Tonight is the first in what I hope will be a series based on the legends of deer camp. I can think of no better way to start this series than with two of my favorite deer hunters, cribbage rivals, and human beings: Uncle Click and the Puppy Killer, a.k.a. T-Bone and The Deacon, a.k.a. Uncles Tom and Dave. Where do I start?
For those of you unfamiliar, Tom and Dave are two of my dad’s three younger brothers. I’ve had a blast hunting deer and birds with them for 30 years. I also had the pleasure of working with both of them for the first 10+ years of my career at Tweet/Garot. This means I have many stories.
Let’s start with T-Bone. At the risk of offending everyone else at deer camp, he’s the finest cribbage player I’ve ever seen, hands down. If I’m paired up with Tom I believe we will win any and every cribbage game we play. Tom is also a discriminating deer hunter. He’s so selective that the deer he would actually pull the trigger on probably doesn’t even exist. He didn’t shoot a single deer for at least 25 years and if it bothered him none of us knew it. I liked telling people that he wasn’t picky, he was actually just scared of gutting out deer. Not true. I have a feeling he would field dress deer with speed and precision, but I wouldn’t know it because I’ve only seen him shoot one. I believe he’s waiting for the elusive 75-point buck.
My dad is the opposite. 40 pound fawn with spots on it? He’ll shoot it, and you’re an idiot if you wouldn’t. If it’s brown, it’s down. Nothing would piss dad off more than the end of opening day when we’d all come back to camp and he’d say, “Tom, did you get anything?” Tom would say, “No.” Dad would reply, “Did you see any?” Tom would say, “Sure. I saw 42 of them.” After decades of experience, Tom knows exactly which tone to use when he says it to coax maximum anger out of dad. Dad would lose his shit. We would all laugh. Some form of this conversation took place for at least ten straight years. I always wanted T-Bone to bring a paintball gun to his stand so he could tag all of the deer he passed and see how many of them dad would shoot.
The other half of this legendary duo is Uncle Dave. The Deacon. I’ve been saying this for at least 15 years and Dave knows it: He should have his own cooking show. Anyone can cook in a state-of-the-art kitchen with the finest appliances and tools of the trade. I’d like to see Gordon Ramsay take his pompous ass to Florence County and create a culinary masterpiece there like Dave. He can’t. Salmon dinner for a dozen hungry deer hunters in a kitchen with no running water or electricity? Not a problem. A few years ago he loaded the back of his van with tiny gas grills and a burner and made steak, baked potatoes, and asparagus for the entire camp in a motel parking lot.
Just don’t ask him to make trippe and jutt.
Sorry, Dave. You had to know that was coming. One whiff in 30 years and he’s still hearing about it.
There’s a steep ridge on the south side of Ron and Jo’s land. It’s not an easy hike if you want to hunt that part of the land, but those who are willing to ascend are often rewarded. For years that ridge was occupied by Aunt Jo, Dave, and me. It is well documented that Jo has contributed more quality bucks to the deer pole than anyone else in camp over the past 30 years. Dave and I have also reaped the benefits of the south ridge. It was not uncommon for Dave to have his buck on the ground by 7:30 opening morning and be back eating hot soup and entering the meat raffle at the Blacksmith Shop by late-morning.
It should also be noted that both Tom and Dave have fine firearms that are well taken care of. They know rifles and they don’t buy junk. When the shit goes down I’m glad my home is perfectly placed between theirs. I have Dave to the north, Tom to the south, and the Fox River to the west. Unless I’m being attacked by sea, only my east quadrant is vulnerable.
As if they hadn’t already solidified their places in deer hunting lore, in 2010 Tom and Dave gave me perhaps my favorite opening day in 30 years.
Dave was no longer hunting the south ridge with Jo and me. Knee and/or hip issues made the climb difficult and Dave ended up in the nursery with dad. Dad’s stand earned the name “The Nursery” due to his penchant for small deer. Dave was trading antlers for little white spots.
I shall now attempt to tell this story as I understand it. I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard it more than once. Some deer snuck through to the north. Dave didn’t want to shoot, but dad opened fire. He emptied his rifle and missed every shot. He turned to Dave and yelled, “SHOOT!” So, Dave shot…and killed the smallest deer I’ve seen at our deer camp. I remember hearing the shooting from my stand, and it sounded like those poor deer were storming the beach at Normandy. My brother, Andy, was in the stand with me at the time and we thought camp might be under siege. Damn you, Sherrards!
For the record, I’ve always felt Dave was a bit of a victim in this story. He was minding his own business, probably thoroughly enjoying watching dad miss repeatedly. If dad shot this tiny deer, it would’ve just been another in a long list of diminutive deer. Dave’s only real crimes were marksmanship and obeying his brother. However, nobody put a gun to Dave’s head and made him shoot. He could’ve refused. He didn’t.
Seriously, that deer looked like a puppy. The Puppy Killer was born.
Meanwhile, to the north, something more unthinkable took place. T-Bone was in his usual spot on the northeast corner of the land and he saw a deer he actually wanted to shoot. I wish I could see this deer because it had to be a world record. The body of a moose with a 280″ rack. For the first time since the Carter administration Tom raised his rifle with the intention of killing a deer. He squeezed the trigger…nothing. Click. Goodbye, buck. Uncle T-Bone with his immaculate gun collecion and know-how had a malfunction? What??!?!
Uncle Click was born.
For a few amazing seasons we recorded our hunts. Andy wasn’t hunting, he was the videographer. Fortunately 2010 was one of those seasons. At about 11:30 that morning we left the stand to warm our feet, grab a sandwich and some monster cookies from the back of dad’s truck, and head to the nursery to check in. Thankfully, Andy had the camera rolling.
Dave’s deer and story that accompanied it had us laughing so hard Tom could probably hear it from his stand. We hadn’t been there long when Tom showed up to see Dave’s trophy. I can still picture him looking at that pathetic carcass and commenting with disgust. Dave, being a good sport, posed with his kill. He stood triumphantly with one foot on the deer while holding his rifle. If there’s a deer hunting hall of fame, that picture should be in it.
After we returned home from that season Andy and I decided to turn our video of the hunt in to a DVD. It became a Christmas gift for all involved. I was able to edit the footage to about 20 minutes and add some graphics. Andy put his songwriting skills to work. In a matter of weeks he wrote and recorded “The Legend of Uncle Click and the Puppy Killer.” I added the accompanying video.
We debuted our DVD on December 24, 2010, at Grandma’s house in front of our family. I believe it was a hit. Maybe everyone had consumed just the right amount of Grandma’s cherry bounce. Of 40+ memorable Christmas Eves with my family, that ranks as one of my favorites. This song and video truly have a special place in my heart. It will make me smile until the day I die.
I’ve been re-watching the TV show “The Office” recently. I just watched the series finale a few nights ago. Near the end of the episode Andy Bernard (played by Ed Helms) made an observation that struck me hard. He was reminiscing about his years working with the people at Dunder Mifflin and how he never really appreciated it until he was gone. The quote that got me was, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them. Someone should write a song about that.” Andy did. He wrote another song the next year, but I’ll save that one for Legends of Deer Camp: Uncle Rick Edition.
Raise three fingers of Dewar’s and a cannibal sandwich in honor of Tom and Dave. Let’s have another great fall in 2018!