Hunting season means going your own way
Here in Wisconsin, deer hunting often is a communal affair—something that needs to be shared with others to be truly enjoyed. Not only is life at Deer Camp a collective undertaking, but the hunting itself is a team effort.
Since I am a loner by nature, this was a revelation when we moved back to the state in the early 1970s and hunting became an annual event for me. During those formative years I was taken in by a crew who lived in the area where my brother had bought some land. The group was made up mostly of a local clan with a few “orphans” such as myself who weren’t part of some other hunting cabal.
That was when I learned such bits of wisdom as “cover the deer with your sight and keep pulling the trigger until it drops or you run out of ammo,” and that there were two different sub-species of deer—those being “swampers” (identified by their darker coats) and the lighter colored “uplanders,” which lived on higher ground and received more sunlight, hence making their coats lighter. I also was taught the nuances of the “hoot-and-holler” drive and that posted property could actually be hunted on if the landowner was known to be elsewhere.
The crew liked to drive to various far-flung pieces of real estate and would cruise between them in an assortment of mud-spattered vehicles. One morning we were en route to a new venue when we spotted another convoy coming towards us.
“Hey,” our driver hollered as he slammed on the brakes, “that’s the Haggendorfer bunch.”
The vehicles lurched to a stop in the middle of the gravel road and about two dozen orange-clad hunters piled out for a parley. Considering there were deep woods on either side of the road, most of them had their guns with them “just in case.”
Pleasantries were exchanged and up-to-the-minute information was shared as to whom had shot what and where. In the midst of this interchange one of the Haggendorfer boys’ eyes opened wide and he yowled: “Look out—there’s a buck!”
Sure enough, a good-sized deer was just starting to cross the road about eighty yards away.
I figured what was coming next, dropped to my knees and stuffed my fingers in my ears. A dozen rifles came up and a fusillade of shots rang out as the deer jumped across the road and hit high gear.
Someone was designated to hike over and check the condition of the animal while the others argued over how many points it had on its rack and who would get to tag the presumably dead trophy. It became a moot point, however, when the guy who went to look returned.
“This is all we got of him,” he laughed, holding the buck’s tail.
The following fall I decided to start hunting solo. Instead of getting up at 4 a.m. and shivering on stand in the first two hours of shooting light, I’d sleep in, have a leisurely breakfast, clean up and walk out to my tree about the time the early risers were freezing out and starting to make drives. When I got bored I could get up and meander wherever I liked rather than be assigned something to do as part of a group.
Since we built the cabin, I’ll have a like-minded friend or two up, so there’s still a social aspect to opening weekend. Sometimes we’ll even do a one- or two-man drive if the spirit moves us. One of us just still-hunts, meandering through the woods upwind of a stander, letting his drifting scent push any deer towards his partner. It’s a good way to warm up, and breaks the tedium of sitting all day.
Though that works for me, it’s not necessarily the right way to hunt—because there is no “right way.” Deer-hunting style is a personal thing. If my early mentors enjoyed the togetherness of regimented drives done the same way each season, I don’t fault them.
After four decades I’m sure they’re still doing it that way—and enjoying every minute.
D.S. Pledger is an outdoors columnist for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.