11/09/98 - Deer Hunting Woes

From the Gunflint Trail

The doe-eyed beauties are receptive and that big buck is pawing the ground in eager anticipation. No, no, I'm not talking about the White House - it's deer hunting season in Cook County again! Since moving up north, I've somehow become caught up in this mostly male ritual of hunting that mythical creature, "The Big Buck." I use the term "mythical" because I seem as likely to get a shot at a unicorn as I will at a legal buck.

This isn't hard to understand given the sneaky nature of these forest pranksters. Big bucks are endowed with natural defenses so sensitive they indicate deer are much higher on the evolutionary scale than your average hunter. With ears that swivel around like radar, eyes that can spot the slightest movement, and noses that can smell a hunter's dirty socks at a hundred yards, the contest is not the least bit fair. It's somewhat akin to a deaf and half-blind moose trying to sneak unnoticed through your living room. Still, geniuses that we are, my hunting partners and I remain convinced that we're up to the challenge.

Our annual adventure begins the weekend before opener with the setting up of our hunting camp. For shelter, one partner supplies his vintage WWII army tent. It's called an "army tent" because it is quite capable of housing a small army. This tent is nothing like the modern high-tech jobs we take into the BWCA. Its heavy expanse of green canvas requires an unbelievable number of cords, clips, latches, poles, ropes and pegs to stand up on its own. Fortunately, the military has thoughtfully sewn a detailed instruction sheet into the tent itself. The instructions consist of a panel of drawings, much like a cartoon strip in your Sunday paper, showing a stickman lieutenant telling several stickman grunts what to do next. I assume we're supposed to follow his orders too, but after looking it over we usually fall about laughing and proceed to figure it out on our own.

After erecting our shelter, the next most vital need is heat. This year we abandoned our trusty rusty old barrel stove in favor of a new stainless steel contraption engineered by another of our group. Since it's about half the size yet twice the weight of a Volkswagen, I'm guessing it will do the job only too well. However, a shake-down burn proved embarrassingly otherwise. It couldn't draw enough air for proper combustion unless we opened its door; and doing this simply poured clouds of thick smoke into the tent. We found that standing up in the tent kept us warm but then the smoke stung our eyes. Sitting down low allowed us to breath but not get warm. We soon discovered that a crouching position provided a fair compromise - so there we were, crouching around our tent, slapping each other on the back and repeating, "it doesn't get any better than this." The boys assure me that a little rework involving a torch, a drill, and some scrap metal will fix things up by opener.

Along with my pals mentioned above, our hunting party includes a talented son and son-in-law who are equally adept at, and quite proud of, making rude sounds from either end of their bodies. Fun guys. And finally, just before opening day we are joined by two other hunting buddies from the Cities. These jolly fellows, I'll call them Tom & Jerry though it's probably not their real names, really admire our hunting camp. They don't stay with us, of course, but between trips to their stands they find it the perfect place to stop in, drink our beer, and "talk smart & tell lies" before heading back into town for their hot showers, restaurant meals, warm beds and clean sheets. I seriously think they're on to something.

Finally the big day arrives. Picture this; at about 5:30 AM the woods become filled with sleepy, groggy, cold and frequently wet men stumbling about through the dark, with guns, trying to find their way to their rickety deer stands, twenty feet high in trees waving in the wind. They're tired and groggy, of course, because they stayed up late the night before telling each other how smart they are compared to their wives and girlfriends. Uh-huh. After a couple of unproductive seasons sitting in my stand shivering, staving off boredom by wondering what a 30-06 would do to a noisy red squirrel, I'm considering a new strategy. I'm planning to sneak back into camp where I expect to surprise those wily bucks eating our food, drinking our beer, running up our cell phone bills and generally laughing their antlers off. Wish me luck!

A column written by Daryl Popkes (BirchLake.com)

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