The Miller family – (front row, from left) Avalin, Karen, Dan and Mary Kate; (back row, from left)  Blaine, Garret and Ellie – remembered their son and brother, Aidan, while going about this year’s annual Miller family hunting traditions on their farm near Kellogg, Minnesota. 
The Miller family – (front row, from left) Avalin, Karen, Dan and Mary Kate; (back row, from left) Blaine, Garret and Ellie – remembered their son and brother, Aidan, while going about this year’s annual Miller family hunting traditions on their farm near Kellogg, Minnesota. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

KELLOGG, Minn. – Opening morning of deer hunting season has always been an exciting time for the Miller family. This year was different.
“It was tough this year,” Dan Miller said. “The excitement wasn’t there like it normally was.”

That is because Dan and Karen Miller’s son, Aidan, was not there with the family to don the blaze orange clothing and watch for the perfect buck from a stand on their family’s 70-cow dairy near Kellogg. At the age of 16, Aidan passed away July 22 from a cardiac arrhythmia.
“It (opening morning) was one of Aidan’s favorite days, even over Christmas and other holidays,” Karen said.
Despite the emotions that came with deer opener morning Nov. 9 this year, the family – Dan and Karen along with their other children, Blaine, 28, Garret, 26, Mary Kate, 25, Ellie, 19, and Avalin, 10 – still gathered to hunt, remembering Aidan by attaching patches with his name to their stocking hats and hunting jackets. They progressed with the day as they have in years past.
“We always adjust our milking schedule for hunting season,” Dan said.
The family started doing chores at 3:30 a.m., 2.5 hours earlier than normal.
“We want to be in the woods before the sun comes up in the morning,” Dan said. “Then we come in for breakfast. Karen always makes egg bake. We eat quick and away we go.”
Deer hunting has been a tradition for Dan since he was a kid.
“Dan used to get much more excited about deer hunting when he was younger,” Karen said.
Although the thrill of the yearly event lessened, Dan’s excitement returned once the family got involved.
“I kept the excitement for the kids,” he said. “Aidan was at the age where he was so excited about the hunt. I got excited that he was so excited.”
The Millers have trail cameras on their land to help them track deer. Aidan followed one particular buck since last year.
Shortly after sunrise on opening morning, a buck came into Dan’s sight.
“I had seen a lot of deer out there this year,” he said. “After I shot him, I knew it was a big buck, but didn’t even realize it was the one Aidan had been following until I got to him.”
It was almost as if Aidan had a part in the family hunting that morning after all, said Dan.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Dan said, getting choked up. “It was bittersweet. It was nice to get him, but I wish Aidan would have been the one to get him. Had he been here, I’m guessing he’s the one who would have gotten it.”
Dan was sitting in the same stand Aidan used last year when he shot an 8-point buck opening morning. Since he already filled his tag, Aidan insisted on Dan going back to the woods to get his own buck for the season.
“Since we milk early in the morning, evening milking has to be done early, too, when it’s still light enough to hunt,” Dan said. “Whoever shoots one first kind of gets the short end of the stick and has to do chores.”
Aidan gladly spent many evenings last season in the barn so the rest of his family members could fulfill their hunt. It was all part of his caring personality, said Karen.
“He was just a good kid,” she said. “We never had to worry about him taking the wrong road. He didn’t hang with the bad crowd. He’d watch out for the underdog. He’s the type that would pick anyone up if they were down.”
This was evident to more than his family.
“It was a terrible thing to lose him but the stories we got to hear after he passed away, we probably wouldn’t have known if he hadn’t,” Karen said.
They ranged from befriending a new kid at school to helping younger students on the bus among many others sharing his good deeds and kind gestures.
At home, Aidan liked being outside doing chores.
“He was my right hand man on the farm,” Dan said. “We worked side by side every day. He knew the system and was just starting to get to the age where he could start or do chores without us. He was so dependable.”
Milking was bonding time for Dan and his son.
“He talked to me about everything in the barn, and I would talk to him about everything,” Dan said. “We had some great conversations.”
Both in the barn and in the woods were two places Aidan felt most comfortable.
“He wasn’t the kid to sit inside and play video games,” Dan said. “He was outside doing chores, out fishing and hunting.”
In fact, the night Aidan died, he finished chores for the evening and was fishing with friends.
“They had been out near the pond [where they were fishing],” Dan said. “He had been wrestling with his buddies. They said he walked away, took a knee and a couple deep breaths and just tipped over and his heart never beat again.”
The friends who were with him immediately started CPR until the paramedics arrive, but no one’s efforts could bring Aidan back.
“We are so grateful to those kids for doing everything they could to try and save Aidan,” Karen said.
Aidan had no prior health issues.
“I spent all day with him,” Dan said. “I’ve searched my brain for any type of sign he gave me that day, but there was nothing. He was healthy, happy, as good as can be.”
Although devastated, Karen found a small silver lining in the way Aidan left this world.
“It was like divine intervention knowing it wasn’t an accident,” she said. “I felt relieved he wasn’t scared or in pain, it wasn’t something he did or somebody else did that would have to live with regret. I was so thankful for that. To me, that was a huge comfort.”
And although deer hunting season will never be the same for the family, they take comfort in knowing they can share happy memories they have together with Aidan doing one of their favorite family hobbies.