Russ Ringsak

Deer Camp Stories

November 15, 2004

Itís the time of year when deer hunters are in the news up here in the northern reaches of the republic, or the democracy — however controversial those terms may be right now, I toss Ďem around anyway — and as the season winds down our blaze-orange-capped woods guys come back with not only fur and meat and horns, but also with empty flasks and another batch of stories from camp. These of course sometimes cause genteel people to wince a bit, but it seems that even longtime hunting critics are coming to realize we have a whole lot more whitetails out there than what we need. A local arts and entertainment weekly weighed in on that side last week with a lead story titled, in their typically overheated fashion, ďBambi Must Die.Ē This was after the writer had once again wrecked his car in a collision with one.

As a gun owner myself I feel Iím shirking my duty by not getting out there to help thin the stateís million-plus herd. And Iíd do it, too, if I just wasnít so doggone lazy. If I could just pick off a couple in the back yard here, I could contribute. Iíd be careful not to endanger the neighbors, but itís not legal here. And thatís fine, because thereís my excuse to not do it.

At any rate, a friend who doesnít shirk his annual duty and who hunts somewhere up around the legendary Lost Forty Acres told me that Dan, the stealthiest of their group, came away with the big story this year. They generally hunt from stands in the trees, small platforms about nine to twelve feet above the trails in the woods. They locate to get a clear view in two or three directions, and camouflage and patience will generally pay off.

Dan doesnít maximize his options that way. He goes deep into the underbrush where the big fellows hide: the bucks who get large by being careful. He finds one likely deer route, stays on the ground and becomes invisible. Using ancient and modern techniques he gives off no scent, no sound, no motion, no clue. The rifle is camouflaged and without a scope, so there is no glass to reflect. He wears a mask, so there is likewise no forehead to reflect. You could pass right next to him and not see him there. He is on the line between hunter and professional assassin, and he has a specific target, if not a specific individual: Big.

So heís in the fifth hour of his leafy unseeable mode there, leaned against a hardwood trunk in the underbrush, and slightly uphill he sees movement. A doe peeks out from behind a tree and walks delicately on the thin trail that goes around the fallen tree in front of him. She approaches carefully, skirts the tree and passes close enough that he could reach out and smooth her fur. He silently disengages the safety. And then, just as he expects, a rack of horns appears from the same direction. And a fine big rack it is, looks like twelve points, and as he slowly places his open peep sight on the chest, just at the exact moment he sets the bead carefully on the heart, a bird-brain chickadee, with no idea whatever of the dramatic tension building between the large mammals on the scene, flutters in and lands happily right on the near end of his barrel. Ten inches from his nose. All he sees now is a close-up nightmare of gray and white perky chickadee feathers. He freezes, hoping the bird will fly quickly off and hoping that as the buck turns by the log it doesnít get spooked. But the buck comes down the trail and doesnít take the detour at the log; instead he suddenly leaps high over it to come straight for the doe. Dan fires on reflex, twice, hitting it in midair.

The animal is out before it hits the ground, with one through the heart and one splitting the horns clean apart. It drops like a bad guy in a spaghetti western. Itís twelve points. It wins their longtime Big Buck Pool, into which they each put five dollars, season after season, until someone gets the really big buck. The buck of a lifetime. This one is worth a hundred and eighty bucks, plus bragging rights. And that chickadee, one presumes, has a story to tell, too.


Our correspondent up on the farm near Foley tells a story from a time back: She said her dad shared a top bunk spot in the deer camp up in northeastern Minnesota with his brother-in-law, Frank. Her dad was in his late 70s and Frank was ten years older, close to 90, and ďthey moved at their own pace in the woods.Ē They had been up there two days and on the morning of the third they happened to meet at a clearing and sat on a log, and her dad said, ďFrank, Iím calling it a day. Iím headiní back to the camp. I got about a half a headache and my eyes are kinda blurred.Ē He had already had one heart attack and he was worried. Frank said, ďMe too. Everything is fuzzy and my head is kinda swimminí like.Ē

Her dad took comfort from that, that it might not be just him. He said something about the gol-dang brandy they had last night, and that maybe there was something in it that wasnít right, and how a man couldnít really trust brandy anyway because it was made from wine, and that bourbon was maybe a better bet than brandy. Then Frank allowed as how it also could have been Uncle Tedís beef stew heíd brought up there, that maybe it had been sitting out a little too long. Might have been the brandy, might have been the stew.

Her dad took off his glasses and laid them on the log beside him, to rest his ailing eyes, and Frank did the same. Her dad looked at the two pair and said: ďFrank! By God, youíve got MY glasses!Ē Frank turned over the other pair and said, ďWell, youíve got mine!Ē She said they exchanged glasses, looked across the clearing and saw that all the trees were standing still and there was no fuzz outlining the branches. And then Dad and Frank got up and resumed hunting.

One would like to report they got a buck that day but they didnít. Not that day or the next or the next, which was nothing new for Frank. He had been at it for 48 years without one single success, and now he was worn out before the season ended. As the two of them left for home that night Frank officially retired from deer hunting, saying as they drove out of the darkened camp: ďThem damn deer can kiss my ass.Ē


My computer is a good machine, and the computers at our offices are probably even better — well, of course, they are way better — but the two of them donít get along. I have a Mac PowerBook, a new one with a most amazing brain, and itís loaded with a translator for the PC systems, the Microsoft; itís even loaded with Microsoft Word itself. And this aspect works all the time, without grudges or refusals on the part of either.

But something deep in the combination, some elusive mote of malice in one of their inner psyches, probably at this end, causes a rejection reflex to trigger when it gets mail from a third party sent through the big main brain by way of a clicked address. The Mac, or possibly the server, throws up an emergency virus alert. The SPAM-fighting anti-viral squad kicks the door down and hangs a red banner on the incoming mail that says if I even look at the address this computer could come down with a virus. Itís had its shots so I donít believe it, but, being the incurable computer chicken that I am, I donít dare disbelieve it, either.

So what Iím saying here is that no mail from readers has made it past the border patrol for the last four weeks and Iím starting to miss it. The only way it will leap from the reader to my screen is through a directly typed address, which is This works all the time. If youíve written lately, maybe you can send it again, straight through. Iíd like to hear whatís on your mind. Iíd even like to hear from people who donít much care for deer stories.


Previous article:
« It Used To Be Fun

Next Article:
Thanksgiving in Montana »

Russ Ringsak Archive

Complete Russ Ringsak Archive

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy