Thirteen deer hunters gathered at this Tower, Minn., deer camp in 2012. Camps this coming week should not be that much different in Minnesota or Wisconsin, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Everybody living in Wisconsin with a Glasgow Coma Scale number above 3 knows Saturday is opening day of the traditional nine-day firearm gun season.

There is considerable irony that Thanksgiving falls pretty much in the middle of this sacrosanct tradition. For the first time in at least the past half century of being in the woods for the opener, the government is putting the kibosh on our oldest American holiday.

The government strongly urges us to give thanks only with immediate family and/or a group no larger than 10 persons when we sit down for that holiday dinner next Thursday.

Can you imagine the friendly warden breaking out a stack of ticket books and citing everybody in a slightly bigger than average deer drive for too many hunters? The DNR is not beyond writing up a hunter for something like putting his rifle on the truck hood while putting on a pair of gloves. You can bet in a group of a dozen, at least one person will get a ticket for something—but it won’t be for too many folks in a hunting party.

DNR Secretary Preston Cole chose his words wisely when addressing the roster of a Wisconsin deer hunting party: “To help stop the spread of the virus, I want to remind folks that they should hunt with people from their household.”

Roger that.

Cole DIDN’T say you COULDN’T hunt with cousin Tom who is home from deployment overseas, uncle Charlie who is known for flaming hot venison chili or Grandpa Chester who has hunted every season for the last 73 years except for 1950. He was in Korea that year, defending our American freedoms including Thanksgiving and gun deer season.

With 343,627 gun-only deer tags sold this year, our blaze orange army can hold its own with most foreign countries. We have hunted the nine days around Thanksgiving for more than a century, with very few casualties.

Secretary Cole puts gun safety on par with his “household hunting” admonition.

Roger that, too.

There was a time before mandatory hunter safety instruction where paramount behaviors like being sure of your target—and downrange beyond it—was indoctrination from Dad or another member of the extended family that is a band of brothers out there in the woods. But sometimes less than amicable around the dinner table on that almost sacred Thursday.

We can’t agree on politics. One or two in the group that has traveled from some distance might mention a pro football team whose name begins with a “V” or a “B”, who refuses to remove their blaze orange Stormy Kromer hat at the mention of the Packers in conjunction with the number 12.

But then again, maybe not. When politics entered the pro football arena, many folks took umbrage. I have not watched a Packers game all year. Flipping through channels last Sunday, I saw No. 12 do the Lambeau Leap to the sounds of a cheering crowd with nobody in the stands to pat him on the back in celebration.

Don’t try to fool these old eyes with dubbed-in sound. Common sense says pampered, wealthy athletes who feel compelled to make political statements in empty stadiums and arenas are on thin ice. Speaking of which, hockey has enhanced appeal this year.

Tomorrow we enter the woods again in a pilgrimage bigger than the Beatles ever dreamed of. It will be the first hunt for some; the last hunt for others. Many will harvest the biggest buck of their lives. Others will realize that they forgot to chamber a round until it was too late.

When you’re hunting alone in a stand, you can choose to leave this faux pa right there in the cedars. But when you’re on stand when the bull of the woods gets pushed right in front of you, the incident will be recalled the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving for the rest of your days.

Stay safe out there—and good luck.

Ted Peck, a certified Merchant Marine captain, is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at