At first, I thought it was an optical illusion. Many such can plague the hopeful hunter, especially in fading light.
There were 10 minutes of shooting light left, and I had seen brown movement over a brown landscape as the daylight began to fail. Everything about it felt like it was a deer, though I had but a glimpse. It was northwest of me and moving west to east.
I peered through a shooting slot with suddenly-piqued interest – the brown had slid into cover I couldn’t see into. Expecting it to emerge from the other side, I watched.
Several minutes passed and nothing emerged except eye strain, so I dismissed the sighting as a figment of my imagination. “I’ve had better figments,” I thought as I attempted to derive a new one. The hours on stand grow long, you know.
About the time I dismissed it as illusion, the deer appeared from that cover and took a few tentative steps toward a shooting lane that runs in a north-northwest direction from my stand. I got ready.
The wind was out of the south-southeast, so I was worried I was about to be busted. Again the deer stopped, in view, about 40 yards out, but in brush. It appeared to be a buck with antlers about 12-14 inches in width. Certainly something I’d eat.
The deer balked then, turning and slowly walking back in the direction from which it had arrived, blending, except for the flared white hairs of its tail, with the dark landscape. I was definitely busted.
The deer never ran, stomped or blew at me, it just slowly melted back into cover. My .50 had been at the ready, but the only shot would have been through a screen of brush – a chance I didn’t want to take. So be it.
I gathered my gear.
It has been quiet deer-wise in the deer woods, but it has been nice sitting out there. The temps have been mild, and other critters have been active. It’s nice to have something to watch, and before the snow mostly vaporized Sunday it was nice to see some tracks in the woods.
Friday, day five of the muzzleloader season, I walked into my stand and cut tracks from coyotes, bear and deer. There was even a mini-drag trail in the snow, which confused me for a moment until I saw it was interspersed with clawed tracks. An otter had come sliding through.
There are those reliable companions when one is on stand, like the chickadees and red squirrels. And, of course, the trees they light upon. The trees the stand hunter gazes upon all day can become familiar friends or tiresome bores depending on your view. I suppose they can be both, like regular friends.
Some say the hours spent staring at trees can cause insanity. I doubt it though. In fact, Don the birch strongly opined otherwise when we discussed it while I was on stand last Saturday.
The hunting has been tough, but camp has been there. With three retired guys and one on vacation our hunting camp, Muutka Lodge, remained fully functioning for a week beyond the regular gun season.
Some hunting took place, but I don’t think there was 100 percent effort. The additional week was more about celebrating the loving embrace of camp itself.
I rejoined the guys for the second week of deer camp on what was actually its third weekend. Friday night I showed up after a fruitless hunt to hear about the fruitless hunts of my dad and uncles.
What would bear fruit that day was the grillout at camp. Beautiful steaks, beef, not venison, emerged from there, done to perfection. Twice-baked potatoes and sauted onions and mushrooms rounded out the meal. My dad, Bawb, manned the grill. Uncle Loopy whipped up the twice-baked spuds.
The meal was filling, but we still found room for a few beers.
Saturday, we hunted as we watched our scant snow cover disappearing. Drizzle and fog ruled the day. The fog was like the veil of unreality that we cloak ourselves in out at deer camp. Its confines were cozy, like those of our shack.
Uncle Larry treated us to a dinner out that night, thus implying that the shack is indeed our home and not merely some sort of retreat. Many pounds of shrimp and chicken wings later, we returned “home.”
The all-you-can-eat meal was such that, afterward, there was room in each of us for only about two beers. They did take a long time to consume, though. Worn from our feeding frenzy, we slouched around our table and lobbed half-hearted insults at each other. Normally, we forcefully hurl whole-hearted insults.
I could see the wear-and-tear of a long relaxing-at-camp season was taking its toll on the guys.
The extended deer camp was a great peek into the life of the retired. It looks pretty good. I don’t think some retired people even keep track of the day of the week, from what I observed. I just hope they remember when the various deer seasons end – even if there’s no real danger of additional deer getting killed should they forget.
The deer are there, though. In fact, they showed less fear as camp remained in operation longer and longer.
Several times during the week, deer were observed near camp as hunters arrived back shortly after the close of shooting hours. It seemed they were moving just after dark the second week.
Sunday, a week later than most camps, Muutka Lodge was ready to have its hatches battened down.
The gas fridges were emptied and shut off, the cords that brought electricity from the generator were pulled up outside. Mice had chewed on them, of course.
We toiled quickly, since the TV was taken down and we’d be forced to listen to the Packers on the radio if we weren’t home by noon.
Soon, camp would be cold and dark.
Sunday was the night of my actual deer sighting, my first in about two weeks. The day was too warm, the snow had mostly vanished and the wind was wrong, but I trudged out to the stand in the woods behind my house, listening to the end of the game through an ear bud.
I was thinking it wouldn’t be worth it, but I was wrong. A bunch of my friends were there. And at least I got to see a deer.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com.