2020 Deer Season On the Horizon
Beginning in July 2020, I became a regular contributor to Wisconsin Outdoor News (WON) in "From The Little Cabin In The Woods" column.
This article was published in the WON November 13, 2020, issue.
I married into a deer hunting family. Stan’s family farmed in Lawrence, Michigan. Do not get me wrong, there were hardly any deer in lower Michigan in the 50’s and 60’s. I grew up in southeast Michigan and saw exactly one deer in my youth. Things were not much better on the other side of the state. The deer were all “up north.” The Thomas clan, like many folks from Lawrence, headed north for the Michigan deer season. It always begins on the 15th of November and runs through the 30th. And, I am talking about the gun deer season, because traditionally, is there really any other?
When I married Stan and moved to the farm, our social life centered on family. Not a week would go by that we would not have a meal with relatives. When those meals included Stan’s parents or Aunt Marie and Uncle Rog, the talk afterwards, over coffee and dessert focused on farming, horses, or deer hunting. As the day length shortened and the preparations for deer season intensified, the talk was more and more about the hunt. I was in awe of these stories. The Upper Peninsula seemed like such a wild place. The stories of the deer camps seemed so “Outdoor Life” or “Field and Stream”. In general, only the men went, although my mother-in-law, Anita Thomas went once when dad and Uncle Rog took her and Aunt Marie. There is a wonderful family photo of those two beautiful women outside a wall tent in the Ford River State Forest in Dickenson County, Michigan. Stan took me in 1974, the second fall that we were married.
Here at the little cabin in the woods, 46 seasons later (and I have not missed one), the run up to deer season lasts most of the year. When the gun season is over, we monitor our trail cams to see which bucks are still around. Later as spring begins, I start to ask if our farmer is secure for the planting season. We “lease” our two 13-acre dryland fields at no cost to the farmer so that there are crops for the farmer and the wildlife. We manage our forests, like most Wisconsin non-industrial forest owners for the same goal.
This past summer, we had to install a new meat pole. The last one was a casualty of the big storm I mentioned in my first article. Stan had a new deer stand/she shed built for me this year to replace the previous one that had fallen prey to mold, moths, and mice. This is a story for another day. This past weekend, we sighted in our rifles, something we like to do before the weather gets too bad.
Two weeks ago, I smoked a brisket so I could make brisket chili for deer season. That chili is in the freezer. In a few weeks, I will do a deep fall cleaning of the cabin in preparation for Shannon and Dan arriving the night before season. The day before season, I will bake oatmeal cookies with raisons, walnuts, and chocolate chips, because Dan loves them for deer season.
Back in the Depression and WWII years, getting to the Upper (as we say in the Lower) was a logistical feat that likely only started as the harvest of crops was completed. Neither the roads nor the vehicles were that great. They generally tried to get to the “big woods” a couple of days before the 15th so that they had time to set up camp and scout. The hunters had to take everything they would need to live in the woods until they broke camp so that they could be home for Thanksgiving. The women in the family sent along dinner rolls, bread, and pies to last more than a week. A ham was generally packed because you could slice and fry it easily in camp.
The preparations for my first hunt involved the purchase of a used Marlin 336C in .35 Remington, learning to shoot that rifle, the purchase of Eddie Bauer down sleeping bags, and acquisition of hunting clothes. It also involved outfitting the cap on the back of the pickup for camping (also a story for another day). It was an important part of a journey to becoming an outdoorswoman. It was the start of something that would become part of my being.
This last Saturday night, as Stan and I enjoyed a Jack Daniels on the rocks in front of our wood stove at the little cabin, I asked a few questions about those old days. When I went on my first deer hunt, we drove across “The Bridge.” Michiganders refer to the Mackinac Bridge in that way, as if there were no other bridges in Michigan.
“So, how did your dad get to Iron Mountain in the days before the Bridge,” I asked.
“He drove to the Straits and took the ferry across,” he answered. “Sometimes the wait to get across the bridge was really long. And the weather could sure be a factor that time of year. Of course, some of the other guys (there were several groups of Lawrence men who hunted in the same general area) went through Chicago. They told stories about pulling trailers that were not wired for lights. They left home in the evening after chores, lit the trailer lantern around Michigan City, Indiana and put it out somewhere around Milwaukee.”
One of my favorite tales from the old days was of the neighbor who came home with a Chicago wife at the close of deer season. This is a true story. That likely got the tongues wagging in a small place like Lawrence.
As the fire died down, my thoughts drifted to the many experiences I have had in 46 years of the hunt. The adventure, the excitement, the wildlife experiences, the different places we have been, have all contributed to the woman I am. The people were so important as well. The friends and family and colleagues added so much to the fun of it. This time of year, the stories add to the anticipation. This year, I am missing that. I miss seeing my friends and colleagues and discussing our prospects and plans. You are likely missing that as well.
Likely you are reading this the week before the gun hunt. My wish for you is that you are safe, that you have fun and that you come away with a story to tell.