12/1/2017 7:25:00 AM traveling trails less traveled Deer season wrap up: Part I
"Buckshot" Anderson Columnist
Without a doubt, the traditional November gun deer season is the most cherished hunting season Wisconsin hunters look forward to, a feeling I've shared since the 1940s. At age six, my introduction to this annual event began in 1943 when my dad decided I was old enough to spend time in the Anderson/Jorgensen Deer Camp, an institution that he founded in Vilas County in 1938.
The camp's bunkhouse consisted of a 20x24-foot one room log cabin with bunk beds that could accommodate a dozen or more hunters, kerosene lamps, an inside hand pump at the sink, a pot bellied cast iron heater and a two-holer outhouse some 50 feet from the front door of the bunkhouse.
My early memories of my first five years as a "junior camp member" consist of mostly listening and watching the action inside the bunkhouse from a vantage point on one of the top bunks during the evening "story telling sessions." Ah, yes - what sweet memories!
Back in the late 1800s the traditional November deer gun season lasted 20 days, beginning Nov. 1, and all deer were legal targets, but of course, there were few hunters and the bulk of the Wisconsin deer population existed north of Wausau.
For a brief period during the 1920s and early '30s, deer season was only held every other year, due to the low numbers of deer throughout the state. But as the northern forests began to re-generate new growth after the end of the logging era, the population of deer up north exploded and by the time I was introduced to the sport it wasn't unusual to see a dozen or more deer in a group during the November hunt.
Eventually, the 20-day season was reduced to seven days with first day of the hunt being the third Saturday in November. Also, only bucks were legal game and they had to have at least one tine on an antler at least an inch long, which was pretty difficult to see using rifles and shotguns without scopes! Many a buck with a nice sized set of spike antlers met its fate and became "camp meat," due to the fact the antlers lacked a tine one-inch in length.
The Wisconsin Conservation Department (WCD) allowed an open season on all deer in 1943, as they decided the northern forests contained too many deer. Fifteen hunters were crammed into the A-J bunkhouse and after the opening weekend 14 deer had been harvested, two bucks and 12 antlerless. It was a record slaughter, as the WCD claimed a record 268,000 deer had been eliminated, 90 percent of which were harvested north of Wausau.
The so-called northern forest was a much different environment during the 1940s and '50s than presently! The new growth timber was still quite small, there was very little under-brush as one finds presently, which allowed hunters to see great distances while hunting from a ground stand, still hunting or making "deer drives," which were the three main methods of attempting to secure a buck.
As an 11-year-old I was finally allowed to follow Dad and/or Uncle Bud and carry a gun during the 1948 season, making me "one of the gang!" I saw a lot of deer, was allowed no shots, but was present to experience three nice bucks being taken during deer drives. That certainly heated up my desire to someday put my own tag on a deer!
My chance to do so arrived during the season of 1949 when once again the WCD opened the season on all deer. The number of hunters in the A-J Camp jumped from its usual eight to 10 to 15! By the end of legal shooting time on Sunday, all 15 hunter's tags were filled and I was happy to have my first tag on a nice sized doe.
My opinion is, the WCD was so happy with all the added money from the sale of deer licenses, they continued the "any thing brown is down" during the next two seasons in 1950 and '51! The A-J Camp's population jumped to 19 hunters in 1950 and 21 hunters in 1951. By then Dad had added a second bunkhouse to house the growing number of deer hunters! Once again every hunter in our camp tagged a deer during those two seasons, which helped a great deal to destroy the north's huge deer herd! Greed can be a terrible thing!
As a protest to the slaughter of the northern deer herd, many hunters boycotted the 1952 season and did not buy a hunting license, Dad and I being two of many.The number of hunters in the A-J Camp dropped to nine, and only one buck was shot, a dandy 12-point trophy by Uncle Bud. The "glory years" of the 1930s, and '40s were over!
For the next three years, 1953-'55, only the "old faithful" continued to fill the bunks in the bunkhouse, and the number of hunters averaged nine per season. Only seven bucks were harvested by camp members during that three-year span, one being my first buck in 1955.
Dad was so disgusted with the deer management policies, he retired as a deer hunter at the conclusion of the 1955 season, and turned management of the camp over to Uncle Bud. During the 1956 deer season the number of hunters in the A-J Camp fell to three, Bud, Leo Reaganfuss and Buckshot. And even as the camp's membership rebounded somewhat in 1957, '58 and '59 to six hunters, an era had ended!
My career as a deer hunter was temporarily interrupted from 1960-65. After graduating from college in January 1960, I spent the next six school terms in Florida and only spent June, July and August up north. During my absence the A-J Camp's deer hunting tradition nearly became extinct. Between 1961 and 1965 membership in the A-J Camp numbered from one to three hunters, with Uncle Bud being the only hunter in 1962! During those six deer seasons only three bucks were bagged and few deer were viewed! The "Dark Ages" of Northern Wisconsin deer hunting had arrived!
After the disastrous slaughters of 1949-51, the old tried and true rule of "one hunter - one deer" returned for a few years and some progress was made in re-building the northern deer herd. It was about the mid '50s when a new money making scheme was hatched by the WCD/DNR. Four hunters could pay $5 and purchase a "camp meat deer tag," which had to be an antlerless deer. So, once again does and yearling bucks became legal game. Our camp records do not record exactly when the camp-meat era began and ended, but I know it was over and done when I resumed deer hunting in November 1966.
After my family and I returned to my boyhood home on a permanent basis in 1966, Uncle Bud turned management of what was left of the A-J Camp's tradition to me. And an honor it was!
Beginning in 1966 camp membership jumped to five, four Jorgensen's and one Anderson. One buck was harvested, by the new camp manager who was delighted to be back up north for deer season once again!
Between 1967 and 1970, a firm base of six to seven annual camp members was re-established and the traditions my dad and three uncles had started in 1938 was once again alive and well!
(Part two - Deer Seasons Wrap up, the conclusion, next week.)
Buckshot may be reached at email@example.com.