GRAND FORKS — The question has no easy answer, no right or wrong. The question is intensely personal:
Why do you hunt?
For some, it’s the chance to spend time outdoors and experience nature up close and personal. Others say hunting offers an opportunity to get together with friends and family. The kill ultimately factors into the equation somewhere in the mix — that’s the essence of hunting, after all — but it’s not necessarily at the forefront, and the reasons run deeper than that.
No two answers are the same.
And that’s the way it should be.
With deer season underway across North Dakota and Minnesota, we asked a handful of deer hunters from varying backgrounds what draws them to hunt. We interviewed some of the respondents; others offered written responses.
Here’s what they had to say.
Joe Solseng, rural Grand Forks
Retired from the construction business, Solseng, 63, has been a North Dakota hunter education instructor for 30 years and serves on the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s advisory board.
The board is a liaison, of sorts, between the Game and Fish Department and the public.
Solseng hunts everything from waterfowl and upland game to big game. These days, he only hunts deer with a recurve bow, a more traditional style of archery equipment without the cams, or wheels, that give compound bows a mechanical advantage.
He’s hunted deer since he was 16 years old, even though state law allowed deer hunters to begin going afield at age 14.
“My dad’s rule was 16,” Solseng said. “If you’re going to shoot a high-powered rifle that’s going to shoot a mile, you better be able to handle it.”
Solseng has strong feelings about deer hunting and how it should be conducted. He despises baiting, trespassing and outdoor TV shows that glorify trophy hunting.
He prefers hunting alone.
“You see so much more, and truth be known, if I was going to say why I hunted, I hunt for the experience,” Solseng said. “I’ve seen things in the wild that very few people have seen in their life. Tremendous things. Big bucks, I mean big bucks. I’m just not being able to get a shot at them, but they’re 30 yards away.
“And coyotes, fishers — I saw fishers before anybody knew there were fishers here.”
Solseng has the antlers from every buck he’s taken, marking them with tags indicating where and when he shot them.
“To me, that’s special,” he said.
Solseng said he doesn’t have to kill something anymore to enjoy the hunt, though it remains a motivation.
“I don’t hunt not to kill something,” he said. “I hunt to kill something, but if I don’t anymore, all I’m missing is the meat. I like that, and I think that’s part of the progression.
“I still trophy hunt, but when it starts getting cold, I’ll take a nice deer when it walks past if it looks good and tasty.”
Taking an animal’s life never should be taken lightly, Solseng says.
“If you don’t have compassion for something that you’ve killed, you shouldn’t be hunting,” he said. “If you don’t have compassion for that, be it a bird or whatever it is, I’m not sure you’re as good a person as you think you are.”
Mary Ann Kjemhus, Grand Forks
Kjemhus, a secretary at Miracle Ear in Grand Forks, grew up west of Thompson, N.D., but says she didn’t start deer hunting until the mid-1980s. As the only woman in a house of males, she said it wasn’t difficult to get started. Her husband, Larry, and sons Patrick, 32; Aaron, 28; and Tyler, 28, all are avid hunters, and deer season has been a family affair since she shot her first deer, a mule deer doe, in 1985 in western North Dakota.
“That was a lot of work for just a mulie doe, but it was just so much fun I got hooked,” Kjemhus, 65, said. “That’s kind of how I got started.
“It came to me pretty naturally. My husband was real good, and I did a lot of practicing in the back yard. We have a shooting range, so he was pretty good with me. I wasn’t too intimidated at all.”
As the boys got older, hunting became a family affair.
“They would trail behind us, and so they got hooked really young,” she said. “We always made a big family deal out of it, and I would pack sandwiches and cookies.”
Besides hunting with their sons, Kjemhus says she and her husband made trips to hunt mule deer in western North Dakota. Her sons live in the area and remain avid hunters, Kjemhus says, adding she hasn’t been able to draw a deer gun tag the past few years.
“The guys, they bow hunt, too,” she said. “I haven’t taken that up, but I’m thinking about it.”
During the heydays of the early to mid-2000s when deer and licenses were in abundance, Kjemhus says she learned to butcher deer from a diagram in an outdoors magazine. Bringing so many deer to a processor simply got too expensive.
“I cut up all the deer,” she said. “I, at times, had 20 deer to cut up at one time. It’s kind of my therapy, too.”
Kjemhus, who only hunts deer, says she hunts to be outdoors and enjoy the experience, regardless of the outcome.
“We always instilled into the boys that if you go out and don’t get anything, don’t be disappointed,” she said. “Just (enjoy) the fact of getting out there and being able to hunt, that privilege of going out and hunting together as a family.”
Kristi Coughlon, Bemidji
Coughlon grew up in the Twin Cities and says she didn’t start hunting until the 1980s, when she moved to Colorado.
An information officer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Bemidji, Coughlon, 54, these days hunts everything from elk and white-tailed deer to turkeys, pheasants, grouse and woodcock when the opportunity allows.
She offered these thoughts on why she hunts:
“My first response when asked why I hunt is to say because it’s fun. But when I asked myself why it’s fun, I found getting to the bottom of it was a bit more complicated.
“I think the reason we hunt weaves together a web of personal, family, social and spiritual life experiences and challenges that define who we are and the interests we develop. I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t engaged in outside activities with family and friends — camping, fishing, target shooting, exploring the woods and, of course, hunting. Each activity, then and now, builds my appreciation for and knowledge of the outdoors.
“I thank the mentors I had who took the time to teach and encourage me to pursue my hunting interests. I’ve found I never stop learning, and with every new opportunity, hunting still pushes me to challenge myself to be better and more skillful at ‘being a part of nature.’
“I hunt for the meat it provides and enjoy cooking and sharing such a ‘meaningful’ meal in deer camp with hunting partners or at home with family. But I really hunt for the mental and physical benefits it offers me. I relax and ponder life in a quiet place while anticipating the moment an elk or deer will walk into my sight. It brings me joy watching my hunting dogs flush (or point) and retrieve pheasants and grouse. I cherish the companionship and shared excitement when friend and dog sit with me in a duck blind. I feel a great sense of accomplishment and pride when I outsmart the big tom turkey when he rushes to my call. I love the tired way I feel while sharing the day’s hunting stories as I sit by the campfire with friends after a long day of hiking through the woods.
“Hunting makes me happy, and being happy is fun.”
Craig Hanson, Grand Forks
Hanson, 64, is a senior loan officer at AgCountry Farm Credit Services in Grand Forks and a lifelong hunter. Here’s what he had to say about why he hunts:
“I can’t imagine life without hunting. The sound of geese in the fall makes my skin tingle. The leaves turning color makes me plan all week to get to the countryside and immerse myself in it. “Working on the getaway place is a labor of love. I sleep like a baby there.
“When someone gets a nice game animal, I must hear the details of how it happened. What led up to it? How did you handle the moment of truth?
“As a younger man, I hunted incessantly trying to figure out the draw of it and needing to be there. Now, as an older man, I’m out there in the country just as much, but I take it slow and savor both the experience and the fruits.
“If I get one good mallard shoot in a cornfield per year, I’m now satisfied. If I have two or three pheasant hunts, I’m now satisfied. If I have an afternoon of ruffed grouse flushes and manage to hit one or two of them, I’m ecstatic.
“When I’m sitting in my chair watching the fire in the cool autumn night, I’m fulfilled. I think that the pheasant gumbo I made on the cabin stove was perfect.
“Then there is the sunrise on the first morning of deer hunting. Magical. Spiritual. You hear in the distance one of your friends take a shot. You wonder what happened. You daydream a little — and then you see a patch of brown moving through the trees. …”
Beth Siverhus, Warroad, Minn.
Siverhus, a medical technologist at LifeCare Medical Center in Roseau, Minn., is a licensed bird rehabilitator and avid nature photographer. Originally from Bemidji, Siverhus, 57, has been hunting since she was 11 years old as a way to spend time with her dad. She shared these thoughts on why she hunts:
“Being female, I was the minority in the duck blind, at deer camp and when beating the brush for upland game but was readily accepted into our all-male hunting group. No one ever said, ‘Is she coming, too?’
“Our family always had a ‘you shoot it, you clean it’ policy, so I learned quickly to field dress ducks, geese, grouse and deer. We also ate everything we harvested; nothing went to waste. Game laws were to be obeyed and wildlife respected.
“That being said, why do I hunt? First, love of the outdoors and wildlife. Sitting in a tree stand while deer hunting offers the opportunity to observe the forest and its inhabitants in detail. Watching and listening. In the darkness before the sun rises, I hear trumpeter swans calling, an owl hooting, perhaps a wolf howling. As the day dawns, the birds become active. Chickadees, nuthatches, pine grosbeaks, gray and blue jays forage for food. A raven flies overhead chattering to a companion, air rushing loudly through its wings. Red squirrels chatter and scold. Then a stick breaks, and my senses are on high alert. Grouse, red squirrel, deer?
“The second reason I hunt is adventure and suspense. You never know what you are going to see, and you never know what is going to happen.
“I also hunt for camaraderie and sustenance. Hunting teaches you teamwork, ethics, responsibility and respect, for other hunters and the wildlife you are pursuing. It is time spent with family and friends, helping one another in the field and sharing stories at the day’s end. There is nothing more rewarding than sharing a meal of game harvested and processed by you and your partners in the field.”
Jay Boulanger, Grand Forks
Boulanger, 47, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology and human dimensions at the University of North Dakota, approaches deer hunting from the perspective of both a hunter and a wildlife
biologist. Originally from Vermont, Boulanger once oversaw a deer sterilization and hunting program to control overabundant deer at Cornell University in upstate New York.
“I am a lifelong deer hunter, brought into the activity by friends and family. Also, a good part of my career has been spent researching the multiple reasons for why hunters pursue deer.
“For example, deer hunters enjoy being out in nature, obtaining venison, the social aspects of the hunt (or conversely, solitude), the excitement and challenge that hunting provides or to bag a trophy or otherwise demonstrate hunting skills.
“For me, the single greatest aspect of deer hunting is being out in nature during my favorite time of year, when the air is redolent of autumn leaves and wood smoke, the mornings are brisk, and wildlife species are busy preparing for winter. When one sits still in the woods, it does not take long for wildlife to forget you are there and resume their daily routines, providing excellent opportunities to observe wildlife.
“Deer hunting also is a time for me to enjoy solitude, relax and recharge from a busy work and family life. However, this may change. If my young children end up becoming deer hunters themselves, I may prefer the social aspects of deer hunting with family. Finally, my wife and I are omnivorous foodies and are thankful for the delicious, high-quality, free-range, sustainable venison that deer provides our family.”