Sunday, December 4, 2011

Deer Camp Reprise

It seems like I always do an overall review about what went on at Reefer Creek deer camp over the nine days of 'Holy Week' and I don't think my 'cold and boring' post did the week justice. I was a bit distracted by the SKOAC slide night last week and it's thought provoking presentations. The physical and mental aspects of spending nine days in the hinterlands is great writing fodder and I need to expand on the week in order to both put it into perspective and also to put it to rest in my over active brain.

The most overriding fact of deer camp is that the worst nine days of deer camp is head and shoulders above the nine best days of work. I don't think anyone can argue with that fact. When a person goes in with that attitude, its tough to be critical but I can compare it with other deer hunting experiences I've had. The friends, the traditions, the routines and common vocabulary connect us all at the most basic level. I used to hunt at a camp down near Modena, WI. A good group but they designated the stands in an almost engineer-like manner. Names like Gold 1, 2, 3 or Red 3, 4, 5. Another camp I hunted out of in the Lake Itasca region of Minnesota pretty much excluded women from the hunt. At least a couple 'camps' were located in buildings that are arguably more plush than our townhouse. To each his or her own, but I think we do it right.

In the Lake Superior region that stretches across the UP, through Wisconsin, and into northern Minnesota the phrase 'deer camp' has three distinct and interchangeable meanings. 'The camp' can be the actual building and/or grounds such as, "I'm heading up to camp late Friday". It can also be the nine days of the season as in "We had a pretty damn good camp this year". Finally, it can be the people involved like, "I've never seen a camp inhale so much chicken, dumplings, and beer before". Usually these three distinctions blend and meld together like that big pot of chicken and dumplings to encompass all three iterations. Like the previous post on the Thrill, the whole point of deer camp is to have fun. It's nice to get venison but for years the deer were sparse and that was the case again this year. Whether this was due to the small size of the herd or hunter incompetence on our part is uncertain. But good food, good friends, a quality hunt, and the cameraderie have always been at the forefront of the experience. Heck, we have people who have forgotten knife, gun, and rope for almost a quarter century now, but they still come up for the unique ambiance. Regarding some of the issues at other camps mentioned earlier, our stand designation is organic. They pretty much name themselves. A guy hurts his knee building a stand and it becomes Wounded Knee. Miss a deer and drill an arrow into an aspen tree that's impossible to remove?: Excalibur. He who removes this arrow shall be king of Reefer Creek. Ground a bit swampy on the way to the blind? Noah's Blind. Take your first buck from the stand on Thanksgiving Day? The Virgin Turkey stand. They really do name themselves. We also love our women hunters and hangers on. The GurneyGranny and MadCityMary chase the elusive buck year after year. GG shot two eight pointers on opening day in '09, much to the chagrin (not really) of we menly men and MCM has some fine racks on the wall. The VOR, StAnnOfLittleCanada, FunSisterBarbie, and other women who have no interest in killing bucks wander in at out at random and are perfectly comfortable at the joint. It can be an interesting wander in as well. Isolation is part of the deal and to get there you need to take the state highway to the county trunk to the gravel town road to the marginal dead end town road, two ruts with grass growing in the middle. The road dead ends, just stops, at the creek and its roughly a 1/4 mile, or a 'forty' as we like to say, hike into camp.
Once a person has arrived at camp they are treated to all the amenities of the early 20th century. Propane stove and lights, wood cook stove and pot belly for heat, as well as our green, long handled hand pump have been described here before. If heat is needed wood is split. If someone needs a drink they pump. Hungry? Fry up some venison bacon, slice off some venison bologna, or grill some venison backstraps. Being connected to the natural surroundings and having direct results of your actions without the intervention of the water utility, Xcel energy, of Kraft Foods is good for the soul. The hunt is top quality as well. There has been select logging, trail mowing and seeding with clover, and careful stand placement. To get to that stand, the rifle is grabbed off the rack by the door and the hunter strolls into the woods. OK, in the last decade we've acquired ATV's, but that's mainly to keep us graybeards from having a heart attack after dragging a 200# buck back to camp over hill and dale like we did in the old days. They are also nice for making firewood and hauling gravel for the road. I think I got up to 12mph one time this year, and that was mainly because of the gravel road improvements.

Deer were scarce on the buckpole this year. We saw lots of deer but no large bucks, except on the game camera at 2am. It's very apparent they are getting smarter than us. Wolf tracks and scat, bear, fisher, and a myriad of other animals, including my buddy Porky the porcupine share the woods. The concept of Quality Deer Management states that by harvesting only large bucks and anterless deer the herd gets healthier and inbreeding is reduced. We try to do that but lots of times that out of state $160 license that the KingOfIronwoodIsland and I have results, like this year, in the small buck winding up in the freezer. There are plenty of deer however, as evidenced by the browsing of the aspen that's naturally reproducing as well as the beating they give our evergreens that we plant in the spring. Weather this year ranged from near 50F bluebird weather to a six hour snowstorm and temps in the mid 20F range. All par for the course when we're two miles from the south shore of Gitchee Gumee.

Melded together, the factors outlined above make for my most enjoyable week of the year, my 'happy spot' as the VOR would say. It seems crazy but with all the skiing, kayaking, travel, and other distractions along the way, I'm already thinking about next November 16th and rolling into camp armed with rifles, a ridiculous amount of food, adult beverages, and the knowledge that no matter what happens in the woods this will once again be the best week of the year.

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