My 2011 Ford Ranger Sports Truck was purchased used and modified to be a one-guy outdoor truck. As a 76-year-old fellow who mostly hunts by himself, I do not need, or want, a huge pick-up truck. The Ranger that I purchased was equipped with a time-proven 6-cylinder 4.0 L engine, and extended cab accessed through swing-out doors and a bed liner. Because this was the last model year for this long-running series, all of the design flaws had been long-since found. I now owned one of the most powerful and advanced Rangers ever made, and was proud to have it.
To convert it into a true outdoor truck, I mounted a steel guard to protect the largely plastic front end of the truck from deer impacts and a detachable winch that I could connect to either the front or rear of the truck. These modifications have proven to be useful on many occasions. I have used my winch more often for moving timber and pulling weed trees from my back yard, rather than getting me unstuck. I also had a matching bed cover built without side windows to store my gear. After having owned the truck for three years, I was invited to participate in the annual Minnesota Governor’s Deer Opener hunt which was to be held in Hinckley, which is located in eastern Minnesota half way between Minneapolis and Duluth.
Fifty-years-ago as a young Geologist I worked as a minerals exploration geologist for a firm in Wayzata, a few miles west of the twin cities. I had been reading other writer’s accounts of the Governor’s Opener for 15 years. As I was not getting any younger and had no pressing health or life issues, I decided that this was to be my year to do it. I looked forward to the drive up and reconnecting with a state from which I had been so long absent.
To prepare Ranger for the trip, I took it by the dealer for its 75,000 mile inspection and put a pair of new tires on the rear. This winter was starting mild, and as this was to be a guided hunt from a host’s house. As a consequence, I decided to leave the winch behind and removed the concrete blocks that I usually kept in the back of the bed.
In planning out my route, I elected to take I-24 through Tennessee and connect with the north-running I-35 in Iowa which I accessed by using I-57 and I-64 and continued north to Hinckley, which is about 75 miles south of Duluth. Although I live in Sandersville, Georgia, I needed to drop by the VA Hospital in Dublin to pick up some meds which made the trip about 1,400 miles one way. The first events of the hunt were to take place on November 1, and I planned to leave on October 27 to allow for a 2½-day trip. I have driven it straight through, but there was no need for me to wear myself out or take the chances involved with night driving in rainy weather.
Since I did not have to haul camping gear, my bags and a large freezer chest that I would use to bring the meat home easily fit into the bed of my truck. It looked like the weather was not going to be super cold on the day of the hunt, but hang around freezing with the possibility of light snow.
My target departure time from Dublin was noon which was achieved. My goal was to get through Atlanta and stay somewhere in Tennessee for the night. I made it without incident to Murfreesboro, where I stayed in a motel just off I-24. The next morning the entrance ramp to the interstate was blocked by emergency vehicles and a hundred or more flashing red lights because the bomb squad had been called out to investigate a suspicious vehicle that was carrying explosives and guns.
Although that much information was on the news by the time I left the next morning, I had not found out the real cause of the event. Perhaps it is not coincidental that Tennessee’s muzzleloading season opened at the end of the week and some people might have been carrying black powder and guns to a store or some other event related to the opening. As I hunt almost exclusively with muzzleloaders, I was doing exactly the same thing, although on a smaller scale.
After a domestic dispute Fermin Viveros Leon left in his truck, and was reported traveling armed and carrying an explosive device. His truck was stopped on I-24 and the device removed and exploded at the scene by the bomb squad. Leon is now being charged with aggravated assault and held on a $50,500 bond, according to FOX news reports.
The guns I was carrying were my 12-gauge Mortimer fowler which I load with a round ball and 100 grains of Olde Eynsford FFg black powder and a Ruger Old Army revolver which now sported a 14-inch barrel and a scope sight, thanks to modifications made by Master Gunsmith Dykes Reber of Little Rock, Arkansas. Reber had almost retired at the time he did this work, but as a favor he worked on my gun.
I had previously taken a buck in Georgia with gun using Kaido Ojamaa’s 255 grain cast bullets and Hodgdon’s Triple7even powder before it was modified. However, this percussion gun was not legal for use in Minnesota, or at least was not the year before when I started planning for this hunt. So, I got a .45 Long Colt cylinder from Taylors and Company and proceeded to load Ojamaa’s bullets in those cases with black-powder substitute and smokeless powders. The best load that I developed was with 18 grains of 2400 which developed 1,262 fps from the gun. This load is not the equal of a .44 Rem. Magnum, but is the equivalent of a hot .44 Special reload, such as those developed by the late Elmer Keith decades ago. I had no problems with extraction or other indications that the conversion cylinder had any pressure problems. I had no doubt that the heavy frame of the Ruger Old Army which was built on a Super Blackhawk platform would handle the load.
The trip continues
On my trip through Kentucky I picked up a local shopper at a convenience store and found a story, Rainy Day Giant Is Taken in Pike County. This deer had an asymmetric rack with 10 long points on one side and four on the other. None had been broken, and I have no doubt that this deer will score very high on the Boon and Crockett scale. This gave me encouragement that big deer were still to be had. Perhaps this was a good omen.
In Illinois I met a fellow and his wife on their way to Washington State. He was also using a Ford Ranger 2011 and pulling a small Scamp travel trailer. He had purchased one of the low-end 4-cylinder Rangers and said that the trailer was something of a strain to pull up the steep grades as he crossed the Rocky Mountains. He let me look inside the trailer which would have been nearly ideal for me. He said that people had offered to buy it many times, but he was not about to give it up. I quickly left them and continued west to ultimately connect with I-35 North. I spent the night in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, and continued on the next day.
In the half-century since I had seen St. Paul it has changed enormously, and the interstate was still undergoing reconstruction. There were long stretches of stop-and-go traffic, but I finally broke out and continued on my way. Hinckley was nearly in sight, and I would be there by nightfall – the day before my event was to start. Fortunately, I was able to get a room at the Grand Casino Hotel which was to be the “Hunt Camp” for the Governor’s Opener’s hunters.
I have been in hunt camps before and some were nicer than others; but this definitely rated as the best. My room had a bed large enough to sleep me, two of my best buddies (if I had such) and room left over for a couple of dogs. There was also a Jacuzzi as well as the usual TV and in room fridge. The casino, besides having meeting rooms for the event, also had five different eateries, a half-dozen bars and slot machines and other forms of gambling enticements. I got those things out of my system when in my 20s and have had no interests in gambling since. Nonetheless, I figured I could somehow adapt to these quite different hunt-camp conditions, even though such luxurious were outside of my previous experiences.
Side trip to Duluth
As it would be half a day before I was to attend the first hunt-related event, I decided to make the 75-mile drive up to Duluth in search of a walleye dinner and Cornish pasties. These are something like the Italian calzone except they are typically filled with beef, Irish potatoes, English pees and onions along with any seasonal root vegetables that might be available, such as parsley (very often in Cornwall), carrots, turnips or rutabagas (northern U.S.).
Cornishmen had been skilled underground miners who worked the region’s tin deposits since Roman times. When the mining areas of the U.S. opened during the 1800s, these miners were eagerly recruited to come to America. They populated the gold and silver camps of the U.S., in the copper mines of Upper Peninsula Michigan, the underground iron mines of Minnesota, and I encountered them working in the Kaolin industry of Central Georgia, where I was first introduced to Pasties.
As I worked in the extractive mineral industry I was always interested in things related to it and sought out pasty shops in Montana, Nevada, and now in Minnesota. I knew I was getting close when more and more people had at least heard of them as I drove further north, and I even found a bakery in Hinckley that sometimes cooked them.
I was told that there might be pasty shops in Duluth, but no one knew for sure. So, early morning found me scraping ice off the windshield of my truck for my trip up. I arrived at the time that the Welcome Center was opening and was informed that there once was a dedicated pasty shop in Duluth, but it had closed. However, the bakery in the Super One Grocery Store just off I-35 in the downtown area had them. He also informed me that these were often purchased by those going to deer came and were something of an opening day tradition among Iron Range hunters.
To look a walleye in the eye I went to the Aquarium where Great Lakes and other fish were featured along with a depiction of the geologic history of the area. This history included a rift valley separating continental plates, a flood of basaltic lavas, an ice sheet over a mile thick over the lake some l0,000-years ago, a melt that formed the ancestor to the present lakes and finely the drainage diversion to the St. Lawrence River to form the chain of lakes that we see today.
After inspecting them in the fin, I found them on the menu at Grandma’s which is near the waterfront adjacent to the Maritime Museum. Walleye are often described as the best eating North American fresh water fish and this one did not disappoint. I later tried walleye on a hoagie sandwich in one of the Casino restaurants, and it was equally tasty. My two quests in Duluth were satisfied, and I returned to Hinckley in time for the official welcome that afternoon.
I did a YouTube video about these events and the results of the hunt which you may view at: https://youtu.be/fYRPSx918eA.
The Governor’s Hunt
The first official event of the Governor’s hunt was registration where I received my bag of swag which included an orange cap and general information about the hunts. Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton could not attend the event as he was recovering from surgery, so the welcome at the opening banquet was delivered by DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr who also gave out the complementary one-day deer hunting licenses to the visiting journalists. I was to be paired with Hinckley resident Don Carlier, who has a catering business. I would hunt on land next to his house that was owned by the town’s Mayor.
Among the seminars given before the hunt was one tracing the story of the Jim Jordan buck, which for decades was the world record whitetail buck which was killed by Jordan, disappeared for almost 30 years, passed through several hands and is now owned by Cabela’s. After an investigation by the Boon and Crockett Club, Jordan was recognized as the hunter who killed the buck shortly after he died. He ran a bar and told the story of his “Big Buck” many times. He shot the deer with a Winchester lever-action .25-20, a gun now considered illegal for hunting Minnesota’s typically large whitetail bucks.
After making contact with my fellow journalists and doing some radio interviews, I used the Jacuzzi to help reduce the pain I was having in my lower legs which was a result of the long drive up. The Ranger had done well, but I have claudication in both legs which results in tingling pain and stiffness.
Between my leg pain and the excitement of going on the hunt I did not sleep well and was awake long before dawn in ample time to get dressed and make it to our hunt site before dawn the next morning. Rain and snow was predicted, but fortunately held off all day. I was in an elevated wooden tower stand, but it had no roof. Nonetheless, the weather was dry, so I would have no problems with getting Mortimer, my flintlock fowler, to fire, should I have a chance at a good deer.
Temperatures ranged from the high 20s to low 50s, and I had dressed adequately for the hunt. I had brought a lunch which included my version of green eggs and ham. This consisted of the foreleg of a roasted wild hog with guacamole on multigrain bread. There was a smattering of shots during the morning, but the deer were not moving particularly well. By noon, neither me nor the other guest hunter had seen a deer.
Because of my lack of sleep the night before, I left the stand at noon, grabbed a nap back at our Grand Casino Hunt Camp, and returned to the stand by 3:00 P.M. In fading light when I could longer see my front bead sight, there were two close shots near the property line. A big deer ran into sight at about 75 yards and stood in an open area. I could tell it was a large-bodied deer, but could not see it well enough to say if it had antlers or not. As I reached for my scope-sighted Old Army, the deer put up its nearly foot-long tail and bounded off into the woods in the general direction of the other hunter who was located in a ground blind deeper in the woods. There was no follow-up shot. Darkness came and I climbed out of the stand and proceeded back to my truck.
Even though I could and did, stand up and move around in the stand, that long sit left my legs functional; but stiff. The deer, from all I could see appeared to be uninjured. If I had more leg strength remaining, I would have gone over with my flashlight to check out the spot where it stood for signs of blood. I saw no indications that the hunter who shot at the deer was following up on his shot. Apparently he also thought that he had missed the deer, or maybe this was a second deer. At any rate I had at least seen a big Minnesota whitetail, even if I did not have a reasonable shot at one.
Recommendations for a better Minnesota hunting experience
My one-day license expired at midnight on that day. This offered no possibility of following up on a wounded deer the next morning. I went back the next morning with the intention of checking out the spot where the deer stood, but my host, his son and daughter had gone hunting elsewhere. I had no permission to return to the property, could not carry a gun into it if I could and had no help to retrieve a deer if I found it. It would have been great if my license had extended until at least noon on the following day to allow for deer recovery.
Although it has not been historically allowed in Minnesota, the use of a trailing dog to help recover deer would greatly enhance the possibilities of finding deer in cornfields and in the swampy scrub woods of eastern Minnesota where cattails and grasses over 6-feet tall typically surround lowland ponds. A wounded deer will typically head for the thickest cover that he can find, and a dog can even air-scent deer over water which would dissipate any blood trail. Once put on a blood trail, our canine companions can find our deer and will literally drag us to them if they are restrained on a leash, as they must usually be in states where trailing dogs are allowed, such as in Wisconsin.
Crossbows are now allowed in Minnesota for older hunters. These are excellent hunting instruments, but are no more effective than modern bows. In fact a bow hunter will usually take more deer than a person using a crossbow because he will occasionally have a second shot, whereas a person using a crossbow will not because of the motion and noise required to cock the crossbow. Crossbows are also excellent for training young people on how to shoot because the same lessons about trigger pull, sight picture, trajectory and breath control apply equally well to both hunting instruments.
The trip home
Rain and snow predicted for the previous day arrived during the night. This early season snow was not sticking on the roadway, but was starting to accumulate on the side of the road. The further south I drove the thicker it got, but it presented no real problems, outside of a slight reduction in visibility. I drove into Madison, Wisconsin, and spent the night.
I entered Illinois from the north and proceeded south to Normal and then to Mount Vernon where I again connected with I-57 and I 24 and I 75 to take to Atlanta. I drove on a series of smaller roads as I drove through Illinois in order to avoid the congestion around Chicago. Although most of my trip through the state was dry, I hit bands of heavy rain in the southern part of the state. The worst of the storm was further south in Tennessee, and I elected to spend the night at Kuttawa, Kentucky, in the Land Between The Lakes area, rather than driving at night through worsening weather.
This proved to be a good decision, and by the next morning the storm system had moved through. I planned to stop and spend with night with a friend in Atlanta before proceeding home, which I did. We dined at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants just off I-20, where I had pork tamale wrapped in banana leaves.
The two-wheel-drive version of the Ranger encountered absolutely no mechanical problems as a result of the trip. The -inch 6-cylinder engine provided more than ample power to run at 75-mph and even at higher speeds if needed. The cruse control worked fine as did the radio and CD player. I picked up an audio book, Cobra II by Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor which gives the inside story of the invasion of Iraq and the immediate aftermath, which I listened to on the way home. In short, the version of the Ford Ranger that I did everything that it needed to do on this nearly 3,000 mile trip.
My tires reacted well to the road conditions, as I did practically no dirt road driving. Twice I had to make “panic stops” because of traffic conditions, but the breaks worked well even when damp. The Ranger had met my every expectation, and I had no regrets about using this less-than-giant-sized pickup on this November trip to the North Country.
Had I been fighting deep snow, towing a trailer or had a companion, perhaps I would have wanted something larger; but for this trip it performed very well. I had an excellent cross-country driving adventure without any problems. Although my deer hunting had not been successful, I had physically reconnected with our great country and its people during a magnificent fall. This, by itself, made the trip worthwhile.