It was nice to be home from the big hike in time for hunting season. I’ve always enjoyed this time of year, in fact, it’s one of my favorites. I remember as a kid, all the guys (my dad, uncles, cousins, brother and family friends) would stay in the “huntin’ shack” above the garage, warmed by an old-fashioned wood stove, long johns hanging all over the place, stacks of bunks along the walls, and there was a “fart pole.” The rule was if you had to let one go, you had to hold on to the pole. If you didn’t hold on, you had to put money in the “fart bucket,” and that was saved up for the next year’s beer supply. It was a fun place. In the mornings the hunters would all come down to the house and pile into the kitchen for breakfast, and I miss the energy and sounds of them chowing down on pancakes and eggs as they planned the day’s drives, joked about all kinds of things, while every so often laughing in unison. Gallons of coffee were poured and the bathroom door’s squeak was constant… open, close… open, close… open, close… Then they’d pile into their trucks and off to the woods they’d go. They would usually stay out hunting all day, having sandwiches for lunch, and sometimes they’d even make a fire and heat up some soup. At the end of the day would be the “last drive,” which involved visiting one of the local bars to brag about what deer they bagged that day, see what other hunters got, and then they’d all come home for dinner. I looked forward to them pulling into the driveway at the end of each day to see whether or not they’d back up a truck to the meat pole. On Thanksgiving, the house would be full to the brim with people – sometimes up to 30 family and friends would join us for dinner. Over the years our big hunting crew has dwindled down to only a few, and our Thanksgiving dinner is now down to around ten people, but it’s still a great week, and it’s still hard to see it end.
My favorite part of hunting season is spending quality time with my dad in the woods. I could give up everything else as long as I was left with that part of it. We usually set up our stands in the same area so we walk in and out together, and if we get cold we’re able to get up and walk around somewhere together to warm up. This year’s crew was the smallest yet – just me, my dad, my uncle Kenny, uncle Jerry, and family friend, Jim. We weren’t able to do any drives with such a small crew, but we did join a big group of hunters from Park Falls on Wednesday to do some drives, and that was really fun. For most of the week, we sat in our stands waiting, napping, breathing in cold air and enjoying every minute of it. Unfortunately after nine days, we didn’t have any venison to put in the freezer. It was a pretty quiet year, and by the sounds of it, we weren’t the only ones not seeing many deer. I can’t complain too much, though. I got to wander through the woods and sit for hours watching twitchy squirrels bound around on the ground and in high tree branches, nuthatches flutter past my head and land upside-down on the tiny hemlock pine cones next to me, and giant, fluffy snow flakes float down until a breeze would push them quickly in one direction, then another. Yup… nine days in the woods? I’ll take it!
It was a colder year than we’ve seen in a while, too. I have always gotten cold in the woods, even during warmer years. I think my toes get cold, then my hands, and the chill spreads through my body after a couple of hours until I’m forced to get down from my stand and walk around. I used to only make it about four hours, max. Since we didn’t have a big crew this year, we planned to sit for long periods of time, so my dad and I brought our sleeping bags out to our stands with us. Opening morning welcomed us with a chilly 4° temperature, and I was surprised to find I was able to sit comfortable for six straight hours. I stepped my feet, boots and all, into the foot of my sleeping bag, then zipped it up to my waist. If a breeze started up I could wrap the loose top half of the bag over the shoulder facing the wind and I stayed nice and cozy. Thank you, wonderful down feathers! On the second day we woke up to a crisp -10°! It was hard to even think about sitting in that for hours, but once again, dad and I sat out there from sun up to sun down. Wrapping up loosely in a sleeping bag was the ticket this year! I continued the sleeping bag method all week. I’m hooked.
I moved my stand on the second day. We had fresh snow, which is another thing we’ve missed in the past few years. After a few days, there were hardly any tracks or new sign of deer activity around where we were sitting. My new spot was great, or so I thought! There were a couple of active trails criss-crossing each other, and after dropping a small pile of corn to see if they were currently active, I was happy to see that corn was completely gone the next morning. I only ended up seeing one deer from that stand all week, and it was just a little guy way off in the distance. The tree I was sitting in was tall and caught a strong breeze easily. If I was sitting in my sleeping bag, scanning the woods for deer and a gusty breeze started up, it would catch the top of my tree and sway me back and forth slowly, nearly lulling me to sleep. On Wednesday we woke up to 0°, but that was the day we were joining the big group of hunters from Park Falls to do some drives, so we’d at least be moving around. I had a fun day with that. I got to wander through the woods, bushwhacking-style, just following a compass bearing. I love it. I crawled over and under alders, past pine branches covered in snow, and hopped on bog clumps through swamps. I saw two deer during one of the drives, but they weren’t within shooting range for me. One of the other hunters took a few shots at them, but missed. When the drives were done we joined the big crew at their authentic hunting cabin for a couple of hours. I was the newest guest at their cabin, so they were showing me all of their fun gadgets hanging around and placed several jars of homemade pickled deliciousness in front of me to try. It was really fun to be a part of their crew for a day.
I didn’t hunt on Thanksgiving day. I went into town with Adam for football and an early 1:00 dinner at his mom’s house. I felt kind of bad because I fell asleep on the couch for probably a couple of hours after the meal. The cold air the past few days had really worn me out! Then we head back to my parent’s hours for a second dinner at 6:00. I did pretty well with enjoying a little bit of everything at both, but not stuffing myself too uncomfortably bad. It was another great holiday… except for the horrible Packer loss to the Lions. Yowzers.
During the next few days the weather started to warm up a little bit. I stayed in my same spot in the woods and still didn’t see any deer. But what I did see… were two wolves! I suppose that might explain the lack of deer we’re seeing. This was the first time I saw a wolf in the wild, so I was pretty excited about it! The first one was pretty big, and I remember being so impressed with how huge and puffy his tail was as he gracefully jaunted through the trees behind me. The second one I saw was later in the day and was a little smaller than the first. I watched him run out in front of my stand and dig around at something in the ground for a while, then disappear in the pine trees behind me. I know they can be pretty destructive animals out here, but I can’t deny how cool they are in their natural habitat, either.
As always, it was another fun hunting season, even though we’ve got no new meat to show for it. We all missed my brother this year. He moved to Florida and doesn’t make it up for the hunt any more, but I hold out hope that one year he might just show up and surprise us. I don’t spend as much time with him as I should, and hunting season was that one week out of the year I saw a lot of him and enjoyed hanging out with him. I even enjoy and miss his picking on me like a big brother should. :)
So, the hunt is over. Here’s to hoping we’ll get some meat in the freezer next year!
Tonight I love my pappy. Easy one. He’s my hunting mentor and one of my best friends. :)