Before whitetail deer became my year-round obsession, I spent countless winter hours of my youth on a frozen lake with my buddies, fishing for walleye, musky, or anything that would take the bait. Growing up in northern Minnesota, my six siblings and I were introduced to the surrounding lakes, rivers, and woods by our dad. While he’d go out with a rifle for deer, hunting was never a big passion of his. Three weekends each year, we would head to a deer shack our family built up north where we’d do our best to harvest meat for the dinner table, then get on with our lives. That was his deer hunting season. Despite my early and immense interest in deer, my habits mirrored my dad’s, and I’m thankful for that. As a kid, I had a well-rounded exposure to the outdoors. My pursuits changed with the seasons, and when hunting season came to a close, I’d drop everything to join my friends on the local lake, even after it froze over. In fact, I grew to love my time on the ice, not just because catching a musky through a hole in the ice felt every bit as challenging as harvesting a deer in northern Minnesota, but also for the camaraderie, and the way ice-fishing seemed to slow everything down. While my buddies and I waited for fish to swim by, we made memories I still carry with me.
Everything changed when my best friend, Paul, who’s a year older than me, got his driver’s license. He and I shared a love for deer hunting and for us, three weeks wasn’t enough. The two of us got into bow hunting at around the same time and discovered a world of deer hunting that was a bit more obsessive than the one our friends and family had exposed us to. Paul and I started knocking on doors and scouting public land until we found a few places to hunt. I began studying the habits of deer and the land management necessary to provide a healthy environment for them. I was hooked. What started as a hobby was now something I rarely stopped thinking about. When I wasn’t working or studying, I was getting ready for the next season. I married my hometown sweetheart, Tiffany, who would spend time with me at a local bow shop where I landed a job. She got hooked herself, and pretty soon our world revolved around whitetail deer. After graduating from college in the late 90s, Tiff and I made our move to Iowa. We were fortunate enough to make a career for ourselves in hunting, and for the next few decades, our lives had a singular focus.
That is until our kids came along. In March of 2015, Tiff and I were blessed with our son, Cameron, and in April of 2017, our daughter, Raygen. Suddenly, we had plenty to distract us from hunting. More than distractions, Cameron and Raygen were reminders of our own upbringings, our time in Minnesota, and my time on the water with my buddies. Tiff and I wanted our kids to have the same well-rounded exposure to the outdoors that we had, and we wanted to be home to witness it. And so, after decades of moving at a breakneck speed, we decided to slow everything down and buy a cabin of our own up north. In the few summers since, our cabin’s been a time-machine of sorts, often crowded with old friends and family members. During the winters, with a few months of downtime before fertilizing starts, I’ve reconnected with an old passion: ice fishing. For more than 15 years, I had gone without casting a single line into the water, instead focusing on preparations for the next hunting season. It was an amazing feeling to be back at it, surrounded by old friends, waiting for a monster muskie to swim by. Finding success as a hunter requires a lot of sacrifices, many that I’m happy to make. Still, it’s good to remember that there are other things that matter.