For many people, the passing of Halloween signals the beginning of a transition between seasons. Fall jackets will soon be put away in favor of parkas, Halloween costumes will be stored and Christmas decorations brought down from the attic, and the lawn mower will relinquish its place in the garage to the snow blower. For others, however, the passing of the October holiday leads to excited anticipation about one thing – the opening of deer season. Hunting is a time-honored tradition for many families across the Midwest, a rite of passage that has been passed down from generation to generation. Gender lines have been all but erased and more and more females are taking their own spot in deer stands.
For Heather (Balken) Butler, hunting has been a part of her make-up since she was a child. “Hunting has been a long and rich tradition in the Balken family and I remember as a child counting down the days until I was finally old enough to tag along with my grandfather, father, brother and many others,” she explained. “I would hear stories of big swamp bucks at nearly all of our family gatherings and the seed was planted early in me to want to experience this in the same way the majority of our family had for years.” Heather finally got her chance at the age of twelve and hasn’t looked back since. “We tease from time to time that the opening weekend of deer hunting in our family only takes a second row to Christmas…. it is big time tradition in our family.”
It is that sense of tradition that is important to Heather. “What appeals to me the very most is the close bond that can be created within a family when you share the love of the outdoors,” she said. “I have often said that my Dad and I have had some of the best conversations in my life sitting side by side in a small stand looking at out and whispering quietly to each other.” It is the sense of tradition and appreciation for the art of hunting that Heather is eager to share with her children, especially her 13-year-old son Mason, a recent addition to the hunting clan.
For Heather and the rest of the Balkens, hunting is about far more than guns and ammo. “Especially in this day and age when so many families are so busy running in so many different directions, the significance of what our great grandparents and grandparents started so many years ago and has continued on to be such a strong and lasting tradition is incredible,” she explained. “My children will hunt literally within yards of where their great grandfather hunted the majority of his life.”
Kayla (Kollin) Spilde from Alvarado, Minnesota shares Heather’s sentiments about the appeals of hunting, even though she didn’t grow up with the sport. “I got into hunting when I started dating my husband back in 2000,” she explained. “He grew up on a farm and hunted his whole life, whereas I grew up a complete ‘city girl’.” Kayla quickly fell in love with the sport; although it is the family aspect of hunting that she appreciates the most. “I love going hunting with my husband,” she said. “It is good bonding time for us. We are very busy with work and two small children so it’s a time to slow down and have some fun.”
Although Kayla’s children are still very young, she is already planning to pass on her appreciation of hunting to her children. “My children are two and four years old, but we hope that they will hunt,” she said, adding that they have already purchased a lifetime deer hunting license for her two-year-old son. She plans on bringing her four-year-old daughter along this year. “Both kids like to drive around and look for deer, so I think we have started getting them interested in hunting.” Her daughter was along when Kayla experienced her first successful hunt in 2008, albeit only present in utero. “I was six months pregnant when I shot my first buck,” Kayla said.
Like Heather, Marie Risdal of Moorhead grew up hunting. “In my family, when you turned thirteen (the legal age at the time in Minnesota) you started hunting,” she said. “I’ve only missed three years since I started: one while I was working and the other two while I was eight and nine months pregnant.” Marie tells a familiar tale when talking about the aspects of hunting that resonate the most with her. “The memories that you create far outweigh the meat in the freezer,” she said.
Marie’s children have already joined in the action. “My oldest is on her third year and my middle child just had his first youth hunt,” she explained. “Even before they were able to go hunting, we still took them to the stands at least once. I think it is my dad’s favorite part of the season.
In addition to the familial aspect of hunting, many participants feel a deep sense of reverence and gratitude for the sport and the opportunity to connect with nature. “I love watching the sun rise and set in the silence of the woods,” Marie explained. “Seeing nature function without interference makes you remember why we are on this Earth: for the love of family and the love of God.” Heather echoed Marie’s sentiments, saying, “It is hard to explain, but the feeling of complete gratitude and love comes over you at times just sitting in a quiet deer stand all alone.”
Tradition of Hunting: