Vacation days are put in at the beginning of each year with anticipation building for the next cup of Grandpa’s “Joe” and maybe a shot at the big one Uncle Scott missed last year. Small towns close school the day before opener and sales for HotHands and propane soar. Gas stations staff up for the big push and supermarket delis are fully stocked to supply the masses. Step outside the eve before opening day and draw a deep breath, the smell of burning log fires infuse the air from chimneys of nearby deer camps around each bend, over the next hill, and across the way.
The crew from Schumacher’s deer camp
Deer camp is more than a “place”, it’s a tradition with generations of history in the making. The story of Uncle Jack shooting a doe from the hip never gets old, that dusty bottle of Peach Schnapps hasn’t moved since he took his last pull. Big John’s triple extra-large orange parka has hugged the same bedpost since the season before his heart attack, no one moves it, and no one complains. A broken aluminum arrow shaft with a two-blade broadhead rests across the rack of small buck Cousin Nick took years ago when tree bark camo looked like tree bark and big bucks meant big bodies.
Submitted by Lucas Karls. The cabin was built from the trees on the property over 30 years ago. Each log was handled 14 times before the project was complete.
Cousin Tommy always shows up early to sweep out the ladybugs and stack the wood stove for heat before the rest of the party arrives. It will be cold beers and highballs over ice while the night is young, and fingertips will trace the property map, pausing over who’s sitting where and rekindle stories of what went down in years past.
Keep Deer Camp Alive
The tradition of Deer Camp has grown roots across much of the upper Midwest, but a tree only grows if it gets water and light is cast upon it. As generations come and go, the legacies they leave behind influence new stories and inherited tradition. If you let the tradition die with the loss of members who carried them, the leaves will fall from the tree and its roots will dry up and wither away.
My Grandpa, Tony Ubl, made the finest corned beef. He’d make a couple roasts before opening weekend, slice them against the grain a quarter-inch thick and serve it cold every opening day after the morning sit. As the family would return to “the shack”, the corned beef would be gone before the air had time to touch it.
Mitch Goeck’s Wisconsin Deer Camp
Tony slipped on a snow-covered log and hurt his shoulder while still-hunting his way back to the shack one morning. The fall reminded him of his age and Tony decided it would be his last weekend of Deer Camp. It wasn’t a decision he let be heard, he just didn’t show up the following year. The corned beef everyone loved so much was sorely missed, but not as much as Tony.
Deer Camp is something to look forward to, it’s something everyone can count on. Friends and family come together for more than the hunt, they do it for the comradery of doing something different than the everyday norm. It’s the stories re-told year after year, moms chili and Grandma’s cookies. It’s the pile of ladybugs swept outside next to the shoe rug, and the stinky outhouse that accounts for more jokes than anyone can keep track of.
We know that Uncle Kenny takes hunting less seriously than the rest of us, but he still comes up and sits opening morning. Dad and the twins always get the back room because they snore so loud, but without the hum keeping everyone up at night it would be too quiet. Henry always has the latest gadgets he likes to show off, and it’s always a conversation to have on the drive into camp – what will Henry bring this time?
Garrett Meilinger’s family deer camp
Encourage the Next Generation
Don’t let Deer Camp become a thing of the past. Introduce your children to Deer Camp and influence them with traditions of your own. Modern-day deer registration has already taken away a cornerstone from the structure Deer Camp was founded upon, where visiting the local registration stations was always a place to see deer taken over the weekend, shake hands, and tell stories. Keyboard cowboys have taken their toll on the principles of hunting, creating a false perception of standards for what is worthy and what isn’t – hunting and competition have no relevance. As a hunting community, I hope we can resuscitate traditional Deer Camp and introduce future generations to these topics we continue to write about.
Long live Deer Camp!
Nathaniel Melton’s family deer camp
Vintage Deer Camp Photos: A Blast From the Past
Hamm Camp, Loretta, WI
The women of the Hamm Camp, Loretta, WI