Deer season is about comradery, just getting out to enjoy nature, celebrating traditions and partaking in an important part of the state’s economy. It’s not just about shooting deer.
Said he with no buck dangling from the meat pole after opening weekend.
Of course it’s always fun for those that take part in the annual tradition. So what if that time in the woods is a fruitless foray? I’m sure most can extract something of value from the hunt anyway. Us crazy hunters do it all the time, evidently.
There is no guarantee of success, yet weeks are spent in preparation. Dollars are spent on supplies.
Though weeks are spent getting ready, for many of us, most of that prep gets attention in the last few days.
That last few days leading up to the deer season opener is a crazy time. Luckily, my step-son, Dan, was around to help his mother prepare for the opener, as I was busy with my own deer season-related and other tasks.
My wife, Cheryl, is limited in mobility, but she’s got a nice comfortable stand near our house that her now-deceased father and I built for her several years ago.
She continues to hunt, sitting in her stand along one of the small roads in the woods near home, holding her old .32 Special. A rather braggadocios sign on her stand reads “32 Gutpile Lane.”
Cheryl no longer hunts the early morning hours because it takes a while for her to get moving. She had big plans for her afternoon hunts, though. Plans to watch the bears.
Two small black bears decided a few weeks back that a large white pine near Cheryl’s stand was the place to hang out. They’d simply spend their day lounging in the branches, paying little mind to people that passed or stopped to watch and take pictures.
Of course, Cheryl loves the bears, but she also worried they’d disrupt her hunt.
As it turns out, they wouldn’t directly disrupt her opening weekend, though their fondness for the spot over a period of several weeks might have had some effect on deer travel. Friday before the opener the little bears had moved on, though we soon found out that they stayed in the general area.
Our neighbor and Cheryl’s cousin, Jim Martishus, twice saw one of them opening weekend from his stand overlooking a marsh about a 40 away, but they did not visit Cheryl over the weekend.
Interestingly, Thursday night before season I heard some very excited coyotes in that area. I’m uncertain if the ruckus somehow displaced the little bears from their favored pine, but I think it’s possible.
Out at camp – Muutka Lodge – our crew of five hit the woods opening weekend and went into Monday with a 20 percent success rate.
My dad, Bawb, dropped a nice doe near the end of shooting light Saturday. The beefy doe was aged at four-and-a-half years old at the DNR Service Center in Rhinelander.
I hunted early Saturday and Sunday mornings near camp, which is northeast of Rhinelander, and saw no deer. Late morning Saturday, I took a stroll to a blind I had set up and found it to be inhabited by a porcupine.
I flushed the porcupine from the blind and began cleaning up its rather foul mess, but I lacked the proper tools to do so completely – like a shovel. This cemented my decision to hunt my stand near home Saturday night.
I could hit the woods with Cheryl that way, too. Our home is between Rhinelander and McNaughton, and we’ve not been seeing tons of deer, but enough to want to pursue them.
Saturday evening we saw no deer while hunting. The most exciting thing to happen at my stand was a very spirited fight between two red squirrels. Cheryl’s night on stand was not as exciting.
Sunday, I was running a bit late for the afternoon hunt, but we finally headed out about 2:30 p.m. And, yes, I admit I listened to the end of the Packers game on stand. Perhaps some of the post-game show as well.
There was no red squirrel brawl Sunday, though one of the obnoxious rodents did sit in a spruce near me and repeatedly voiced its dislike of everything in general.
The most exciting moment for me Sunday came about 3:30, when a grouse walked through. It perched on a small deadfall for a while, raising its crest and staring intently into the swamp to the northeast.
“Maybe it sees something I don’t,” I thought, though I was doubtful.
The grouse suddenly flushed away from whatever it thought it saw, which I believe was nothing. Grouse can be real drama queens. Sometimes watching the reactions of the creatures of the woods helps, sometimes it misleads.
I also spotted a small spider on the arm of my coat, but felt certain it would be of no help for spotting deer, so I flicked it away. The spider was evidence of the warm temps we were experiencing – the mercury topped the 50-degree mark on Sunday. “Too warm” is a good excuse, right?
It turns out that a no-deer Sunday evening was what Cheryl and I experienced, though Cheryl did hear startled blowing behind her stand at one point. Jim Martishus saw a buck – with polished one-inch antlers.
Sunday was not fruitful for the rest of the guys at camp either. A few deer were seen and Dad nearly had a shot again, but couldn’t tell if it was a buck or not and was not hunting near anyone with a doe tag.
Of course, it’s always great just to be out at camp.
Our crew consists of my dad, Robert “Bawb” Turk, my uncles Jim “Loopy” Paulman and Larry “Burnboy” Levijoki (has had several interesting encounters with heat sources), Dennis “Da Menace” Reissmann and Me.
In the warm embrace of Muutka Lodge, regardless of success in the field, the season is always good.
The wood stove cranks out that dry heat that soothes the aching bones of those that have withstood often-damp November conditions, special smells fill the air – some of them good – and one can feel the love as hunters gather around the large table in the camp’s Beer Wing.
The large table has pictures of historical relevance preserved under coats of polyurethane. It serves as the gathering place for our hunters and our visitors. It holds our camp log book and a general disorganized mess of interesting stuff. And some treats – gotta have the deer season treats.
Pickled eggs are a mainstay. The large jar is in the center of the table. It is reloaded as needed.
Bawb makes various sausages, and there is some smoked fish this year as well. The smoked fish was courtesy of friend Bob Dionne, and a few of us believe his Cajun smoked salmon may be the best smoked fish we’ve ever tasted.
There’s beer, too. We are fortunate enough to have two gas fridges – one for food and one for beer. As of Sunday afternoon, the beer population remained on the high side and we believe continued harvest is a sustainable practice.
Friday before opener saw some wear and tear on the beer fridge latch, though. Loopy, one of two of us that actually have to work during the season, arrived late after second-shift labor and we made an extremely late night of it – at least relative to the past 15 or so seasons.
My Uncle Larry (“Burnboy”) amused us – and not by accidentally melting something or setting it ablaze, which is his typical way of doing so.
He was sitting on the couch late Friday evening and stitching shut holes in his jacket pockets. After an hour or more at the tedious task, he was done and put the jacket on in preparation to head outside.
Loopy and I looked on as he patted the front of his jacket and quietly blurted an expletive. He had securely sewn his truck keys, which had earlier dropped through a pocket hole, into the lining of the jacket. Out came the scissors and the laughter.
“This better not end up in the paper,” I recall Larry saying to me, whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Larry saw no deer opening day after nearly all day afield, but had the pleasure of helping my dad drag his out.
Loopy remarked optimistically, “At least I didn’t land in water,” after a tumble while navigating a rough swampy stretch near his island stand opening day. His optimism was rewarded with deer sightings on Sunday, albeit with no chance to shoot.
Da Menace also escaped the opening weekend without having to toil over a deer carcass. His glee was such after the first day, that he danced about the shack doing his impression of a deer hunter losing his mind in the woods. It was a little too believable.
Perhaps our success in the field opening weekend wasn’t spectacular, but it lived up to standards we’ve had in place for years. Two simple criteria define a successful hunt: Nobody gets shot; nobody gets arrested.
It’s really not about shooting deer. Besides, there’s time left in the season and there’s muzzleloader season and late bow season. I’m sure we’ll fill some more tags.
Well, I’m sure, at least, that we’ll empty a fridge trying.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.