Tom Baum of Little Falls was about 10 years old when he went deer hunting for the first time.
“I still remember that first time,” he said. “I was as scared as I could possibly be.”
Even though his dad, Bill, had trained him how to use his single-shot shotgun, the weapon brought him little solace in the deer stand. The hunters had left before sunrise and Baum had been left alone at the deer stand.
“It was as black as it could be outside. When you’re all by yourself, that young, and in woods, you don’t know, you think there are all kinds of animals out there to get you,” he said.
In the stillness of dawn, every animal sound seemed to be amplified. Despite the fact that he only sat in darkness for about 30 minutes, to a young boy it seemed like nearly an eternity.
Nowadays when Baum goes hunting, the darkness or various animal sounds don’t scare him. He also hunts on his own land — 70 acres, which he is very familiar with. What makes hunting deer even more exciting and fun is that he does it with several family members and friends. It’s a time of camaraderie and an opportunity for bonding closer.
Baum hunts with his three sons, Nathan, Shane and Matthew and nephews, Darrell and Darren. His friend, Jason Rahn and Nathan’s tenant, Kyle Lemke hunt, as well.
“It’s more enjoyable to get together with family and friends than the hunting itself,” he said.
A lot of time is devoted to preparing the land for hunting. The shooting lanes needs to be cleared in the woods and the deer stands ensured to be in a good condition and ready to be transported. Some stands are portable with wheels on and others are simple platforms with sides that are built into the trees.
Baum said since he is getting older, he is planning to build an enclosed and heated deer stand. Though it won’t have any wheels on it, he would still be able to move it with his skidster.
To see what kind of animals roam his property, Baum sets up four or five trail cameras. Lately he’s been seeing quite a few coyotes. In one photo, four were shown together and it is something he doesn’t like.
“In the spring, they will eat the fawn if they find them,” he said. “It cuts down on the deer population.”
Last year, he spotted a bear on the trail camera. Seeing wild animals may frighten others, but not him. He knows his woods well and is also armed. The hunters also use headlights when they leave before morning dawns. The headlights are also used to track a deer after dark, he said.
It is not only the annual hunting that has become a tradition. Before they leave, Baum gets up early in the morning when the others are still asleep and makes a hearty breakfast for everyone. His wife, Aeron, makes them lunch.
When the crew heads out, they’re geared with blaze orange clothing and other material that helps them stay warm. They also hunt with deer rifles that are equipped with good scopes.
A lot of memories are made between family and friends. Some of the funniest stories come from when one of the crew members missed a shot and another harvested the deer.
“It’s fun to give each other a hard a time. Like when a deer is just standing there broadside about 50 yards away and the other person can’t hit and they keep missing,” he said.
Baum recalls when Rahn started hunting with the family. In 2011, when a 10-point buck came by, Baum shot at it twice, but missed.
“The buck walked basically up to Jason after I had shot at it and he shot it,” he said.
Baum said he likes to joke around, especially with Rahn, that he had simply just fired some warning shots so the buck would go to him. After all, Rahn hadn’t harvested anything yet that year and hadn’t shot any nice big bucks like that one, Baum said.
A similar incident occurred in 2012 when Baum wounded a deer. The deer then limped over into Nathan’s scope, who ultimately harvested it.
Since Nathan had his daughter, Myla, with him, he jokes that he wounded the deer to make it easier for Nathan so Myla could see a deer.
“Of course, it was me who didn’t get a killing shot,” he said. “I was really glad though that the deer didn’t get away being wounded.”
Even though he has had his own fair share of missed opportunities, Baum said it doesn’t bother him and that he is just happy for whomever harvested it. If anything, it becomes a good memory and a funny story to laugh at.
The crew processes their own meat in Shane’s shop. A variety of sausages, deer sticks, jerky and smoked venison is made.
“Processing our own meat gives us another reason to get together,” Baum said. “We have more camaraderie as a hunting crew that way.”
In 2013, Shane shot a 13-point buck.
“It was very nice,” Baum said. “Anytime somebody gets a nice size deer, they’ll have it mounted.”
As deer hunting season approaches, Baum said he’s getting more excited about getting together with the family.
“The closer it gets, the more pumped up you become about it,” he said.
Baum believes their grandchildren will eventually hunt with the crew. It is something he is looking forward to.
“Hopefully we’ll have the land long enough so they can enjoy it also,” he said.