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Be careful - yellow jacket season has arrived

It was a beautiful late-summer evening, and we were grilling up some venison brats and sitting down to enjoy a cookout on the deck washed down with a couple of cold Samuel Adams Octoberfests.

The arrival of Sam's Octoberfest is an anticipated event on the calendar because it's yet another sign that fall—the most anticipated time of year for many outdoors-lovers—is just around the corner.

Then the yellow jackets rolled in, buzzing and dive bombing the table with alarming regularity. They landed on paper plates, they tried to dive into our beers. They flew around our heads.

They were as aggressive as they were annoying.

Yet another sign of fall, the yellow jackets were bad enough to drive us off the deck and into the cold comfort of a yellow jacket-free house before one of us got stung.

I'm not a fan of wasps and hornets under any circumstances—they rank right up there with snakes on the list of creatures that can get me dancing—but I especially hate yellow jackets.

Much as I love this time of year, yellow jackets definitely are a downside.

Like most creatures, yellow jackets have their benefits, I suppose, but they can absolutely spoil time on the deck or even in a boat, where I've been dive-bombed more often than anyone should have to endure.

And always, it's this time of year, as summer days grow shorter and mornings occasionally carry the brisk freshness of cooler days on the horizon.

Yellow jacket season, I call it.

I'm pretty good at avoiding angry wasps and hornets—I credit the dancing reflex for that, at least in part—but when I do get stung, it's generally this time of year when yellow jackets begin to swarm.

My worst yellow jacket encounter—by far—occurred a decade ago about this time, when a friend and I were fishing cats on the Red River near Oslo, Minn.

I was drinking a can of Ruby Red Squirt—no, it wasn't Octoberfest—and had set it down on the seat. Maybe I was reeling in a fish, baiting a hook or netting a cat for my fishing partner; I don't remember exactly why I set down the can.

I vividly remember, though, what happened when I picked it up and brought it to my lip for another sip. I hadn't notice the black-and-yellow scourge that had landed on the rim of the can.

Until the yellow jacket stung me on the upper lip.

Instinctively, I slammed down the can and uttered a word that can't be printed here. My top lip felt hard and sore, but ice cubes from the cooler kept the swelling in check.

It was uncomfortable but not unbearable. And amazingly, my lip was back to normal within the next day or so.

Bad as that encounter was, it could have been worse. My fishing partner is allergic to wasp and hornet stings and wasn't carrying the epinephrine injector he is supposed to keep with him in case he gets stung.

If he had been the recipient of that untimely sting, we would have been making a beeline for the emergency room.

The moral of the story, I guess, is that everyone who spends time outdoors needs to be on the lookout for yellow jackets, which are at their worst this time of year, to avoid getting stung.

The scourge will last a few more weeks until a couple of good, hard frosts drive the insects back to wherever it is they spend their time.

For now, be careful out there. And if anyone has a remedy for keeping yellow jackets at bay until stinging season passes, I'm all ears.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is editor of the Herald's Northland Outdoors section and also works as a copy editor and page designer. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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