There is always a certain level of heightened anticipation when that Thursday morning rolls around, the Thursday morning before the Wisconsin gun deer season. I’ve spent the last several days putting all my hunting gear together (of course, most of it last night). The past three days were spent shopping for the food for all the guys at deer camp. And, last Sunday, I walked out to my range and shot my rifles with my wife. She got her sighting in a couple of hours before the Packer game. Lisa will spend opening day at home with her own “deer camp” and I am heading out this morning for Florence County to get the camp opened up with the help of my dad and son, John.
The gun deer season is a special time in Wisconsin, and for some, it carries even more special memories. Growing up, deer camp was a place you went once a year and spent the season or part of it with a group of guys that only got together in that special little cabin by the woods to hunt whitetails. Hunting deer in Wisconsin dates all the way back to 1851 and with tradition that deep, it is no wonder, with only nine days in the gun season, we witness the sea of orange heading to each special place in the days immediately preceding the opener.
As the day to leave for camp finally arrives, my truck is loaded to the top of the cap with hunting gear, and camp provisions, always way more than really needed for the nine day season, but none the less, necessary; mainly because we’ve always had it. After a final check of my load and a quick rundown to make sure my wife’s deer camp is ready for her guests (most don’t hunt, but look forward to opening weekend without their husbands and my wife’s cooking!), At that time I say my last good-byes, a loving kiss good-bye and that means the journey begins.
It just a couple of miles long from the town when phone starts ringing.It’s my dad, “How far are you?” My answer is always the same. “Just left town, have a quick stop at Fleet Farm and where are we meeting for breakfast?” I always know the answer. Traditions start on the way up to camp, so we will meet about 25 miles short of camp in Goodman at Stony Ridge for a good breakfast before we finish our journey to camp and begin the task of unloading and putting away a truckload of food for the week.
It just short of three hours to ride to the camp, but the entire ride is full of questions and a heightened sense of anticipation. What did I forget? Will there be snow for tracking? Who’s going to shoot a big buck this year? Who’s going to shoot the first buck this year? I’ve made this trip a hundred times, but still, the trip right before the season is the best of all and full of the same anxious questions every year. Lisa and I were up to the cabin just a couple weeks prior to do a little cleaning, relaxing and to take a walk in the woods, so I know everything is ready for us, but still the questions linger. One of the most exciting parts of the camp is the hunters’ arrival to camp and soon camp will be full again.
In our diverse group of hunters at Woodside, their ages are ranging in age from 27 to 82. We get together and share moments in the three bedroom cabin and spend time hunting and having lunch together in the woods. Since the cabin was built in the 50’s, by a group of men from the Algoma and surrounding area, they have shared ownership of the little cabin by the woods. Besides the names of the original members written in the concrete stoop, all have come and left us, but the memories of their time spent at Woodside are evident in the many pictures, mounts and items that they may have donated to the “cabin” over the years. Like many camps across Wisconsin, we remember and reminisce at meal time the many stories that were shared at our dinner table, a special time and a focal point of each day’s activities at camp.
I often reflect on those special times when stayed with them; Zeb telling stories about times he had in France during WWII, Pete often sharing moments from his ball playing days, Wilfred telling us about the time he discovered two bear cubs inside a hollow tree on a ridge near where we hunt, Bo sharing stories about the years that they tented back in the woods before the cabin was built or Homan sharing a moment about a tussle that happened at a school event in his younger years. I could go on and on, but those special moments gave all of us some very special memories about our hunting camp and the colorful, diverse group that I have had the pleasure to share time with. Those memories will last forever and will be passed on to the next generation of Woodside hunters though these gentlemen have all left us.
We think of the way to do a little hunting too. We head into the woods in the dark and return after sunset. But stories and memories continue around a small grill at lunch time, as tradition brings us together for a midday lunch of hot dogs and soda to share what deer movement we saw and where we may be heading for the afternoon. Often what is perceived as a strategy session, in reality is yet another moment to make some memories by sharing stories amongst a great group of friends who come together to share a common bond in the woods.
We are surely to shoot deer at our camp and over the years some dandy’s too! We’ve had some tough years and we’ve had some terrific years as scoring venison goes. But over the years, it’s not the harvesting that keeps me coming back to the little cabin by the woods. It’s the camaraderie, the stories, and the special moments that are forever etched in my heart that keep me coming back year after year. In my opinion, it’s not about the harvest or the cabin building itself, it’s what’s inside, the great bunch of guys that make that deer camp something special. This year I’m hoping for another double, I want to see my dad (grandpa) and my son both score. And who knows, maybe I will too. But I know one thing; there will be lots of good food and plenty of good stories to make 2015 another special year! From all of our gang at the Woodside Sportsmen’s Camp in Florence, Wisconsin, have a safe and special hunt this season!