John J. McRae column: What is it about deer hunting?
There's something about deer hunting that defies description. It makes no sense, yet makes the most sense of all. It has a way of striking a chord that grabs a hunter by the soul and doesn't let go.
The 2009 firearms deer hunting season marks the 30-year anniversary of Bullmoose Camp. Yet the camp members, now well into their 50s, are as excited about the upcoming season as they were for their very first hunt.
That first season at the shack, in the fall of 1980, provided many bright memories. The shack at the time was a simple 12x16 structure with an 8x8 bedroom addition. The camp membership was far from established and included a couple of high school buddies and a co-worker.
We hastily put together a couple of rudimentary tree stands a week before the season, bought some canned beef stew, packed up a small propane cook stove and headed for the woods.
No deer were shot that opening weekend many years ago; in fact, we spent much more time talking to road hunters who slowly cruised up the ditchbank to the shack than we did in our stands. The property hadn't been hunted for many years and wasn't posted, so the locals got into the habit of checking the place out each opener.
It was a major distraction and a bit disappointing. But all the conversations led to more than a few friendships that have lasted many years.
We made a return trip to the shack a few days later and the Hack shot the biggest deer of his life -- a large 8 pointer that was big of body and rack size. Thirty years later, it remains the biggest deer he has ever taken.
Over the years major changes came about at Bullmoose Camp. Trails were established and more stands built; the camp membership was set and then later evolved to the present group; the shack itself went through major renovations with two additions being constructed, and a major logging operation was completed.
The lives of the camp members have changed dramatically as well over the last three decades. Marriage, children, job changes, good times and bad - the lives of the camp members have gone through many changes.
Through it all the deer camp has remained a constant - always there, always welcoming and always fun.
It's been a refuge, a haven, a chance to step back to simpler times. Leave the cell phones, the computers, the TVs and the everyday worries behind -- this is deer camp, where all that matters is time in the woods and time in the shack in the company of great friends.
We'll see how the coming season goes as far as the number of deer killed. Make no mistake, that is the main purpose of the Bullmoose hunters -- harvesting deer. We all love fresh venison and take great pride in handling each deer we kill as if it were the finest Angus beef. And the camp property has produced scores of deer over the last 30 years.
We all dream of seeing a monster buck come strolling by the stand.
But we never know what the season will bring in terms of deer on the meat pole. It's guaranteed, however, that the little shack will be filled with laughter and good times come early Friday evening. That good feeling will last for as long as the hunters remain at the shack.
We'll laugh about our favorite memories of deer hunts gone by, retelling stories that have become part of camp lore. There was the season of '86, when it started snowing Friday evening and didn't stop until Sunday. By the time the storm was done raging, more than 20 inches of snow had fallen. And then it got cold, really cold --- to the minus 40-degree level. We were forced back to town after just four days because we ran out of wood.
Once we got back to town we were in for a surprise - the storm was so major that many hunters in our area had become stranded and had to be rescued/evacuated. We had no such problems, but the season turned into a bust as far as shooting deer. It was one of only two years in the history of camp the Bullmoose boys were skunked.
Hey, we learned our lesson: no, not that we should buy a weather radio to keep track of approaching storms and, no, not that we should have some type of communication link to the outside world in case of emergencies.
The next year we bought a propane stove to heat the camp. That way, major storms be darned, we could stay at deer camp for as long as we wanted -- an important lesson learned, indeed.
Then there was the year the Hack and Wack were alone at the shack during midweek of the season. Bad weather had moved in that afternoon, leaving a couple inches of snow on the ground.
The mini-storm swirled as the boys sipped a long undiscovered bottle of Canadian spirits that had been forgotten in the attic. Taking a break from a cribbage game, Wack went to get some fresh air. He opened the front door and then jumped back, quickly slamming the door closed.
"Does anybody here have a cat?" he asked with eyes wide open.
"A cat? What? How long have you been hunting here? You ever remember anyone bringing a cat with them?" the Hack chuckled.
"Well, a big black and white cat just ran across the step," Wack said. "I only caught a glimpse but it was big!"
"Does anyone have a cat ..." the Hack muttered while sliding on his slippers.
To make a long story a bit shorter, it wasn't a cat at all, but a large raccoon. The critter promptly decided to take up residence under the shack and caused quite a stir.
But that's just another of the many allures of deer camp -- you never know who, or what, might stop by.
For all those heading out this weekend: be safe, shoot straight, have fun and may the buck of your dreams appear broadside at 40 yards.