I started out writing this from the table at Muutka Lodge on the last day of the gun deer season, but I got distracted.
I was watching birds out the window.
I had tossed out some scraps for my feathered friends, hopeful that a certain species would show – camp robbers.
Also known as gray jays, Canadian jays, lumberjacks and probably some other names I’m unaware of, the large jays are common in our neck of the woods. They’re usually around our hunting camp all season long, and I was hoping for a photo opportunity.
For the first deer season in many years, I had yet to see one. Of course, they’re often attracted by gut piles, and I had yet to provide one of those, but, they also like hunting camps, and we usually make sure there’s a little something for them to snack on just outside our west-facing window.
Like my quest in the deer woods this gun season, my quest to photograph a camp robber bore no fruit. I did watch many chickadees and blue jays, even a pair of hairy woodpeckers, but no camp robbers.
It wasn’t a completely unproductive day – I did get my muzzleloader sighted in. Lookout deer, here I come. As soon as I get a chance I’ll be back in pursuit with a slightly less efficient weapon.
It was a slow season for deer for me and a number of others. My total sightings for the season equaled one-half of one deer. About 3:45 one afternoon I saw the back half of a deer as it slipped through a shooting lane about 50 yards north of me.
Fail? Nah ... nobody got shot, arrested, lost or inconvenienced in any other such dramatic fashion. The time at camp was fun and the time in the woods was mostly comfortable and relaxing.
Collectively, our five-man crew saw fewer than 10 deer the entire season. Two of those deer made the meat pole, both via my dad, Bawb. Opening day, Dad filled his doe tag, and as the minutes ran out on the closing day, he filled his buck tag with a nice six-pointer.
I hunted a few evenings and two mornings. The evenings I spent hunting near home, where my wife was trying to get her second deer in as many years after a long dry spell. I’d drive her to her stand, then continue on to mine. Collectively, we saw half of a deer – the half I mentioned earlier.
Cheryl’s stand, which is near a large white pine that had served as playground equipment for two small bears for a few weeks leading up to the gun season, had no tracks evident near it even after the snow finally arrived on Friday.
Interestingly, one of the two bears was still active right up to the close of the gun season. On the final afternoon, Cheryl’s cousin, who is also our neighbor and hunts the same woods, saw one of the bears.
Thanksgiving Day I was hopeful. I’ve killed a few deer on Thanksgiving, and with an approaching front, and snow in the forecast, I thought the deer were likely to move. The front just progressed too slowly.
It was still 50 degrees when I left my stand at quitting time on Thanksgiving. I was waiting for fireflies to show as dusk took over on yet another balmy November day. By the time I went to bed that night, it was 27 degrees and the ground was covered with snow.
I missed hunting Friday, but heard reports that the snow and high winds made woodland vigils a mite uncomfortable. My Uncle Loopy remarked that he felt his stand swaying in the wind for the first time ever. His stand, the “pill box” is but eight feet high and has been in use since 1999.
The second Saturday was my first chance to hunt in the new snow, and I was excited as I prepared to head for my stand.
Not a single deer track was evident anywhere driving through the woods to my stand, walking in to it, or in a quick survey of the area upon arrival. I sat anyway and saw a red squirrel and some chickadees for my effort.
By the last night, day nine-of-nine, things were looking up, at least by my stand. Cheryl’s stand still seemed to be isolated in some sort of Northwoods desert, with only the occasional vole or squirrel making tracks in an otherwise lifeless void, but a number of deer had passed through near mine.
I climbed into my stand with expectations – which, I’ve found, are best avoided, but I couldn’t help myself. One grouse sighting, and then the approach of darkness, signaled the death of said expectations.
It was time to head in, shower, eat and watch the Packers – the death of some other expectations as it turns out.
But I did receive the call from Dad as I was putting my gear away, and hear about the six-pointer he took as the season concluded. A first-day doe and a last-day buck for Bawb, with nothing for the rest of our crew in between.
A season of success by any reasonable person’s standards.
Our annual Liverfest, now in its 21st year, saw 28 people in attendance on Wednesday night of the season. All the fried liver and many other treats were eaten. A beer or several were consumed as well. It was even warm enough for a campfire.
Around said campfire, tomfoolery, which eventually evolved into shenanigans, did ensue. Fortunately, no injuries resulted and the fire stayed within its ring.
Friday night was our “ladies’ night,” in which the wives of us hunters join us for a meal. It has actually become “visitor night” and open to all that care to join us – mostly family and close friends. It’s a tradition that dates back to the days when “Rollashack,” a school bus converted into a camper, served as our hunting camp.
My aunts Aggie and Annie, patient companions of my uncles Loopy and Larry, respectively, and Ma Turk, patient companion of my dad, visited. They were treated to Bawb’s pigs-in-the-blanket. This culinary piece of perfection might be boringly called “cabbage rolls” by others, but I’ve had other cabbage rolls and they’re not the same.
Cheryl declined the invite, opting instead for extra rest after the cold afternoon on stand.
There’s always just the evenings around camp. Maps, plans, beer, insults, jokes ribald and otherwise, the plethora of snacks and the finest of company. The coolest thing is how the years run together. It’s like other time stands still and waits for deer camp. At least it feels that way up until the final day when reality’s icy finger taps on your shoulder and beckons you back to civilization.
Of course, since 60 percent of our crew is now retired, deer camp 2012 will not die a sudden death, but a lingering one. With muzzleloader season upcoming, the fridges will continue to hold food and beer and the wood stove will continue to breathe warmth into the cozy confines.
For some, the once abrupt halt is now less defined – fuzzier and happier. I hope they remember to offer something to the camp robbers.
I can’t count myself among those free to linger at Muutka Lodge, but that’s OK. I’m just glad they can enjoy themselves drinking beer and hunting and living out at camp as they wish. I’m really not the kind of guy to get jealous.
In fact, I wish those rotten, stinking, decrepit old curmudgeons the best of luck the rest of the way.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.