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Coach1310

A Deer Camp Story *New Chapter added*

26 posts in this topic

After a long week and what seems like a longer year it sure feels good to be on the road heading north. The feeling of leaving the insanity of the city behind for the tranquility of the northwoods is something only the lucky ones understand. No stoplights. No traffic jams. The tallest thing you see is the old white pine near your stand and the annoying noises are those of the squirrels chattering at each other, but then again that isn't all that annoying anyway.

As I drive up old number 6 I can't help but think about all the big bucks I will drive by on my way up to the shack. The anticipation and participation of deer camp is evident by all the special vehicles you see on your way up. Just a few miles back I passed a 1960's school bus painted brown with a fabricated rack on the back holding coolers. While looking through the window I could see a scantily dressed lady poster taped to one of the bunks. Somewhere around the small town of Oak Ridge I saw a 1980s Crown Victoria pulling a similarly dated pop up camper. The top of the camper was loaded with about a cord of wood strapped down with various straps and bungee cords. I couldn't help but wonder how many deer camps that setup had survived and the stories that lay between its musty fabric walls. I was reminded of a story of my Dad used to tell about how the Johnson camper started on fire. It came to be that nature called for the burly gentlemen we called "Big Bill." Of course when you need it most the flashlight never works and the lantern is out of fuel. So as billed stumbled out of the camper at 2 am he just grabbed some kindling and stuck it in the glowing, hot coals left from the nights campfire. When he had a flame, he made his way to the outhouse to go about his business. While arriving back at the camper he remembered Joe complaining about his bad habit of wearing his wet shoes into the camper, so Bill set down his homemade "torch" and took off his shoes. Bill hurried inside as the cool, crisp air nipped at his nose and ears. What Bill didn't do, was put his torch back in the fire. No, he left it to smolder next to all of the campfire wood that was stacked under the camper to stay dry. You could here the yelling and screaming from our camp!

I miss Dad and the stories he told. Even though he isn't sitting next to me talking about past camps helping the time pass, I can't help but remember the countless trips we took up this very same route. When I was a kid, he showed me all the things most hunting Dad's do. A rub, a scrape, a track and a trail. He tried to teach me a hunters best friend, patience. He would put me up in that old popple we called "Swampy Pass" and tell me he would come for me around 11. He knew I would never make it that long before my toes were numb and my patience was gone, but he said it anyway. I think he always hoped I could hold out for him to come get me, rather than me showing up at the base of his tree at 9:30. How the miles and time pass, when the memories are bouncing back and forth. I was already to Stumps corner.

As I hung a right on Johnson's road, I could see the smoke coming from the back of the meadow where the Jolski's made their camp. From the looks of the smoke, you could tell that old Barney was burning wet wood again. Next up was disarray of the Folkerd's camp. An old trailer house with a makeshift camo spraypainting job sitting along side the beginning of what we called Willow Swamp. Everything at that camp they got for free. The old boxcar they used to store their fire wood came from the mill about 5 miles north of Stumps corner. The trailer house came from Mud Lake, without the camo paint job, when a yuppy from the city bought a couple hundred feet of lakeshore to build himself a suburban mansion. And then there is the meat pole. Old man Folkerd's came across some free telephone poles, so they decided to devote an entire weekend constructing a meat pole that could hold up a World War II tank. As I make the bend around the large white pine with the Eagles nest I see the campfire at the Johnson's is close to out of control. Big Bill's son James is splitting some last minute firewood and Jeff and Joe are trying to figure out how to assemble Jeff's new ladder stand. I just hope that Jeff doesn't come stumbling by me in the morning, disoriented like he did last year after forgetting his flashlight back at camp.

Ahhhhhh, there it is. The sight that brings grown men to a place very few ladies can understand. The old Deer Shack. I can't help but notice that Bruce and Russ are already here along with their youngsters. Bruce's son Eric gets to hunt this year. The roof looks just like it has the past 5 years…. In desperate need of repair. Russ has done some work to the outhouse, mainly making sure the walls don't fall down. There looks to be plenty of wood for the campfire and the old Jeep is still sitting under the tamarack like it has been for at least 20 years. It looks like Russ got a new 4 wheeler which will come in handy this week. I can't believe how fast a few hundred miles go when your mind is racing with old memories and teeming with this season's anticipation. As I pull in along the woodpile next to the shack I see Bruce and Russ doing some last minute repairs to the meatpole. I just hope I get to hang something on there this year. As I step out of the truck and feel the crunch of the pine needles under my boots the feelings are numerous. The anticipation of opening morning and the thoughts of those who are no longer with us flood my head. I'm just happy to be there and happy to catch up with old friends in the timeless tradition we call Deer Camp.

**I will be adding a chapter a day until the rifle opener or until I run out of material. I hope you enjoy it. I don't have the entire thing written, so I will be writing as I go. Thanks for reading.

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Classic!! I wish my dad was still here to continue making stories like these especially when my son gets old enough to hunt. I know he had huge plans to take his grandson out when old enough but cancer took dad at age 54 a year and a half ago. But now I have huge shoes to fill to take Grady out (age 3) and introduce him to the woods.

Keep the new chapters coming.

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As I unloaded the last of my gear the youngsters finally made it over to give me a hand. Eric looked as wide eyed as ever. Although he had been to camp before as an observer, this was his first year with a license. For a moment I was taken back to my first year. I can vividly remember Dad preaching, "Always keep the safety on. Only shoot when you know it is a deer FOR SURE and make the deer is not moving and broadside before you carefully squeeze the trigger." I was jerked back from my daydream by the constant badgering of Bruce and Russ. You know the normal heckling routine of "How many do you plan on missing this year," and "Is this another year you will let them grow!" I couldn't help but chuckle with them remembering last years miss on opening morning at a doe a mere 20 yards from the base of my tree. I know I should have told them the doe was at the far end of the clear cut, but I didn't. Nobody likes "tag soup."

We quickly hauled everything from the back of the truck into the shack. As I set my duffel bag on my bunk, the rack from Dad's "Big six" caught my eye. It was there, on the wall where it had been since the shack was built back in the fall of '83. His eyes would light up every time he talked about that buck. My Dad shot that buck back in 1976. He had passed on the buck 3 times in 1975 before it showed itself the last morning of the season. Almost disgusted with himself for still holding his tag, Dad steadied for a shot. The buck was almost asking to be harvested. There he stood, 70 yard from his tree, broadside and still. He eased off the safety and gently squeezed the trigger like he had done thousands of times before. After the roar of the old Model 64 lever action Winchester, off ran the buck. The buck didn't look hit, but as he ran off Dad was confident he had made a good shot. After an hour of searching and replaying the events in his head, a clean miss was the determination.

The very next year on opening morning, Dad was sitting in the same old popple he had been for countless seasons before hand. An hour into the season, dad caught movement to his left. It was a good sized body, however the various limbs and brush kept Dad from making out any headgear. As the deer approached on of Dad's shooting lanes, he make out the high 6 point rack and the double throat patch he so vividly remembered from last year. Without hesitation the Winchester roared and the buck dropped in its tracks. I'm sure Dad felt some redemption in finally tagging the buck and some satisfaction in not eating "tag soup" for another year.

As I got my things squared away, Russ had the T-bones going on the grill and everybody was jockeying for position around the old dinner table. The youngsters, Eric, Joey and Stephen were checking out Eric's new video game. Bruce was putting some new batteries in a flashlight and showing off his fancy new head lamp. Which I'm not quite sure he needs being his stand is about 150 yards behind the shack and he seems to come in well before dark to get the campfire going. Almost on cue, Russ was hauling in the traditional pre-opener meal of T-bone steaks and potatoes from on the grill. The only thing that’s changed in the past 20 years is the invention of the gas grill instead of the old charcoal briquettes. As everyone was eating I couldn't help but think of the turn of events that brought us all here.

Russ's Dad worked with my Dad for over 40 years at the foundry. Growing up we shared many memories with each other even though Russ was 10 years younger than I was. Years ago his Dad and mine drove north and began hunting the very piece of real estate we do to this day. Back then it wasn't about permission or ownership, but rather just finding a spot you could get to and seeking out some game. Russ's kids have now become a fixture at camp. Joey has been hunting for a few years, while Stephen, only 10 has been sitting with Dad just waiting for that first opportunity or the rite of passage you might say. Bruce married my sister about 15 years back. We kind of transformed him into a hunter over the years. He is pretty handy and has become the "Mr. Fix it" of our camp. His son Eric, a big hockey player is in camp with a tag for the first time. Jimmy, an old bachelor who is pretty long in the tooth these days hasn't arrived yet. As unorganized as he is, I'm sure he just began rounding his stuff up about an hour ago. He always arrives at camp with plenty of eggs, bacon and beer, but rarely with a hat, gloves or the shells needed to consider yourself a hunter. He'll make it out to his stand when he gets up, but don't you dare try to wake him. This is a man who has lived on his own for over 40 years. You don't tell folks like that what to do. The other two members of camp, who will arrive in the morning are Rich and his son Kenny. Kenny's football team is playing a state playoff game tonight, so they won't be here until tomorrow.

As the youngsters collect the dishes you can tell everybody is anxious to hit the road and visit the other local camps. It's always nice to catch up with your once-a-year neighbors. One things for certain the [PoorWordUsage] is sure to be flying.

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Coach, a woman I teach with, her husband is named bruce and eric is their son and last year was his first year to hunt. Their last name starts with Ger, are we talking about the same Bruce/Eric family here?

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The first stop on the traditional Opener Eve parade was to the Johnson's camp. As we pulled in the drive it is like the Johnson camp is frozen in time. The truck's and atv's may have changed over the years, but nothing else has. The big white pine is still there, flanked by old garden shed that really isn't used for anything anymore. Next to that is a small wood shed that was built years ago for storing the firewood. In the back is the Johnson's famous latrine. It looks like most outhouses do except this one is sided with the old fashioned metal cigarette signs. You have the Pall Mall, Lucky Strike, Old Gold, Raleighs and Camels just to name a few. The scary part is those signs might be the most valuable thing on the entire lot. The shack, isn't much, but holds plenty of character. It is made entirely of timber from the acreage itself. It started with great promise, but I think the boys ran out of steam before accomplishing what they were after. The entire North wall is actual logs, notched and fit nicely into place. The east wall is the same, but the notches and fit aren't near as good as the other. They finished it up with rough sawn lumber they had made at the mill that used to exist back in Oak Ridge. It has been years since the mill was shutdown, so I'm quite sure on the year the shack was constructed. The inside is like most shacks you would see. Many small basket racks up on the wall along side the "Old 8"(we'll touch on that buck later). A few posters of women wearing minimal if any attire and a few Budweiser advertisements carrying the "Good Luck Hunters" and "Enjoy Camp" slogans on them. The entire South wall is lined with bunks, 8 in total. It is not enough for the entire clan of 13, but it’s a start.

The west wall holds the only thing that looks out of place. Sometime back in the 80s Scott "Scooter" Johnson took on the task of building a wood burning fireplace complete with a chimney and all. He constructed the entire thing with rocks from the area. Scooter must have laid it out about a hundred times before deciding which rock went where because it looks perfect. The mixture of colors and textures, the perfect grout lines without the sloppy look, the mantle made for the trunk of an old pine, split in half, stripped of its bark, holding photos from years past, the small pile of birch and poplar sitting next to it and the picture of Elmer holding "Old 8" holding his buck proudly hangs perfectly center above the mantle. It truly like something out of a magazine. Scooter did one heck of a job on it and it looks even better while the fire is crackling.

As we all sit around the campfire, there are stories abound. We were saddened to hear that Old Man Elmer Johnson, the reason the camp exists, passed away in February at the age of 91. This is the first time I have visited the Johnson camp without Old Elmer. Elmer was the classic of all classic old weathered hunters. Always dressed in the red and black checkered flannel with the gray wool slacks, some old work boots and of course the old red wool hat with the ear flaps. He didn't believe in the blaze orange deal, but the wrinkles in his hands and the tremble in his voice gave him the "seniority" to ignore that rule. It is hard to say how many bucks Elmer harvested in his days. Years ago when he started here there weren't as many deer and it wasn't about the sport, but rather bringing home some meat for the table. I remember the time we wandered over to their camp during lunchtime on the first day of the season. Elmer's grandson Travis was talking about how he passed on a 4pt because he wanted something bigger. I'll never forget the conviction in Elmer's voice, " When I was your age, I wouldn't come back to the house without something for the table or I would get a whuppin'! You kids and your big guns, fancy clothes and obsession with antlers just don't get it. The good Lord put these deer here for food, not for fun." Needless to say, Travis saw "nothing" each time out unless he had his tag on something.

It's also only the 3rd year without Big Bill. Bill never did a lot to take care of himself and he's one of those guys who enjoyed his life and didn't worry about cholesterol or calories or smoke and tar for that matter. A heart attack took him, but knowing Bill he went with a beer, steak and smoke in hand. I'll never forget the time the Johnson's recruited us for a small push one afternoon. One of their youngsters had observed a "monster buck" entering a small island on the edge of a swamp. The youngster made sure to watch and see if he came out of not, which he didn't. Being it was near the end of the season, most camps were down to a few die hards. My Dad and I were at our camp and the Johnson's had Big Bill, the youngin' and old Elmer. My Dad and Elmer were the eldest by far, so that qualified them to be standers, leaving me, Big Bill and the youngster to do the pushing. The island wasn't real big, but it was the typical brushy, narly, a rabbit could barely get through type of stuff the deer love. We started on the North end and pushed it south toward the Johnson's camp. I stopped about half way through to get my bearings on where the others were at when I heard what I thought was a deer panting behind me. I slowly turned to see Big Bill lumbering his way through the tangles and struggling to catch his breath. He had his head down for quite a while before he looked up and realized he was going mostly sideways. When he finally made it to me, we took a little break. Bill kept reminding me why his group didn't do pushes and how big that buck better be for the kid to not get a good whuppin'!! As we made in to the tip of the island, I saw the unmistakable white flag of a deer bounding off into the swamp. I listened and waited for a shot and then BAM…it sounded like the old Model 64 Winchester my Dad carried, but I didn't know for sure. When we finally made it over to them and I was sure Bill wasn't going to die on the spot from lack of oxygen I noticed the small forkhorn laying in the grass. This buck definitely had some "ground shrinkage" and the youngster got a good ear full from Bill, when he got enough air to chew him out of course.

As it usually is, time seems so short and as the light was fading we loaded up to head for the Folkerd's. Nothing can really prepare you for what you might encounter over there, so with the kids hopping in the back and Russ telling Bruce he should probably change the oil every year or so in his truck we were off.

**In response to picksbigwagon... the story is completely fictional. I'm not recounting any group or family in particular. It is a neat coincidence though!!**

Thanks all for reading.... if the chapters are getting long or boring, just let me know. Thanks!

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love the stories, i swear there are some parts in the story that are coming right out of memories from my first deer camp. great job keep it up!

iceman

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While on our way over to the Folkerd's the sky was the brilliant pinkish-red you get during the fall on a clear night with the sun dipping beneath the trees. It is one of those sights that bring you back to all those uneventful evenings on stand when you hold out just a little longer, hoping for a glimpse of Mr. Big even though deep down you know he won't show himself. As we pulled up you could tell the Folkerd's were in good spirits. They were all circled around the campfire in the normal pre-opener chit chat. After the sad news at the Johnson's, I was happy to see old Cliff sitting by the fire. He'd been through some tough times in his life with WWII being among them. He didn't talk about the bad times much, just some of the same old stories. One of those stories was about him meeting his brother on the train when they were sent home from the war. In those days you didn't send an email or text your loved ones on a cell phone, you just showed up at the door. The problem for the Folkerd's boys was that they train dropped them off about 100 miles from home, so they bought a car and visited every "establishment" in their path and finally stopped for the night in the old pasture before heading home in the morning to see the family.

As I peer around the fire, I can see Clem recanting the time he got twisted around while following a fresh track and spent the night in the woods alone. I think it was back in the 60s and from what I can remember, Clem was up hunting in camp alone on the Friday before the last weekend of the season. Some other members were to arrive late that night for the weekend hunt, but Clem heading out alone mid-morning hoping to find some fresh tracks in the 2 inches of snow that had fallen overnight. While making his way along one of the many logging trails that intersected the property he came across a fresh set of tracks, BIG tracks. Clem was a pretty experienced tracker and by the looks of the tracks the buck was just moseying along. Clem took up the trail and followed it to the back of Willow Swamp before he caught a glimpse of the giant. "He carried some big, heavy horns and his body was as big as a young steer," I can still hear him recant the words from the first of many times I've heard the story. Clem was pretty sure he was making his way to the big ridge that ended at Willow swamp and if he followed that ridge the buck would be out the territory that Clem knew well. Clem decided to loop around on a logging road and try to get ahead of the brusier. Clem was pretty sure the road would take him near the ridge, but it had been quite a few years since Clem had been back in the timber that far. Clem kept up a good pace and by the time he reached the spot he was thinking about it was already around 3pm. Clem waited and watched for the buck, hoping he had gotten there ahead of him, but the buck was nowhere to be found. Clem made his way over to the ridge and noticed the bucks tracks. "Had he slipped by?" or "Had he beaten me to the spot?" Clem wasn't sure, but he was determined to get a crack at the buck. He hurried along the track, paying little attention to the direction the buck was headed or the darkness that was setting in. Eventually he came upon an open clear cut where the afternoon sun had melted all the snow and Clem was unable to locate the track and on top of that it was getting dark. Clem started to make his way back, but kept getting turned around and was unable to find a logging trail. He hadn't planned to be out this long so he had no light, no food, no nothing. He spend the night huddled against a deadfall while getting up periodically to run in place to stay warm. "The woods makes some interesting noises in the dark," I can remember him saying. In the morning, Clem found his way out and back to the shack with many a concerned family members waiting. He never did see that buck again, but I'm not quite sure the story would have been as good if he would have harvested him.

Sitting next to Clem was the Folkerd's 2nd year camper Derek. Derek had just married into the Folkerd family and was kind of new to the hunting scene. Derek didn't grow up with the outdoors in his life, but was determined to earn some respect with the family by giving it a shot. Last year, Derek didn't fair so well. He only lasted on stand on opening morning until about 8:15am until he came in because he was cold. Later in the season they decided to make a small drive toward a little swamp in the hopes that Derek would get a crack at one. He got a crack at one, but he forgot that the gun works better with safety OFF! He is one of those guys, just about every camp has one, that has everything. You know the guy with the fancy ATV, brand new rifle with a $500 scope, GPS, carbon clothing, $300 buck knife, you name it. He gets heckled plenty for that, but he also lacks the old "patience" factor. Maybe this year will be his year.

Its getting late and our crew decides its time to head to the shack to start getting settled down for the night. As we arrive at the shack everybody is scrambling to do some last minute preparations. They are laying their clothes out for the morning and organizing their packs and checking off the metal lists… shells, knife, snack, pop, grunt call, hand warmers, piece of rope for those stupid new tags…… can't forget TP. Bruce is loading up the wood stove so we all don't freeze tonight. Russ just got off the phone with Rich and found out that Kenny's team is leading 13-6 at halftime of their State Playoff football game. He shares the good news with all of us. Before turning in us old timers gather around the table to talk about where we are heading in the morning and to play a quick game of cribbage. The kids aren't real interested, but Bruce makes Eric play so we have 4. Well the 15-2s and 15-4s are flying and before you know its time to hit the hay. Russ tried one more time to get an update about how the game went, but he couldn't get an answer, I'll guess we'll have to wait til morning. Our camp kind of frowns upon the cell phone thing except for emergencies, but in this case an exception is definitely made.

As we turn down the lights and head to our bunks we are all surprised that Jimmy hasn't arrived yet. He's never here very early, but always here by 11pm. He'll probably show up at 1am, make a ton of racket and keep us all up. Its not like anybody is getting much sleep anyway, but if by chance I do fall asleep, I would like to stay that way. I slip into my sleeping bag, like I have done numerous times before in this bunk and take a minute to soak it all in. Across the room the warm glow of the wood stove reminds me of our primitive conditions. The lack of noise coming from outside helps me to realize how special this place is to me. The thoughts of seeing that glint of antler sometime tomorrow, all but dashes any hope of me getting any sleep. It's deer camp once again and as I roll over and attempt to focus on getting some sleep I think of Dad. Don't get me wrong, I still love camp, but it doesn't seem the same.

Like many hunters, my first memories of hunting and the woods are with Dad. We didn't have Firearms or Gun safety. You didn't take a class, you went out in the woods with Dad. He taught me how to load the magazine of the old .22 and how not to cuss at it when it jammed every other shell. He taught me how to be patient and wait for the game to show itself. He taught me how to respect the outdoors, the wildlife and the opportunity itself. Even though he isn't here at camp, when I climb that tree tomorrow I know he'll be with me.

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this is an awesome story. i have many of these memories. i lost my father in 2005 and this time of year it gets really hard. we shared a camp with frinds a relitives sine 1992. 3 fathers and 3 sons. i feel really alone now with the other members. dad is missed by all, but me most of all. coach, please keep this going. it is truly wonderful

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Deer camp is a special place for so many of us. Thanks for your story.

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As I roll out of bed, the smells that fill the shack every year are evident. The woodstove is about out as I can tell from the smoldering smell. Russ is already going on the bacon and eggs. I’m not sure why, but the smell and sound of bacon frying seems so much more inviting in this shack then it does at home. A hint of coffee is in the air and I also sense a hint of vanilla(Russ must have put some in the pancakes). I make my way over to the table after getting dressed and can’t help but smile when looking at the youngsters bunks. They were filled with anticipation last night, but I’m sure they couldn’t fall asleep and since they finally did, they have no interest in getting up yet. They look comfortable and toasty, that is until Bruce starts grabbing the covers and yanking them off. I miss the days when Dad would wake me up for hunting. I was always super excited to go, but never seemed to be able to drag myself out of bed. I can still hear Dad, “I’m leaving in 10 minutes with or without you.” He always said that, but it for surely took me at least 20 to get ready and Dad never left me in the shack once.

Eventually everyone finds their way to the shack table for breakfast. We never really tell each other, but by the looks on everyone faces and the thoughts racing through their heads, we feel somewhat blessed to be here. It’s not about the bacon, eggs or pancakes. It’s not even about the shack or expensive rifles sitting next to the door. It’s about being together and being here to share in the timeless tradition of Deer Camp. Sure, we tell everybody back home we go because we are after that big buck and won’t be happy unless we tag him. If any of us are lucky enough to tag a monster, that would be great, but its not about that. It’s about spending time with a group of folks you may only see once a year. Let’s face it, there are deer camp groups that make absolutely no sense and you can’t even begin to understand how some of them got together, but they did. For most it is truly a fantastic experience each year where for a few brief moments, time stands still. You catch yourself flipping through memories that will be with you until your time is up and laughing harder and harder each year at the same old stories around the table or campfire. And as we finish up breakfast, I find myself trying to predict what will happen today, but its useless because anything can.

As we all get dressed up and gather our gear, we wonder where Jimmy might be. He didn’t make it up last night and by all accounts he planned on coming, but no one worries. He’ll be here…..eventually. Rich and his son Kenny should arrive mid-morning and we are all anxious to see how Kenny’s team did last night, but for now it’s about man vs. whitetail. I will be heading to the old popple my Dad sat in for years. I have stands of my own, but nothing will keep me from spending opening morning in Dad’s old popple. Eric is headed to “Swamp Pass” just like all first timers do. It is the best stand we have for seeing numbers of deer, it is easy to get to, as well as big and safe. Russ is headed to a new area. At the back of the property there is a clear cut that has opened up some ground and made it huntable for the first time in years. He built a double stand there late this summer so his youngest son Stephen could sit with him. He other son, Joey Is headed to the tree house. It is only about 300 yards from camp and we built it for the kids years ago as a fort/treehouse for them to play in. It sits overlooking a great funnel area and some nice deer have been taken from it over the years. As we all load up our gear and begin our treks the usual pleasantries are exchanged: “Shoot straight,” “Be safe,” “Beware of Bambi,” and the most important “Got your TP?”

As I head down the trail toward the old popple my mind is racing. I’ve never really understood what makes my insides feel this way, but it happens every year. It must be a combination of adrenaline, anticipation and nervousness. I still remember the first time Dad let me walk to my stand by myself. I never let him know it, but I was a little scared. We all like to play the tough guy card, but with the darkness and shadows caused by your flashlight the northwoods is an eerie place in the dark. I was about half way to my stand that morning and I was just beginning to convince myself that everything was okay when a helicopter took off right at my feet! It wasn’t really a helicopter, but it was a grouse. I thought my heart was gonna leap out of my chest right there. I have come to hate those things(unless I am carrying a shotgun of course) because of what they do to my body! Ahhhh, the memories that flood your mind on opening day. By now I had reached the old popple, I clipped my rifle to the rope and climbed on up.

I hadn’t even had a chance to pull my rifle up when I heard the first shot of the morning. It was definitely not anyone in our group and being we were at least a half hour before legal shooting light, I can’t even begin to fathom what someone was shooting at. It seems like it has been at least 15 minutes I have been sitting in the darkness, just waiting for the sun to give me some light. I try really hard not to look at my watch, but eventually I give in. I’ve been in the stand for 7 minutes!! Slowly, but surely the sun provides the necessary light to bring the woods alive. As the time passes a new clump of grass or shape of a dead fall play tricks on my mind. “That looks just like the head of a deer” I convince my self. I’ve already been fooled about 20 times this morning, but this time I’m confident. I pull up the binoculars without taking my eye off the deer to take a peek. The image in clear in my binos, that is most definitely a STUMP! The first hour passes with a decent amount of shooting, but with my best guess I don’t think anyone from our group has fired a round.

Just as the sun is getting above the trees, I catch some movement. This movement is different than the chickadees and red squirrel I have been watching all morning. As I focus and try to separate the brush from an object, she appears. There she is, the first deer of the season. As I watch her, well I’m not quite sure it is a her as I have never been the best at telling the difference between a doe and a fawn, I can’t help but feel a little guilty for bringing a rifle in the stand try and kill such a beautiful animal. All year long, whenever I get the chance to see a deer, I just sit and watch it. I admire how beautiful they really are and how adaptable they have become. She makes her way down the trail and out of sight. She allowed me a couple of opportunities, but this early on the first day all the does are safe from me.

8:00am, turns into 9 and 9 turn into 10. The morning has moved along quickly thanks to the nice weather, lack of wind and overall peacefullness of the morning. I heard a shot about 8:30am that came from the direction of “Swampy Pass.” Hopefully Eric has tagged his first whitetail. I am optimistic because it wasn’t one of those “BAM,….. BAM…BAM..BAM” type of exchanges. It was just a simple, “BAM.” It brings me back to my first year on stand. Dad walked me out to “Swampy Pass” and told me he would be back for me. By 8:00am I was already freezing and bored. I hadn’t seen anything and I couldn’t feel my toes. Just then, a deer stepped out of the brush and began to cross the swamp. My body was suddenly warm due to the fact that my heart was pumping so fast I couldn’t catch my breath. I grabbed the gun, somehow did a good enough job to get the deer in the scope and pulled the trigger or at least tried to. The safety was still on! As I scrambled to click the safety off the deer new something was up and began picking up the pace. As she neared the other side of the swamp I finally got a shot off… then another and another. I didn’t spend much time lining up the last two shots, but I was sure the first one was good. I had no problem with a target in the gravel pit near home while resting on a table and a sandbag, why would my aim be any different 15 feet up in a tree, with my heart pumping and the target running?? I could only stay in my stand about two minutes before I got down to see where she lay. As I made my way over to the side of the swamp every clump of swamp grass looked the same. I couldn’t remember where exactly, she had entered the woods. After searching and searching I used a trick I had seen my Dad use before. I took my orange hat off and placed it where I “thought” I had shot at the deer and headed back to my stand. After climbing up, I noticed my hat was 50 yards away from where she was standing when I shot. “No wonder I couldn’t find her” I thought. I hurried down, grabbed my hat, hurried over to where she was standing and began my search. I looked high, low, under, over etc. You name it and I looked there for blood and couldn’t find a drop. “Snap”, the sound interrupted my day dream. There out to the right were two deer booking it through the woods. I got my scope up just in time to see the second one sported a nice rack and looked to be a good sized deer. I didn’t have a good opportunity for a shot, although in my younger days I probably would have tried anyway, but not anymore. If only I wouldn’t have been daydreaming about that first year, maybe I would have gotten a crack at that buck. Oh well, I still was able to see him and now I knew what I would be holding out for.

At 11am, I climbed down and began the trek in. I had only heard 2 shots that morning that I figured could have been from our crew. The one I figured was Eric around 8:30 and one I figured to be Russ just before 10. The anticipation of finding out who had seen what and who had an opportunity for a shot was almost as exciting as waiting for the sun to come up this morning. I wasn’t even 100 yards from my tree, when I hear a “BOOM” coming from where our shack was. This wasn’t the average gun and sounding nothing like anything I had heard this morning, I immediately thought of Rich. Rich has a .300 that sounded like a canon and there was no mistaking him shooting for the put-put of a 30-30 or the whistle of a .270. Now I was really excited to get back to camp. My first morning had been a success with seeing the doe early and then the 2 deer with one being a nice buck later and now we had the possibility of having 3 deer down. I wasn’t really concerned about how many deer we had, just anxious to hear all the stories from this morning.

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Great stuff coach! Dad will be sitting out the hunt this year for the first time in over 60 years due to heart problems. 30 years ago he was with me as I tried to gut my first deer. Having a hard time accepting this change. Your stories have helped bring back many memories.

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This is a great story... No updates since Sat. though... How do I get my deer hunting fix at work now?

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everything ok coach, you were doing great and this is the first place i go to on the site for a update. hope is just that you went to your camp and aren't back yet.

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I made the final turn on the trail that led to camp and as I climbed the hill my suspicions were confirmed. There stood Rich, holding his .300 Win Mag with an almost stupid grin on his face. Along his side was his son Kenny and the old bachelor Jimmy himself. I was excited to hear what was making Rich so smiley, but intrigued to hear the list of excuses Jimmy would make for showing up late and not bringing any food, unless beer counts. The entire group had finally arrived and the stories were sure to be, should we say exaggerated!

As I walked up to Rich I assumed some "dumb luck" had taken place, but I wasn't quite ready for how dumb it really was. Kenny and Rich had just arrived to camp and began unpacking their things in hopes of taking a quick walk along one of the trails just to say they were out opening morning. As Kenny was setting a loaf of bread by the sink, he noticed a deer standing on the edge of the clearing where the "camp" meets the woods. He said, "Dad, there's a doe standing right out there." While Rich hurried to find his gun, throw on some orange and sneak out the door, a small fork horn appeared trailing the doe. He pushed her into the brush, not 30 yards from the shack. By the time Rich was outside and ready they could hear the deer, but couldn't see them. They waited for a moment and heard some crashing coming from where the deer had entered the clearing. There popped out a nice 8 pointer with a rack just outside the ears. A great buck for our neck of the woods, so Rich took careful aim and the only time the buck lifted his head off the ground was when Rich whistled at him. He picked his head up just in time to notice he was in our camp and for Rich to pull the trigger. When he fired the small fork horn and the doe took off in the direction they had came, while the 8 pointer struggled into the brush. I hadn't noticed, but apparantely I had walked right over the blood trail on my way to the shack to see what all the fuss was about. We waited about 10 minutes and took up the trail and not 50 yards from camp, there the 8 pointer lay. It's funny how hunting works sometimes. I was in my stand a full half hour before daylight with nothing but a few sightings to show for it, while Rich had harvested a really nice 8 point after being in camp for 10 minutes without evening unpacking everything in his truck. You'll hear things like, "Gotta put in the time," or "Be patient" often from the old timers, but in my new age thinking, I say "Right place, right time."

I was excited for Rich, but part of me was wondering if I go about this hunting business all wrong. I should think more of getting lucky than I should of working hard to "earn" my deer. It reminded me of about 15 years ago when I got to my stand about 1pm in the afternoon only to notice that I had forgotten to put my boots on. I'm not quite sure how I got all my hunting clothes on and walked all the way to my stand without noticing I had my tennis shoes on, but I did. It was a little cool and I have the curse of the cold feet(my toes are always cold) so I decided to walk the 15 minutes back to the shack. After changing into my boots I decided to head to a different stand then I had originally planned because I could be there in a couple minutes. It doesn't get hunted much because it is close to the road and unfortunately our road sees a lot of road hunters. Our group prefers the peace and quiet back in the big timber, but I knew it was in a good spot and since I hadn't tried it in a while I figured "What they heck." I had no more than climbed in the stand when I heard the tell tale "SNAP" of a twig that comes with a deer makings its way. It was coming from behind me and not 30 yards from he road. As I slowly turned I noticed a doe hurrying a bit. As you read in magazines and see on TV, sure enough the buck was in tow. I dispatched the busted up 7 point with one shot. At 1pm I was standing at the base of my tree without hunting boots and by 2pm I had my buck, harvested, gutted and laying back in camp under the meat pole. Like I've said before and I'll say again, "Hunting is funny sometimes."

As the rest of fellas made it back to camp I came to find out that everyone had seen a deer. That was a pretty big deal for us. Russ had passed up a yearling at first light and a set of fawns about an hour later, but he was happy that Stephen was able to sit with him and see a few deer. I was surprised to hear that Russ hadn't shot, but the shot I heard came from some public ground that butts up to our property about 200 yards away from Russ. Eric had missed a shot at a doe. The timing and direction of the deer, led Russ to believe it was the same deer he passed on, but who really knows for sure. Russ's other boy Joey had seen a spike that looked be limping, but he came in behind him and hit the heavy cover without offering a shot. Opening morning had been a success, with everybody seeing deer, but what about Jimmy and that football game.

Kenny's team had prevailed 19-13 and will be playing the #1 team in the state next Friday. After some badgering we found out that Kenny had intercepted a pass in the final 2 minutes to stop the opponents drive. Kenny is a humble kid. He doesn't say much and has never been one to talk about himself at all. He's a heck of a linebacker and fullback from what I read in the paper though. We also came to find out that Jimmy's "excuse" was that he had to work late and he didn't have his stuff ready. He didn't want to "chance" driving up late because he was so tired. I believe the fact that he didn't want to "chance" driving up late, but not because he was tired. Jimmy has a pretty solid routine after work that entails a stool and the old "3-tab friend." Anywho we were all at camp and looking forward to some lunch to celebrate the nice 8 point we had hanging from the meatpole.

Bruce makes a mean chili. When I say "mean", I mean both on the way down and on the way out. You best not leave the shack for your stand without some TP in the afternoon. It isn't only a mean chili, but unique. I've never had chili anywhere else that contained corn, noodles, pheasant and 55 different kinds of beans. None of us complain, we might rip him a little, but we don't complain. The bottom line is if you don't like it, you can make a batch for everyone next year. It is kind of the old adage "Be happy you have something to eat." It kind of ties in to the whole reason we are there anyway. Many moons ago folks hunted because they needed to eat. There was no going to the grocery store to pick up some steaks or swinging in to McD's for a double cheeseburger. I often wonder how much harder they hunted and against what odds. By the time the season is over I am tired from getting up early, staring at the woods and being out in the fresh air for hour upon hour. I can't imagine what it must have been like to have the pressure of starvation looming if you didn't harvest an animal.

Just those few thoughts makes me so thankful for the opportunity. I'm thankful I have the buddies and family I have. I'm thankful my body is healthy enough to allow me to be out here, chasing the wily whitetail. I'm thankful the traditions of our camp and others are safe thanks to the responsible hunters our youngsters have become. Deer camp is a time to be thankful, a time to reflect and most importantly a time to cherish the outdoors and the creatures that inhabit it. Well, cherish them enough to hunt them. It seems that everyone is restless after lunch to get back out there. As we break camp, I decide to let Jimmy take my Dad's old stand while I head to the road stand while hoping for the same luck I had years ago.

***Sorry about the delay. Weekends are busy... sick kids..etc.. you guys know the drill. I think I have enough chapters left to get you to the weekend!!

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The woods is eerily silent as I head to the "Road Stand" as we have called it for years. The stand is in a little bit of a hollow and I can't tell you how many times deer busted us while in the stand. We used to think it was because the stand lacked cover, but a few years back Russ read an article about "thermals" and how certain areas of the woods are worse than others with scent control and such, so now we go with that. I'm not sure if that is the case, but it allows all of us to feel as if it isn't our fault, rather it is just the way the land is. While scanning the woods in front of me, something catches my eye. I have been down this trail dozens of times before, but have noticed it in years. There is a good sized oak are remnants of an old stand I built when I was a youngster. I wasn't old enough to deer hunt back then, but I built a "squirrel stand" for my hunting. I remember Dad, after some convincing, let me use the saw, a hammer and a coffee can full of used nails. "If you are gonna build it, you are gonna have to find the wood laying in the woods." I spent two whole weekends, finding deadfalls, cutting them up and building that stand. It probably wasn't the safest thing in the world, but I built it and I never fell out of it. I never shot a squirrel out of that stand. I'm not even sure I ever saw one, but I would go to it once in a while just to soak it in as the pride filled my chest. I was soon old enough to chase the whitetail and the squirrel stand become a distant memory.

As I climbed up the road stand, I could here the Folkerds off in the distance. The way they yipped and yelped when doing drives was as unique as you had ever heard. They were a ways away, but I could here their antics pretty clearly. It seemed the wind had picked up a little and had a little nip to it. After about 30 minutes of constant road action and the countless vehicles going by, it started to settle down a bit. I couldn't help but wonder what the fellas in all of those trucks thought. "Why is that one-who-thinks-I-am-silly hunting so close to the road? Doesn't he know there are thousands of acres of undisturbed woods in every direction?" While I didn't really see it that way, I could understand where they are coming from. One reason I go hunting is to get away from it all, but here I am, sitting 30 yards off the road. Like I've said before, hunting is funny sometimes.

The first hour was pretty uneventful and although I was excited by the sky I could see coming, I figured it might get the deer off their feet. The sky to the West was that dark grey, almost black that brings visions of sideways snow to your mind. My 3rd year of hunting we I had seen clouds like that. I was doing some "exploring" and walking an old logging road a good mile from our shack. I could see the front was coming fast, but I had happened upon an area full of fresh rubs and scrapes. I remember the one tamarack on the edge of the swamp. It had to be as big around as my thigh and it was shredded. A big rub like that brings the hope that every time you see movement or catch a glimpse of something odd it will be the buck that made that rub. I continued on the trail for about 15 minutes before deciding, it was time to turn around and head it. I had a long walk ahead of me and I decided to get my pack on nice and tight and to get the miscellaneous stuff out of my pockets that I had taken out over the course of the day. I layed my rifle down, took off my pack and was in the middle of getting everything packed away, when almost on cue, out steps a doe. Not only was she standing a mere 50 yards away from me, still and broadside, but she peered back over her shoulder. As she bound across the trail, out he stepped. A buck of all bucks. A perfect 8 pointer. He was high and wide. He had those nice chocolate colored horns and main beams that were sweeping out before hooking in and finishing about 6 inches apart. He was the type of buck you see on magazine covers and paintings. He was standing there just asking to be shot, but my gun lay a few yards away harmlessly in the grass. It was almost like he knew he wasn't in danger. I guess bucks don't get that big unless they are somewhat smart. He slowly eased away and I didn't even attempt to grab my gun and get off a shot. I was in such awe over that buck and part of me was just grateful to have seen him and excited to get back to camp. I quickly packed up my things and hurriedly headed back to camp.

I can remember that hunt like it way yesterday and to this day I haven't seen a buck like that in the wild. The afternoon was dwindling away and I hadn't heard a shot. I was completely surprised by the lack of activity, but the way the wind was howling I wasn't sure I would hear a shot unless it was my own. As I climbed down in the darkness I was cold, disappointed and ready to warm up by the woodstove. It was one of those night you are sure activity will be booming, but when I arrived at camp everyone had the same report. Zero. Zippo. Nothing. We had all spend 4 hours in the woods and all we had to show for it was the sighting of a porcupine by Bruce. I guess with mother nature and her creatures you just never know.

We stoked up the fire and hung out in the shack that night. We made some brats, played some cards and told some of the same old stories. It was good to have everyone in camp again even though the wind was howling and by now the snow was blowing sideways outside. The forecast called for about 6 inches of the white stuff by noon tomorrow. I was excited for the snow, but not for the cold that was to follow. The snow allows you to really see how many deer are in the area. The tracks are everywhere or nowhere leaving you super confident or unbelievable dejected. They were also calling for a falling temperature all day tomorrow ending in an overnight low on Sunday Night/Monday morning of around 5 degrees. The weather was changing and tomorrow was going to be a challenge, but nobody's spirits were dampened. The traditions and excitement of deer camp can't be affected by the weather. These are traditions that are built over time with countless memories and endless anticipation. The sacredness of the hunt far outreaches the issues of the weather.

As we slid into our bunks that night, I was excited to see the woods with a blanket of snow. It had been a few years since I have hunted in the snow and it would be nice to have the extra visibility in the woods. Maybe I would catch a glimpse of the bruiser I had seen earlier that morning. Maybe I would see the great-great-great…great grandson of that gorgeous 8 pointer I had seen years earlier. Whether or not they showed themselves, tomorrow was going to be a great day, I could just feel it.

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Great reading coach, brings back some memories of my own. May you be rewarded with many more seasons in the woods. Shoot straight!

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