothers hunting in the woods, as my grandpa did with him.

We wait all year to experience the next opportunity to come together, play cribbage, prepare meals, build stands, plan hunts, socialize about years past and tell stories about family and friends that go back generations. It is not just about the love of hunting or shooting a deer. It is about relationships, a family of people coming together this time of year, every year.

Once in a deer stand, each hunter is alone in the darkness, reflecting on the events of the week, year or just the night before. Each is thankful for the opportunity to have time away again that season. The air is fresh with the endless smells of pine, cedar and wet leaves, things you don't often smell in town. The darkness is filled with sounds that bring our attention to them, a stare in that direction wondering if it is a deer coming by or that darn red squirrel that fooled you the year before.

As daylight starts to creep on the horizon we get ready in our stand, the gun resting across the railing in front of us, ready to grab if an opportunity presents. A sip of coffee to keep warm and a bite of Snickers while standing for hours, moving ever so slightly so as not to spook a deer that may be unforeseen in the distance.

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Then the echo of a single rifle shot rings through the trees. Thoughts of who shot, then what they may have shot. Excitement and elevated heart rate, now even more at the ready, as deer are starting to move as day breaks. Shots can be heard in the distance as other hunters have luck as well. For me, these are just sounds of joy, new memories made and new photographs of hunters with deer. And hopefully, a new hunter has his or her first deer.

Sitting in the deer stand brings moments to reflect on everything. It is a time to regain perspective of all things in life. It is also time away from my wife and three young kids and I reflect a lot about them while in the deer stand. My wife did not grow up hunting, but she respects my desire to be in the woods, and thus she works twice as hard at home to look out for everything while I am gone.

Starting Nov. 7, I am at deer camp for nine days. I will miss my wife and kids, but this time is selfishly about feeding my passion to be in the woods in the fellowship of hunting friends. That is all I need. The bonus is shooting a deer, maybe even a trophy buck, if I'm lucky. I am sure all my kids, if they are exposed to hunting as I was, and maybe even my wife will join us at deer camp.

Leonard Johnson lives in Duluth and has been hunting since 1984.

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Leonard Johnson, 12, in 1984 with his cousin Mark Mueller with an 8-point, 224-pound buck on opening day. Johnson's passion for deer hunting began that day.

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