“You did WHAT, mom?” My son leaned forward incredulously with a big grin on his face. I responded back, “Matt, I was young and stupid back then, and I was not a Christian then either.” We had all been sharing various anecdotes and secrets, and I’m not sure why deer camp brings these things out, but I thought I would share a couple of my own. To let my 23 year old kid think I was Mother Theresa would be a lie. “What happens at deer camp, STAYS at deer camp,” Matt noted. We all laughed.
The boys - my son Matt and buddy Nate - had arrived late for firearms opener due to car problems back in the Twin Cities. But they were now getting unpacked, settled in and revved up for the next morning’s hunt. I was excited for Minnesota deer firearms opener. I had certified Nate in firearm safety the year before, and we were all hoping he would get his first deer this year after zipping last year. Also, my son’s non-hunting wife Felicia was along for the hunt, which both excited me and worried me a bit because she had never experienced our deer camp before. I wondered if a non hunting female at camp might experience culture shock of a sort. After all, deer camp is it's own little world. Everyone gets up at 4:30am and hunts till 11:00am, eats and/or naps midday, and then hunts again till dark. I was concerned she would get bored and want to go home. Little did I know.
Nate was gathering wood from the wood box on the porch when I heard frantic knocking on the window. I peeked out and he was excitedly zipping his flashlight around camp and I thought “what the heck?” After rapping on the window again, I ran outside to see why he was so excited. “What what?” I asked. Nate put his flashlight beam on the 3D buck target twenty yards from the porch and said “Look, look! A buck!” At first I didn’t get it. Then I realized that he thought the target was a real buck. “Nate” I said, smiling “that is my 3D buck target!” There was a moment of deafening silence and then we both laughing hysterically. I continued “If that was a real buck, it would have bolted into the next county the minute you walked out on the porch!” Nate is a good sport and put up with a spirited razzing for the rest of the weekend over the “eight point buck in camp.”
The four of us talked and laughed in front of a crackling fire until way too late and finally staged our gear for the early riser and morning hunt. 4:30am came quickly and we all set out for our deer stands well before first light. It was a perfect opener, dead still, 30 degrees and clear. When I got to my stand in the dark, I found a mature tree had fallen on my stand tree, so I had to monkey crawl up the tree to access my hang on stand. By 8am I was surrounded by does and yearlings. I also realized I had the wrong ammo with me so I didn’t harvest a deer, perhaps a good thing since I already had a bear and a deer in the freezer. The boys did not have luck in the morning and we were all back at camp by eleven o’clock hatching plans for the evening hunt. Felicia was taking it all in: The camo, the guns, the dirt clods on the floor, the adrenalin stories of deer being near, the outhouse, the mess of guns and gear, the frenzy of getting suited up, the burping, the flatulence. Hey, it’s deer camp. It is what it is. I heard a couple of comments about deer being “cute” and how she wanted to pet them, not kill them. Now I am a girlie girl in my “other life,” but a tad of a testosterone attitude slipped out of me when I asked her if she petted her hamburgers before eating them. She laughed. She is a good sport all in all.
The evening hunt found us in different hunting locations. I got winded by two deer and figured that was my chance for the evening so I settled in to just enjoy the sunset. Ten minutes before legal shooting time was to expire, I heard the ka-bam and felt the percussive shock of a nearby gunshot to the north from where Matt was hunting and I knew he must have gotten something. I offered up thanks and praise to God for Matt’s success, and prayed for a quick retrieval of the animal. I waited till 15 minutes after legal light so I could walk through the woods to Matt’s stand without being identified as a human by the deer that seemed to suddenly be everywhere around me.
As I neared Matt’s area, I heard his familiar “bird call” whistle that has been our “hey I’m over here” signal since he was ten years old. I stopped and bird-called back to him. There was his call again, and I put my flashlight beam in the direction of his call. He was still in his stand, a choice setup just 25-yards off the ATV trail. A mature tree had toppled in a late summer storm and I had put a stand in the midst of the tangled downfall and carved a wormhole access up thru the branches to access the hang on stand. I had a feeling the stand would produce and it did. Matt indicated that the deer he shot appeared to still be moving, so he came down from the tree and we tracked the animal. Unsure whether it was fatally wounded, I put a finishing shot on the buck and we walked back to camp to change clothes for dragging the deer out and dressing it.
When we returned, the two of us had to drag the deer about 60-yards through rough woods. It was one of those labored events that will always be etched in my mind, as we grappled with the animal over the rough terrain to get it back to the waiting ATV. Back at camp, Felicia came out and expressed momentary pity for the deer. Now, Felicia has a degree in criminal justice and would shortly be completing a parallel degree in forensics, so I beckoned her to come and watch me dress the deer. She resisted at first but I reminded her that she was dissecting cadavers at school and that dressing a deer was much more interesting because it was fresh. I also told her that the guys would probably turn green watching me gut the deer, but that I was pretty sure she would be totally fascinated by the process. I had now piqued her interest! And so I began. The boys indeed were grossed out, and after the first incisions, Felecia practically had her head in the chest cavity of the deer as I pulled various innards out and identified them. She adroitly noted there were two bullet entry points so Matt and I explained the kill to her. I was hoping by now that I had a convert. Before the evening was over, she asked if she could watch me shoot my bow the next day, and asked if I would teach her to shoot a bow and a gun. The next day she also wanted to be in the kill shot photos with Matt and his deer. Needless to say, in my mind I was doing the happy dance!
She watched me shoot the next day, and noted that her sister had killed her first deer with a bow this year. Now I better understood her budding interest in the sport. Some friendly sibling competition together with Felicia’s fascination with deer viscera had me feeling quite certain I might have a protégé next season. The next week, I ratcheted down the poundage on my “back up bow”, a Mathews Outback, from my 47 pounds to about 30 pounds. Felicia is ambidextrous like me, and left eye dominant like me, so my lefty Outback would be perfect for her. She shot arrows with me at an indoor range and decided to take up archery and get the bow tuned for her use. She also had her first experience with bow slap and got a bruise on her arm!
Nate didn’t get a deer, but he did learn a lot about when to move and when not to move in a tree stand, and he did get his first major charge of adrenalin when deer approached unaware he was there. He came very close to a shot opportunity. It was exiting to hear him describe his first predator adrenalin. He said his heart was beating so hard in his chest and ears he was sure the deer could hear it. I knew he was hooked and I feel confident he will get a deer next year.
Now, my son has been my favorite hunting buddy for many years, and I am becoming a fishing buddy for him over this last year too. Hunting is my passion and fishing is his passion. They say that a son is a son till he takes a wife, but I not only got another daughter, but a potential hunting buddy now too. The legacy of my paternal grandparents, who were hunting & fishing buddies, and lovers, was about to go to another generation. Not only that, Felicia has a girlfriend and her son who also want to take up archery. 2007 is going to be a fun year!
© December 2006