The evolution of my deer season

PETER J. WASSON

The first deer I ever shot, almost 30 years ago, was a nine-point buck. It remains the biggest rack I've ever downed.

I'm a meat hunter — especially with beef and pork prices the way they are these days, my goal is filling my freezer.

So I've never been one of those hunters who stoically watches small bucks walk past his deer stand awaiting Bullwinkle. As the old hunter's saying goes, no matter how long you boil the horns, you can't eat 'em.

That first hunt I wasn't even up in a tree. I was on a friend's woodlot in central Wisconsin, sitting on the ground — actually, on one of those pads filled with Styrofoam granules — and hiding behind the root ball of a downed tree. The deer appeared as if by magic; I looked down, looked up and there he was. Never saw or heard him coming; never had any warning.

In fact, I violated just about every rule of hunting when I saw him. I jerked my rifle up, rustling my coat and scraping the stock across the tree. The buck froze, then — again, almost magically — turned sideways giving me a perfect shot.

I've felled several deer that way; as I've written before, I see my role as culling the herd of the particularly dim and dull-witted deer so the fittest can live on. I once was climbing down from my tree stand, my rifle already lowered to the ground on its tether, when a small buck walked into the woods and toward me. I halted my descent, pulled my rifle back up to the stand that was just about 10 feet above ground, reloaded it and blasted him, all as he continued walking toward me and looking right at me.

In those early days of hunting, I remember awakening at 4:30 in the morning humming with adrenaline. And though I still get buck fever when a deer comes near me, I don't get excited at the prospect of the hunt the way I used to.

In fact, as I've grown older, I've found it harder and harder to kill another living thing every year. I don't know if it's the recognition of my own limited time left on this earth at the age of 55 or just a loss of youthful bloodlust, but I would rather watch the deer in my yard than kill them — though I sure wish they would stop nibbling on my apple and cherry trees.

I've been fortunate enough to hunt the past two rifle seasons on a friend's land out on the Bayfield-Douglas county line. It's the first time I've ever been in a deer camp with other guys, spending a few nights in an old homestead house served by an outdoor well and outhouse.

I can see how generations of hunters have come to love that experience — the nights of digging into hot chili while telling tales of what you did or didn't see during the day and then planning the next day's hunt. We huddle around a snowy TV pulling in a signal from Duluth, maybe play some cards, stoke the wood stove and talk all evening before falling into beds early.

I already have one deer in the freezer, a little fork buck I downed on my land during bow season, so as I head out this weekend, I'll be bonus hunting. But mostly I'll be going to enjoy that deer camp and root on my companions.

If another thick-headed buck wanders by, all the better. We can all use more meat to get us through the winter and stave off those high grocery prices.

Here's hoping everyone a safe and successful hunt.

Peter J. Wasson is managing editor of the Ashland Daily Press.

(Copyright © 2022 APG Media)

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