GRAND FORKS - On paper, at least, the itinerary looked as if it might be overly ambitious.

Fun, for sure, but perhaps too much to cram into three days: Muzzleloader deer hunting. Skating, shinny hockey and ice fishing on a frozen river. More muzzleloader deer hunting. Hanging out by the fire. More shinny hockey on a rural skating rink. Heading east to Lake of the Woods for an overnight stay at Ballard’s Resort. Getting up early and ice fishing the third and final day before heading back to Grand Forks that night.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts


That was the much-anticipated scenario three friends and I faced last weekend when we headed north to the getaway in northern Minnesota for a long weekend of hunting, hockey, fishing and -- best of all -- camaraderie.

For the first time in what seemed like forever, the weekend forecast called for clear skies, a welcome turn of events from the relentlessly gray, dreary weather that has dominated the region most of the fall.

The temperature didn’t look too bad, either. Not a heat wave, by any means, but not subzero cold.

Two of us had muzzleloader tags, but after spending several hours in the stand and seeing only one deer the previous two weekends -- after shooting hours, no less -- my enthusiasm for venturing out before daylight last Saturday was at a low ebb. I stayed back at camp and drank coffee while my buddy with a license joined a neighbor for a morning hunt.

They saw deer and came close to pulling the trigger, but things didn’t time out quite right.

It goes that way sometimes.

On the ice

Next on the agenda was a trip to the river for some ice fishing and hockey. I’d checked the river the previous weekend, and the ice was clear and smooth. Perfect, in other words, for both skating and fishing.

Two guys shoveled a large patch of ice for skating while I drilled holes nearby for fishing; the fourth member of our crew set eight tip-up lines and baited them with sucker minnows.

The ice was more than a foot thick.

By that time, it was early afternoon. The two of us with muzzleloader tags had about two hours before we had to leave for the deer stand. A friend who wasn’t hunting would hang out with us and watch. The stand is a regular Taj Mahal, and there would be plenty of room.

The skating was better than the fishing, which yielded only two small pike, but the homemade antelope brats we grilled and wolfed down on the river were nothing short of spectacular.

It was time to hit the deer stand. The fourth friend in our crew, who drove separately, headed back to camp to get a campfire going.

We’d been in the stand maybe 10 minutes and were just getting settled when a doe walked into view about 125 yards from the window where my buddy was seated.

Slowly, quietly, he slid the window open while my friend who wasn’t hunting and I looked on in anticipation. If he shot the doe with the .50 caliber Hawken, it would be his first deer and a memory all of us would savor.

The shot rang out, and smoke filled the air. He’d made a perfect shot, dropping the doe in her tracks.

Bang. Done. In less than 15 minutes.

It goes that way sometimes.

Passing (on) the buck

My chance, such as it was, came nearly two hours later, when a medium-sized buck walked out of the woods against the wall of willows at the edge of the shooting lane about 100 yards away.

A minute remained in legal shooting hours.

I raised the gun, but all I could see through the open sights was blackness. I couldn’t see where I was aiming or if the sights even were pointing at the deer, so I opted not to shoot.

The buck ran off, and that was the end of that.

It goes that way sometimes.

I should have been disappointed, perhaps, but I had no regrets about not shooting. I’m not an expert deer hunter, and I know my limitations. An ill-placed shot or a wounded buck would have tainted a perfect afternoon and the experience of sharing in a friend’s first deer.

With daylight fading, we headed back to camp on a high with a deer in the back of the truck and a roaring campfire waiting for us. It was time to celebrate a milestone.

That would be it for muzzleloader hunting, we decided; one tag had been filled, and that was good enough.

Sunday morning dawned with thick hoarfrost that would linger all day, covering the trees and giving the surroundings the appearance of a postcard. We played shinny hockey again, this time on the rural skating rink, before heading back to camp for lunch and the trek to Lake of the Woods.

True to reports, fishing the next day on Lake of the Woods was excellent, and we had no trouble filling our limit of walleyes and saugers, some of which the resort fried up for us that night before we headed back to Grand Forks.

My friend who shot his first deer notched another milestone on Lake of the Woods, landing his new “PB” -- personal best -- walleye at 27 inches, and another friend released a 26-incher.

All of us caught our share of fish and lost count of how many we released.

We’d accomplished everything we set out to do and parted ways with the memory of a fine weekend.

It goes that way sometimes.

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to