If you’ve been following my writing for a while, what you’re about to read won’t surprise you. If you’ve just started following the blog in the past six months since I’ve been writing about Prince every day, this post might surprise you. When I started my writing hobby I focused on two things: NBA basketball and deer hunting. I’ve expanded to include music and the occasional political rant. Every autumn I find myself back in a duck skiff on the Ahnapee River or a deer stand in Polk County thinking about trophy bucks and greenheads, but even more about the camaraderie and good times.
With 27 days until the Wisconsin firearm deer hunting season opener and approximately 24 days, 8 hours, and 10 minutes until the F-150 travels northwest for deer camp, let’s get caught up. In late-July of 2019 a derecho ripped through northwest Wisconsin and left my Uncle Ron and Aunt Jo’s 280 acres of wooded heaven in shambles. Much of the land that they have owned for over 30 years – and I have had the opportunity and privilege to hunt for over 20 years – was unrecognizable. In the fall of 2019 loggers entered the property and started clearing out trees. By deer camp sections of the northern third of the land looked like the surface of the moon. Land that had been covered in trees was nothing but sunshine and tree stumps. The southern end of the land where I hunt was untouched by loggers, but still transformed by wind. I was sitting in the same spot I’ve occupied for 20 years, but the surroundings were completely different.
In early-2020 loggers finished the job they started in 2019. They left much of the southern half looking as barren as the northern half. There are still trees as you can see in the picture above, but I won’t have to worry about shooting lanes this year. My Ron, Jo, and my Uncle Dan sent pictures of the results. I couldn’t wait to see it, but I also know that summertime in the woods means heat, humidity, and billions of mosquitoes. My homie Tyson and I held off as long as we could. In August we succumbed and made our first trip to the hunting land of 2020.
In hindsight, our August trip was just a dumb idea. Two 44-year-olds with the patience and giddiness of children and absolutely zero reason to drive nine hours. I should add that Ty and I hadn’t seen each other in several months thanks to Covid. We hadn’t been that excited for something together since…well, probably every deer hunting season since 1995. We left at 4:00 AM and met at our traditional Bonduel Kwik Trip. It was a bad omen when I was filling my Yeti with Diet Dew and suddenly KT was crawling with dudes in high vis sweatshirts taking literally all of the breakfast sandwiches. How am I supposed to drive for all of those hours without my sausage, egg, and cheese croissant? Bastards. It might seem like there are two Kwik Trips at every exit ramp in Wisconsin, but Highway 29 has surprisingly few KTs between Green Bay and Wausau. If they could put one in Wittenberg or even one closer to the highway in Shawano it would be much appreciated.
We arrived at the hunting land around 9:00. It was 85 degrees and humid that day. Did I mention the bugs? Mosquitoes and gnats so thick we were brushing them from our faces like Terence Mann. To avoid the bugs and ticks as thoroughly as possible we dressed in heavy pants, sweatshirts, boots, facemasks, and bucket hats. We drenched ourselves in deet. We had a Thermacell putting in a yeoman’s effort repelling insects. We walked to my stand, checked the trail cam, and got the hell out. We drove to the north end of the land to hang Tyson’s camera and that’s when things got dicey.
The main logging road that covers the north end of the land is called the “Turnaround Road.” The Turnaround Road runs east/west for a few hundred yards and in mid-November it’s clear and wide enough that you can drive a truck on it. In August it’s like the Amazon jungle. Thorny weeds and growth above eye level in many places. A piece of forest I can usually navigate with my eyes closed became disorienting and confusing, exacerbated by the heat and bugs. We somehow found Tyson’s stand and hung his trail camera, but the hike back to the truck was anything but pleasant. The hot pink marking tape Tyson uses to find his stand on dark November mornings couldn’t be seen in mid-August. Tyson’s choice of lightweight pants proved unwise as his legs were being sliced like provolone at Subway by the prickly bushes. Morale was at an all-time low. We were irritable, sweaty, and lost…or at least as lost as you can be while navigating familiar land with GPS in your pocket. I’m proud to say we spotted familiar landmarks and worked our way back to the truck without the aid of a mobile device. I’m not some hardcore survivalist, but I like to think I have some outdoor skills. How sad would it have been if we needed help getting out of the woods?
When we arrived at the truck we changed in to shorts and t-shirts and Tyson’s legs were covered in a nasty, bumpy rash. He also removed his sunglasses to reveal an eye that was deep red and swollen. We quickly retreated to CVS in Barron for a selection of remedies including Blue Star Ointment.
Tyson’s skin malady subsided as well as any jock itch, ringworm, psoriasis, and tetter he might’ve had. Seriously, I don’t ask for much in life, but one thing I’d like is for this blog to be sponsored by Kwik Trip and Blue Star Ointment. I don’t want their money. They can pay me in breakfast sandwiches, fountain beverages, and ointment. I’ll get back to the story, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t seize the opportunity to say this: Blue Star Ointment…ASK FOR IT!
Every time we make a trip to the woods in the summer we swear we’re never going to do it again. Aside from enjoying the ride together – mostly a lot of catching up and listening to early-90’s west coast gangster shit – it really is a miserable experience when we’re in the woods. We vowed to delay our next trip until the weather cooled and the leaves were off of the trees. That trip happened two days ago, on October 23.
What a difference two months makes. This time it was 33 degrees at 4:00 AM when I put the dog in the truck. When we reached the 29/53 interchange in Chippewa Falls it was starting to snow. I have a lot of friends and family who have fled Wisconsin for warmer climate. I understand, but I also don’t. Wisconsin winter is all I know. Yes, it’s difficult to tolerate in January and February when you can go weeks without temperatures getting above 20. Between now and December 31 I love winter weather. Snow before the holiday season is fun. Snow after the holiday season is a nuisance. Friday ended up becoming one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever had in the woods.
A thin layer of fresh snow blanketed the woods. It was the perfect kind of wet snow that stuck to the tree branches. The wind was nearly nonexistent, so the flakes floated slowly toward the ground. The temperature made it comfortable to walk in jeans, boots, sweatshirt, and hat. It felt like a winter wonderland in the middle of October. I can think of few times the woods have felt so magical. We were joined by Uncle Dan (a.k.a. The King) and we hiked the woods while checking trail cams and stands for 3-4 hours.
In hindsight, there was something positive to come from our August trip after all. The camera Tyson hung two months ago had 800+ pictures, including a few impressive bucks. It also had the bottom half torn apart by a bear, but was somehow still working. Ty might be camera shopping between now and the 2021 season. I’ve been making these day trips to the hunting land for over ten years now, usually with Tyson, and people look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them that we wake up at 3:30 AM and drive 9-10 hours in one day so we can spend 3-4 hours in the woods. They don’t get it and that’s their loss. I’d do it every weekend if I could.
Here’s what I have in store for the next four weeks leading up to Deer Camp 2020. I’m definitely going to write about my waterfowl hunting this year. My buddy Hoot and I took our sons hunting near Horicon Marsh in September at the same place our dads took us 30 years ago. Hoot and his son, Drew, have been shooting the hell out of ducks on the Ahnapee this month. I’ve been out a few times, but Hoot has been a far more dedicated duck hunter than I and it’s paid off for him. I also have some fun from 2019 that I saved and plan to roll out gradually over the course of the next month. We’ll have the third annual installment of my hand written deer hunting journal from last year. I haven’t looked at it since I wrote it, so that is always enlightening. I have something that The King wrote about dad last year for me to post on the blog that I have left sealed. He gave it to me at deer camp last year and I couldn’t bring myself to open it because it was the first year of deer hunting without dad. I will post that in the coming weeks.
I also have something very special that I’m going to post in multiple parts. Last year Tyson and I were working on a blog post on my iPhone in the deer stand on opening day called “Random Thoughts From the Stand.” We never got around to posting it. However, we read it together recently and couldn’t stop laughing at it. All of the strange conversations that take place over the course of a day in the woods were documented and, honestly, you’re going to think we were drunk and/or high when we came up with this stuff. My brother, Andy, and I call it “woods madness.” After a few hours out in the cold if the deer aren’t moving you start to lose your mind. Tyson and I documented our thoughts during last year’s opening day woods madness, and I’m glad we did. I plan on revealing some of our deepest thoughts and innovative ideas.
I also hope to have the annual posts from guest writers like Andy and Tyson and possibly a few others. I’m kicking around a podcast idea as well and it would likely involve those two. We’ll see if the portable podcast studio I purchased from Kickstarter over the summer arrives in time for hunting season.
With that I bid you adieu for the night. Covid has taken a lot from us in 2020, but I find solace in the fact that it hasn’t taken away our ability to enjoy the outdoors. I plan on doing a lot of that in the next month. I hope you’ll join me.