For many Wisconsinites, deer hunting is more than just a seasonal hobby. It’s an opportunity to slow things down for a bit and take some time to enjoy the outdoors with friends and family. Ron Weber shares a story about how every fall, a humble dwelling in the Wisconsin Northwoods is transformed from a cabin to deer camp.
Most of the year, we simply call it the cabin — a small two-bedroom retreat with a modest kitchen, living room and a bathroom slightly smaller than the average ice fishing shanty. Nestled on Eagle Point along the crooked shores of Lake Namakagon in Bayfield County, it is a favorite destination anytime of the year. But for nine days each November, it becomes something much more. It becomes deer camp.
Deer camp actually has its genesis about a month earlier. As the colorful tapestry of October’s leaves fall to the ground, it signals the beginning. Though there are numerous other activities to fill the autumn days, the seeds of deer camp have sprouted. Just an inkling at first which can be satisfied by taking a look at a deer rifle or rummaging through hunting gear. The feeling continues to grow as the days shorten and the steely, cold November landscape takes hold.
By the second week of November, the urge has now become so great that it can be satisfied only by pulling out the blaze orange clothing that has been waiting patiently to reappear since last season. It is inspected and hung outside to air out. Drive anywhere in Wisconsin the week before deer season and you will see orange dotting backyards like so many pumpkins. Knives, flashlights, ropes, compasses, and assorted other equipment is checked and rechecked. Deer rifles are sighted in, cleaned and oiled. Just days away now, the anticipation is almost unbearable.
I feel a primal pull towards the cabin. I like to get there Thursday or early Friday before opening day so I can watch the transformation. There alone it is still the cabin. But as the others drift in one or two at a time, it magically becomes deer camp. Food, clothing, guns and other assorted gear quickly fill every corner. The camp is also now filled with jokes and laughter, stories of past hits and misses and a most special brand of camaraderie. Each of us stakes out our piece of real estate to hang clothes and stow gear for the coming season.
Deer camp is more than a place it is a unique state of mind and being. For the next week and a half, life is reduced to its simplest terms. Planning the next day’s hunt or checking the coming weather are the biggest concerns. If only for this short time, all other worries and responsibilities seem to fade — covered up hopefully by some snow. If you’re lucky enough to have a camp in a poor service area, even smart phones and other devices can be put at bay.
A good deer hunter is an eternal optimist. Whatever did or didn’t come down the trail today, there is always tomorrow and a new chance. The chances and the people who share them is what deer camp is all about. All too soon, though, there are no more tomorrows. As the season draws to a close, those who have stayed on all season begin packing up their gear. On the last day, vehicles are loaded, some last-minute pictures are taken, and reluctant goodbyes are said. Making a last check of the place — with a sense of melancholy — I realize deer camp is gone and it is simply the cabin again until next November.
SONG: “He Would Have Laughed” by Deerhunter