I moved to small town Wisconsin in 1985, which means I've already lived here most of my life. On arrival I was bemused by the cultural importance of Deer Hunting Season. Guys talked about it for a month in advance. There were many events billed as "Lonely Doe" or "Deer Hunting Widow". Mostly craft shows but I remember there being a few that featured male dancers!
It seemed like harmless fun and a good male bonding exercise. Oh, there were a few down sides. Because the process of scouting, prepping the hunting shack, bow hunting, gun hunting and so forth took up several weeks you'd be well advised to not have any carpentry, plumbing or other trades oriented work that needed to happen in November. Or maybe even late October.
2020 was the year when our tribe started hunting together. It just seemed like it was time. This is a year when so many other traditions are under siege. Family reunions, Trick or Treating, Thanksgiving and soon, Christmas....all cancelled or under shadow.
I enjoyed spending time with my sons. I with the Big City lad could have stayed longer. Contrary to my expectations that Deer Camp would be raucous and sodden, we all imbibed in moderation and went to bed early. Mostly we just talked about hunting and general trivialities. Occasionally more profound matters snuck in around the fringes.
Morning Hunt. You are up in the dark. With a goal of being in your stand a half hour before official sun rise this involves creeping through pitch black woods. You have a small flashlight and where necessary a few marker flags have been placed. Its eerie, and you sense you are being watched. Nature does not seem entirely conquered when it is just you, one lone human quietly sneaking through the dense forest.
The first moments of daylight are crucial. You squint out at vague shapes wondering which are bushes and which might be crouching deer. When official hunting hours start you usually can tell, as distant booms roll across the woods. Somebody is having better luck.
After a few hours it is too light for the deer to be casually out strolling, so you climb down and head back for lunch.
Evening hunt is the mirror image. The walk in is sunny and the paths easy to follow. There's no particular need for haste or stealth, its a good time to ponder over tracks or maybe just to sit on a stump a while and enjoy. But eventually you climb up into the stand. As the sun dips below the tree tops and under the crest of the hill the woods grow dark and mysterious again. I found this a difficult time to hunt. You know the deer are going to creep out just as the light fails. But that's also the hardest time to see for a clean shot. The walk out at the end of an evening hunt can be tricky. Once I had to power up the GPS to find my way home.
Several things did surprise us. There were a lot more people hunting in our immediate area than we had expected. Perhaps we are not the only family feeling a loss of community. Both hunting and fishing license sales were up in this crummy Covid year. Taking off a mask and breathing fresh pine scented air was delightful.
I'm hoping this is just the first of many deer camps. There's another generation that wants in as soon as possible. We also might consider inviting a few guests in the future....any of my UK pals who want to REALLY see a different part of American life, come on over in late November.
And specifically to my UK friend Anthea.....I'm guessing we could still find one of those Lonely Doe exotic dancer nights around somewhere!