Hunting for the Health of It: Spiritual

I hope everyone had a rewarding opening weekend of the gun deer season. I was fortunate to shoot a doe Saturday morning before heading to work at the registration station (first deer I’ve shot on opening weekend since getting hired by the DNR 20+ years ago!). When I first placed my hand on her, I said out loud “I’m sorry”. Then I thought to myself, “that was a strange thing to say”. I wasn’t sorry that I had shot her. But it seemed appropriate to acknowledge to her that I was sorry I had ended her life. As I field dressed her, the heat from her body on my hands reminded me that her life was transferring to mine and I thought about how she would feed my family over the next year. I felt connected to her and to the patch of land that had raised her. It was a spiritual moment for me.

Spirituality means different things to different people. Spiritual wellness is associated with a sense of connection. Deer hunting provides many avenues to contemplate and explore spirituality. For some, it’s the simple joy of watching the sun rise. It may be the feel and smell of the autumn earth as it reclaims the past year’s plant growth to be expressed again as new life next spring. And if venison should grace the family table, the chance to share and give thanks takes on a greater significance because the meal was provided by your own hand and you recall the moment in the field when you felt that contradiction of both sorrow and gratitude.

It has been my pleasure and privilege to share with you the virtues of the hunt as I have come to value them during my years in the field. Thank you for taking the time to consider how hunting enhances our quality of life, and perhaps sharing these messages throughout your own online network of family and friends. There will always be good years and not so good years in the deer woods, but when you are hunting for the health of it, you can’t lose. I wish you a rewarding remainder of the 2012 season and a Happy Thanksgiving.

Live Wild, Live Well
Jeff Pritzl

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Hunting for the Health of It: Environmental

An environmental component was added to the wellness model recently. The premise is that the surroundings you find yourself in have an effect on your well-being. From the quality of the air you breathe to the noise pollution taken in by your ears, your environment can be the cause of that headache you came home with, the restlessness that’s keeping you awake at night, or the content and relaxed feeling that allows peak performance during the day and restful sleep at night. Part of the attraction of a favorite deer hunting spot is the opportunity to wrap oneself in the rejuvenating effects of the natural environment, which for some will bring a sense of peak performance, and for others perhaps that restful sleep (maybe some of both).

But the environmental component of wellness can be spun the other way too. Borrowing President Kennedy’s phrase; it’s not just what the environment can do for you, but what you can do for the environment. By simply purchasing a hunting license and gear, you are making possible the improved health of our wild resources. Through the act of hunting you are hopefully establishing a connection with the land, a sense of place that becomes a part of you. And because of that connection, the actions you take and the decisions you make will be done in the context of protecting that place so that future generations may get to experience what you have.

If you had to pick the environmental factor that has the most influence on deer hunting, I think you would have to say vegetation. Sure there are other factors that come and go like weather and other people’s activity. But if the vegetation isn’t suitable, good luck. Luckily deer are very adaptable and there are many vegetative communities that they can live in. Perhaps the greatest expression of care for your deer hunting future is to become very aware of the vegetation on the land you hunt on. And not just the trees, and not just in November. Observing the presence or absence of plant species will make you both a better hunter and land steward. One thing you can do this week to protect your land and future deer hunting is to be on the lookout for invasive shrubs. Several species of honeysuckle and buckthorn are the last deciduous shrubs to hold their leaves, and really stand out right now. Because they are the first to pop their leaves out in the spring, and last to drop them, they have a competitive advantage over native vegetation and will quickly spread, displacing preferred plants. And neither provides any benefit to deer. Small plants with stems of 1 inch or less pull out of the ground easily. Larger plants will need to be cut and stump treated with a brush-killing herbicide (or cut again…and again…and again). So if you see these still green invaders during the hunt, do your environment a favor and pull it or make a note to come back later. Honeysuckle is easier to deal with in the spring, so when you return to your favorite haunt to hunt sheds after the snow melts or for turkey hunting; come prepared to deal with these shrubs too. The deer, wildflowers, tree seedlings, and your kids and grandkids will be better off, and you will get the benefit of fresh air, some physical exercise, and maybe even some stress relief.

Tomorrow this gets deep.

Live Wild, Live Well
Jeff Pritzl

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Hunting for the Health of It: Intellectual

Just as a day afield can span the emotional spectrum from absolute peace and calm to a heart pounding adrenalin rush, it also can offer the opportunity to clear and free the mind, or engage its sharpest powers of calculation, interpretation, and recall. And the beauty of hunting is we are all free to pursue what pleases us most.

Today is opening day! To some it means the chance to return to that favorite overlook and watch the sun rise and just relax in the arms of nature. To others it means getting the chance to put into play the serious studying and preparations that led up to this day. For myself and the rest of the DNR wildlife management staff, opening day means we get to exercise our skills in pseudo-dentistry. Our day is filled with lingual and buccal crests, infundibulums and incisors, deciduous premolars and diastimas. We re-familiarize ourselves with this tooth terminology through annual recertification so we can collect the age of about 20,000 deer across the state this weekend.

Mental exercise is just as important to overall wellness as physical exercise. And while our staff are putting their minds to work aging deer, the rest of you aren’t exactly giving your brains a vacation either. You’ve collected a lot of knowledge and insight over the years (or have at least got a good start) and now it’s time to put it to work. You’ve read books and magazine articles on deer ecology and behavior, hunting strategies timed with the calendar and lunar tables. There are deer calls and scents, and proper times and ways to use them. Perhaps you’ve learned to measure antlers and enjoy estimating the score of bucks you’ve gotten to know in your neighborhood. And let’s not forget the guns…assessing the pros and cons of different calibers, and considering the ballistic performance of different weight and shaped bullets. Yes there is no shortage of mental calisthenics going on this weekend.

And to fully appreciate the significance of the hunt and reap the rewards of the experience, one needs to consider the history and the heritage we are a part of. An awareness of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and the restoration of both game and non-game species of wildlife across the country, made possible by our investment in both government conservation agencies and non-profit conservation organizations. And to protect and pass on our heritage, it is important to be informed on current socio-political policy development and impacts. There’s always something to think about.

Tomorrow we will take a look at your surroundings.

Live Wild, Live Well
Jeff Pritzl

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Hunting for the Health of It: Career

Jeff recognizing fellow sportsmen for their commitment to wildlife stewardship

I shot my first deer when I was 15, in what is now the Porcupine Lake Wilderness Area of the Chequamegon National Forest in Bayfield County. In my inexperience, I made a poor shot on the 6 pointer, and when I caught up with him, he was still alive. I found myself face to face with my quarry, and at that moment he became more than just a target to me. I knew what I had to do. I ended the deer’s suffering, fell to my knees and as I mentioned yesterday, cried. In the 10 minutes I knelt there, waiting for my Grandpa to find me, something happened while I looked at that deer. Hunting ceased being mere sport or recreation to me. I made a commitment to that buck that I would give back more than I took. For me it turned into a profession. But for many more, the call to be a steward of our wildlife resources blooms through conservation organizations dedicated to preserving and enhancing our natural world for future generations.

The original Hettler Wellness Model used the word Occupational as a component of wellness. I guess he needed a vowel more than a consonant for the original 6 letter acronym SOSPIE. Whether it’s Career or Occupational, this component of health extends beyond the literal definition of a job. It includes any avocation that requires a commitment to develop special skills to be proficient. That means many more than just the couple hundred wildlife management staff, conservation wardens, outdoor writers and outfitters; or the people working in the equivalent of 14,000 jobs created by the hunting economy in Wisconsin, get to consider deer hunting as part of their career. Having a passion for an activity like hunting keeps us grounded and fulfilled in a way that enhances our performance, regardless of our actual profession. Aldo Leopold wrote “I knew a bank president who adventured in roses. Roses made him a happy man and a better bank president.” He also offered that “Certainly many of our most satisfying avocations today consist of making something by hand which machines can usually make more quickly and cheaply, and sometimes better.” So in as much as the basic purpose of generating a paycheck is to acquire the services of others to provide certain basic needs such as food or shelter, it is much more fulfilling to assume full responsibility for obtaining these needs with our own talents and hands. Hunting is not the only way to achieve this level of satisfaction and self-reliance, but it is my preferred way.

Tomorrow I’ll give you something to think about.

Live Wild, Live Well…and good luck on Opening Day tomorrow!
Jeff Pritzl

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Hunting for the Health of It: Emotional

The memory of my first deer will always be special. It unexpectedly brought me to tears. It wasn’t simply an expression of remorse for the life I had just taken (although I do believe that was an appropriate component), rather a culmination of emotions topped off by how happy and proud I knew my Grandpa would be. But my second deer, a buck fawn, actually holds the top honor. It was the first year that I was hunting on my own. I wanted so badly to prove to my family that I was a capable hunter. I had hunted hard, missing only one weekday; and it was the last afternoon of the season. I went out one last time, mostly just to say I had given it my all. I spent most of the final hour leaning against a tree reliving the week and feeling sorry for myself. I even had an antlerless tag, and thought surely I’d at least get a chance at a doe or a fawn. There had been chances. I just screwed them up. The curtain was about to fall in 15 minutes on the 1987 season, when a deer sprang from the brush not 15 yards from where I had been standing the past 45 minutes! My aim was true and as I placed my hand on him, I said a prayer of thanksgiving. I’m surprised my seatbelt fit across my puffed out chest on the drive home.

It’s commonly assumed in the world of hunting that trophies are equivalent to large deer. But many trophies will be collected in the coming week that can’t be hung on a wall. They may be captured in a journal or simply burned into a memory. The real trophy of the hunt is the harvest of a good story. Few pursuits can generate the full spectrum from serene peace and tranquility to a heart-pounding adrenaline rush in the same morning; sometimes within the same hour. And the potential for experiencing a great sense of pride and accomplishment is made sweeter only because the possibilities of grave disappointment and sorrow are equally present.

Tomorrow my job is on the line!

Live Wild, Live Well
Jeff Pritzl

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Hunting for the Health of It: Physical

Although the thermometer read 22 degrees, I stopped to peel off my sweatshirt from under my blaze orange coat. The half mile walk had raised my core temperature, and sweat, the ultimate enemy of prolonged comfort to a hunter, was preparing to counter the warmth. My fingers which stung from the bite of the air right through my gloves for the first 10 minutes of my hike, were now uncovered. The feeling of freedom, being so lightly covered now in such frigid conditions was more than just refreshing. The real sense of warm blood carrying heat to my fingertips which allowed them to function unprotected in the harsh elements created a feeling of genuine ruggedness and durability.

Of the various health benefits of hunting, the physical aspect is likely the most obvious. It comes in 2 forms: How we exercise our body and what we feed our body. I bet you can list a half-dozen ways that your chosen method of hunting can provide forms of exercise: the hike in, a push through the swamp, perhaps splitting some firewood, and hopefully dragging a deer at some point. Of course the hunting season is short-lived, and so will be the benefits derived from the exercise if your activity is limited to in-season adventures. Being physically prepared for hunting season makes it more enjoyable, and in some cases safer. Staying in shape during the rest of the year doesn’t have to be a chore. Biking, hiking, or jogging can be made more interesting, inspirational, and effective with the right music in your ear. I’ve put together a playlist of music that inspires me both as an outdoorsman and a teen of the 1980’s. I’m sharing it below for your consideration.

Recently a number of books have hit the market extolling the virtues of wild game. Michael Pollan may have gotten the discussion started with The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The term Locovore became the new word of the year in the Oxford American Dictionary in 2007. It refers to eating more sustainably for both your environment and your body. Steven Rinella has done his part as “The Meat Eater” to popularize a diet of wild meat as an author and TV personality. And now The Beginner’s Guide to Hunting Deer For Food by Jackson Landers is bringing in new hunters with an interest in pursuing a healthier lifestyle. I must say my proudest moment as a venison harvester was when my daughter complained after sampling her first sirloin steak that it was too soft and fatty.

Tomorrow it’s going to get emotional.

Live Wild, Live Well
Jeff Pritzl

Hunter’s Workout Playlist
Most forms of hunting involve some degree of physical exertion. Being physically prepared for hunting season makes it more enjoyable, and in some cases safer. Getting in shape over the spring and summer doesn’t have to be a chore. Biking, hiking, or jogging can be made more interesting, inspirational, and effective with the right tunes in your ear. Here’s a playlist that works well for me. It’s an eclectic mix of movie soundtracks, classic rock, modern rock and pop, and country. You can search the web (or have a kid do it for you) to create this list which will keep you going for just over an hour.

Also sprach Zarathustra. Start out like you are about to embark on something significant. While you are getting your bike ready and accessories on, or lacing up for a run, this will set the tone. If you don’t recognize the title, you will recognize the song when you hear it.

I Gotta Feeling – Black-eyed Peas. Great pop song to infuse energy into the opening of your workout.

Chariots of Fire – Main Theme. Now it’s time to get focused. If you haven’t seen the movie, watch it. It may help to create the appropriate image and attitude in your mind. “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” (quote from the movie)

The Buffalo Hunt – Dances With Wolves soundtrack. I did say this was a hunter’s playlist. It’s time to get into the hunting music. Once while on my bike, a deer ran alongside me in the ditch while this song was playing. It was just like the scene from the movie (replace my bike with a horse and the deer with a buffalo) and I shot an imaginary arrow at him. I smiled all the way home.

Fire Dance – Dances With Wolves soundtrack. As your body comes under stress and your mind starts to clear, it becomes easier to move into a spiritual state of mind. A workout can become meditation in motion, and this song will help take you there.

The Eagle and the Hawk – John Denver. At this point hopefully you are on a scenic stretch of road. The sensation of flying will be strong. If you are steady on your bike, it will be hard to resist spreading your arms like wings.

Fred Bear – Ted Nugent. Whether or not you agree with Ted’s political views or hunting style; he captures the spirit of the hunt masterfully with this tribute to the father of modern archery hunting. And the drummer’s high hat and rim shots are the perfect cadence for my running stride.

A New Game – Tom Hedden. It’s time to really bear down now and maximize your workout. Here’s another one you probably won’t recognize until you hear it. I’ll assume that if you’re an autumn enthusiast, you’re also a football fan. Used regularly by NFL Films, this song is the ultimate expression of physical exertion. But it’s short, so I play it twice to get a longer effect.

Gonna Fly Now – Theme from Rocky soundtrack. OK, maybe this song is the ultimate expression of physical exertion. But if you haven’t seen this movie either, you’ll need to watch it to benefit from the imagery of Rocky running the streets and steps of Philadelphia. This is the peak of the workout, so let this song help you push yourself.

Roll With the Changes – REO Speedwagon. “Keep on rollin’” enough said.

Keep Pushin’ – REO Speedwagon. “Keep pushin’ it” ‘nough said again.

Jump – Van Halen. As a teen of the 80’s, I’m a Van Halen fan (both the 80’s and 90’s versions). The rest of these songs are somewhat of a wind down, but still at a good pace. You may choose to replace these with songs that speak to you. These keep me going to the end:

Top of the World – Van Halen
Right Now – Van Halen
Feels So Good – Van Halen

The Eagle and the Hawk – John Denver. A revisit to an earlier favorite to begin the cool down.

Live Like You Were Dying – Tim McGraw. As you cool down, this song will help you think about how you’re going to spend the rest of your day in a meaningful way.

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Hunting for the Health of It: Social

Jeff with Deer

Jeff in a stone-faced group photo by the meat pole

When you sign on to be a wildlife biologist with the DNR, one thing you must understand is that you’ve just signed away much of your gun deer hunting experience; especially the treasured opening weekend. I know I’ll see a bunch of deer opening weekend, and probably some dandies. But they will already be in the possession of another successful hunter at a registration station. Still, I look forward to working at the registration station, aging every deer that comes through. I dare say that opening weekend of deer season is the social event of the year at the gas station I work at. It’s an annual reunion, and a homecoming of sorts for many in the community. There are many friends that I can count on seeing this weekend…deer or no deer in their truck.

The social aspect of deer hunting in Wisconsin is significant. It is woven into the fabric that defines Wisconsin’s culture. When asked, most hunters will tell you the most important part of the hunt to them is getting together with family and friends. Doing something you enjoy with people you enjoy being with. Does it get any better than that? Humans are social beings. We seek each other’s company in search of a sense of connection, of belonging. And when we find it, we are better for it. And so is our community as a whole.

I have the great fortune to be welcomed into a muzzleloader camp the week after the gun season. It is my time to experience the bond of the hunt. Our camp has multiple self-imposed restrictions and traditions. No modern muzzleloaders are allowed, only traditional Hawkins-style rifles. We pass no judgment on others who choose more efficient weapons, but we recognize the limitations of our equipment as a shared challenge and a source for more stories of trial and tribulation around the woodstove. We each carry a supply pouch made from the leather of a deer we harvested on the property. At the end of the trip, we take a group photo by the meat pole, reenacting our ancestor’s preference for serious, stone-faced expressions. My post-gun season schedule isn’t as free of commitments as I would like. Often I need to let the guys know that I have a conflict with part of the trip. Their response is to adjust the dates if possible. It’s an unspoken gesture between men to say, without getting all touchy-feely, “It just isn’t the same without you”. There it is…that sought after sense of belonging that makes you feel valued and appreciated in the most rewarding way. Our individual contributions make our camp complete, and our collective presence enhances each individual’s life. The harmony and balance of nature transcends into our individual existence through the shared experience of the hunt.

Tomorrow this gets physical.

Live Wild, Live Well
Jeff Pritzl

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Hunting for the Health of It: Introduction


Jeff Pritzl on a crisp winter day with his dog

There are many motivations that drive us to hunt, but one common, although sometimes subconscious sensation, is that it satisfies us on so many levels: Socially, Physically, Emotionally, Career, Intellectually, Environmentally, and Spiritually. I first heard the term wellness 25 years ago. I was a student at UW-Stevens Point and received wellness training as a staff member of my residence hall. It’s no coincidence that Stevens Point is also home to The National Wellness Institute. My instructor should be proud. Although a quarter century later I can’t remember his name, the components of wellness are forever burned in my memory and provide the foundation for a nature-based wellness lifestyle. The acronym… SPECIES.

Welcome to my blog entitled “Hunting For The Health of It”. Over the next week, as we eagerly anticipate the coming gun deer season, I would like to lay out for your consideration the 7 components of wellness and the strong connection that hunting has to enhancing each of these components in your life. It’s my attempt to bring what is often a subconscious feeling to full mindful awareness.

The number one thing standing between you and more time outdoors, is most likely competition for your precious hours of daylight. If nothing else, let these posts arm you with justification when you are in need of it. Unfortunately I didn’t stay in school long enough to get a PhD, so you can’t call these doctor’s orders. But just maybe you can keep them as a manual of “go to” moves when you need to pull out that ace from your sleeve. And just to be clear, I’m not talking about how to get out of your responsibilities at home or work. I’m merely addressing your free time. How are you going to spend it? Hunting is good for you. It’s good for the community, the economy, and the landscapes you are connected to. Let’s talk about your social life tomorrow.

Live Wild, Live Well
Jeff Pritzl

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So many incredible experiences

My job as Secretary has opened the door to so many incredible experiences, but none like last year when I was introduced to deer hunting! I was new to deer hunting, but thanks to some great mentors I now proudly consider myself hooked. I’m happy to say that I did get a deer, but even more importantly last year’s gun deer season immersed me in the entire deer hunting experience, from being in deer camp with great friends, to registering and processing my deer, telling my hunting story to all who would listen, and ultimately basking in the satisfaction of cooking and serving the world’s finest venison to my family. It’s an experience that I will never forget, and now I can’t wait for the 2012 season.

Thanks to some exciting new licensing and mentoring opportunities, many of you may be new to deer hunting this year. I encourage you to fully immerse yourself in every aspect of the hunt. I’m sure that your hunting mentor, whoever it may be, will get just as great a thrill from your experience as you will. We are doing all we can to provide great outdoor opportunities to first-time hunters just like you, and I hope you have a hunting experience that has you hooked for life.

Many more of you are old veterans of the hunt. If you’ve been at this game for several years you’ve no doubt seen a lot of changes. Old hunting spots turn into neighborhoods; changes in habitat; growing numbers of people enjoying the fall outdoors; and wildlife diseases that have threatened our deer hunting are just a few of the challenges that have impacted Wisconsin’s deer, deer hunting, and deer hunters. Despite the challenges, the hunting traditions run strong in Wisconsin, and continues to rank among the country’s best deer hunting spots in both numbers and trophy potential.

All of the elements that make deer hunting such a great challenge can also make managing the herd challenging for department staff. Not only do our biologists rely on the data that you provide when you register a deer, but we also rely a great deal on what you tell us about your own deer hunting experiences. This year during the quota and season setting process, we made an unprecedented effort to get input from hunters. Through dozens of local meetings as well as mail-in and on-line surveys, we collected your input and used it to the best of our ability. We heard loud and clear that hunters want to see more deer, and we are accommodating that wish in many units in the north where there is room for the herd to grow. Many farmland units will see great deer hunting opportunities, and again we have set permit levels based on public input. I want to personally thank those of you who took the time to learn more and get involved in Wisconsin’s deer management program. And if you haven’t been involved, we have many ways to get active ranging from simply providing your viewpoints to actually getting out in the field and helping with deer research and data collection.

Get involved, and I promise that you will enjoy our deer resource not just during the hunt, but throughout the entire year.

I hope you are as excited as I am about the upcoming deer seasons. Those of us who
work for the deer resource do it all for you, and we also can’t do it without you. Thank you for being an active participant in our great deer hunting tradition.

Have a great fall!

Cathy Stepp
Secretary Wisconsin DNR

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