Our families’ results from the 2020 Wisconsin rifle season were on par with how the rest of 2020 has been going: SHI**TY! Indeed this was a year that we were reminded that this sport is not just about the harvest.
If I recall, my Mom even said to me, “I can’t believe you even do this hunting thing, you don’t get any deer, and you don’t see many deer.” In which I responded, “If this were the only outdoor activity that I did, I probably would have given up on the outdoors along time ago.”
Our group ended up harvesting five deer this season. That is quite a bit lower than what we usually average. The DNR numbers have shown that the harvest was up 16% from last year. If you would like to read more information about the 2020 harvest data thus far, click here.
Rifle season for me has been more about traditions and memories being made with family and friends. Filling a tag has been something that I hardly even think about anymore. If it happens well, that would just be a bonus.
I want to share with you a tradition that came from an idea that Uncle Joel had several years ago. When Grandpa Hopperdietzel (Walt or Dad) had passed away in 1985, it was December 14; just a few weeks after our gun season had closed out and only a few weeks before Christmas. There are moments and feelings from that year that I still carry with me to this day. Some of those are good, and others are sad.
We had saved Grandpa’s back tag, which was a requirement to be worn as a hunter back in those days. The tradition and need to wear a back tag was removed from our State in 2016. Joel made copies of that back tag, and on Tuesday of rifle season, the family gets together; we walk back into the little ridge to Grandpa’s stump where he got his last buck.
We build a fire, bring in bologna sandwiches and roast them over the fire; we enjoy an Old Style beer and leave one at the stump for Grandpa. Some years the beer is gone, taken by an animal, and other years it’s still there. On the year’s that the beer is still there, we crack it open and drink it. It is hard to believe that after being in the weather elements of Wisconsin for an entire year that anything would be drinkable. As God as my witness, that beer tastes just as good as a fresh one.
His back tag is replaced with a fresh one, Grandpa’s boys (my uncles) take a picture together, and then the rest of the crew gathers around to take a picture with his stump, back tag, and beer. This little remembrance on Tuesday has become the highlight of every year for me.
That little ridge overlooking a small swamp area in the Chequamegon National Forest has given our family some great memories. My kids have shot deer on this ridge; I introduced a youth hunter and his Dad to the sport; my cousins take their kids here to hunt during the rifle season. It’s a little space that each of us has found special in our way. Every time I go into this spot, I look at that back tag and think about how early in life Grandpa was taken from us. Ponder on the biggest question of all that I never have an answer for, which is Why?
This year as I reflected on that question of why he was taken from us, it leads me to ask why has 2020 been taken from us this year also? So many people are feeling lonely, lives have been changed from a virus. I remind myself that one can only dwell on these thoughts for so long before it impacts your mental health.
I switch from trying to seek an answer to questions to memories. Good memories of when Grandpa would take me crappie fishing, the times we spent in trout streams, the grouse hunts that I would tag along on as a young kid. It does sadden me, though, thinking that I never got a hug from him as I got my first deer.
As I stare at those numbers of his back tag, it reminds me of how fortunate I was to have meant a very generous man, Dick Lange. He gifted to me an entire collection of back tags that is a complete set of the very first back tags back through the years to 2016. This collection of history is cherished as something that I will pass along to my kids. I hope for it to stay in the family for many years after that.
As a country music fan, the song released by Riley Green in 2019, “I Wish Grandpas Never Died.” It makes me think about both of my Grandpas and their love for fishing. It’s a song that makes me wish that time could be paused.
My experiences in the outdoors have given me a soft spot in my heart for listening and hearing about other traditions and what those traditions mean to them. All I can ask for is that when my final step is taken in the woods, that some part of those memories will make it to another generation.
In closing, I hope you find a way to get into the outdoors, create your adventure and memories, but most importantly, find a way to “Celebrate the Experience.” Go check out www.thankfuloutdoors.com for more content and share your “Celebrate the Experience” moment with us!