Nov 10, 2014

Deer Camp– It's More Than The Harvest

By: Lee Haasch

It seems like it was just last year that I spent countless, sleepless nights thinking about my first hunting season up in Florence County at deer camp.  Sure, I had been to the camp before, going up in September and October with my dad to help get camp ready and do a little “scouting” and bird hunting.  Like any teenager, the anticipation for the first time to be invited to join the “hunting gang” was almost too much to imagine.  Dreams of shooting that 12 point buck were almost too real.  I guess the real anticipation was my dad.  My father was the kind of father that was always doing everything for his family.  He was always turning everyday chores into learning experiences for my brothers and me.  Taught us how to fix things and devoted all his free time to us.  Cub master, scouting, family camping trips, outings to friends cabins, attended all our sporting events, well you know, he was all about family.  There was only one thing that he did for himself – deer camp!  When I was younger, we would eagerly wait for dad to come home and share a few “deer stories”.  Well, now it was finally my turn to join him at camp.

There is something special about deer camp.  In our situation, we have a hunting camp, Woodside Sportsmen that is much like a hunting club.  The Woodside camp is owned by the hunting members and there is really one time of the year that we all come together at camp and that is for the Wisconsin gun deer season.  Throughout the year different members go up and use the cabin, but the “special time” is deer season when we are all together for “the hunt”.  Imagine 8 hunters all from different occupations and different locations coming together to share a common bond.  Some are related, but most not, friendship through hunting bringing us all to Woodside camp for a week of “roughing it”.  Not too rough though, this 3 bedroom cabin has slept up to 12 in past seasons, now at 8, we enjoy some of the luxuries of home, satellite TV (we have to watch the Packer game don’t we?), large brick fireplace with a fire going all the time and pretty nice kitchen, where some pretty big, from scratch, meals are created every day.  And of course a huge dining table, that at times, had up to 12 hunters sharing an evening meal.

My early years were great memories of the old-timers that actually founded the Woodside Camp.  The legacy of Woodside Sportsmen started with a group of men from the Algoma area that travel up to northern Wisconsin in the 40’s to hunt deer.  In the early years they tented in the woods in large army tents and some stayed at other friends cabins.  In the mid 50’s the Woodside Sportsmen built a cabin on the edge of the woods to have a permanent place.  Since I started in the early 70’s, I have always cherished hunting season as a time to bond with a group of hunters who shared the same passion, to be in the woods deer hunting.  For me the added bond was spending time at camp with my dad.  It felt special. 

Stories were probably my favorite and most memorable time at camp.  Imagine 10-12 guys sitting at the dining table, during and especially after the evening meal everyone would listen intently to someone’s tale of a special event.   Every story had a colorful rendition of how that event happened and captivated everyone’s attention around the table.  Now I’m sure that every part of each story was entirely true, well, at least most parts were, but none the less they were interesting and boy, a few of those old timers could sure tell colorful tales!  Whether it was about events that happened years ago at home,  old baseball stories or even some war-time stories about times spent in France or other far-away places,  we never seemed to grow tired of hearing them, some many times over the years.   We were never without actual deer hunting stories either.  I especially liked hearing about how hunting was in Florence County in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  I always enjoy hearing just how different it was back then without Thinsolate, Gortex and Under-Armor, not to mention open sights on shotguns and rifles and, no field glasses.  That era had its own trophy management as many spike and small racked bucks were often let go as does.

Current stories are also eagerly welcomed every time we gather.  Our camp has a tradition of hunting pretty hard every day.  We leave the cabin in the dark and return in the dark.  We drive about 5 -6 miles on logging roads and logging spurs back into the timber and spread out into our own areas to hunt.  At lunch time, we gather at the same spot every day and have a small charcoal fire and cook wieners and share our deer sightings.  If someone shoots a deer, we radio each other and help track, and drag the deer out for each other.  The hunter who shoots a buck gets bragging rights and gets to tell his story of the event over and over until the next hunter scores.  A few more details seem to come out each time the story is told.

It was always great to see how the older hunters interacted with the younger hunters.  The younger ones seemed in awe of the older hunters stories and adventures and the older hunters listened and enjoyed the younger hunter’s stories, with a smile and a twinkle in their eye, almost as if they remembered being there themselves, back in the day.  Times like this reminded me of what Norman Rockwell must have experienced to inspire some of his paintings.

A new era and very special time happened for me several years ago when my son, Tyler, was able to join us at deer camp.  There were now three generations of Haasch’s at the cabin and it gave me an even more important meaning to deer camp.  I now could understand what it was like for my dad to share that first time at deep camp with me.  I now get that special time with my son and with my father and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.  I remember the very first year that I brought Tyler up north during the season.  He was too young to hunt and I was coming back up for the second half of the season.  I got him out of school and he rode up with me to spend the day and then go back home that evening with his grandpa.  Well my dad had shot two bucks from the same stand on opening weekend within ½ hour each other, each buck coming from a different direction.  I will never forget Tyler and my dad sitting together in that stand, grandpa pointing and showing his grandson exactly where each buck came from and how he shot them.  Norman Rockwell could have painted that moment for sure, wait, I think he did!   Two seasons ago, my son shot his first buck on opening day, a small forked buck.  He has had a couple opportunities through the years and for one reason or another, the bucks eluded him.  Not only did he shoot his first, that year, but he followed the second day with a nice 8-pointer to make it his first “double buck” season.  Hearing Tyler get to tell his stories made my season all the more special.

Do we shoot deer at our camp?  Sure we do, and over the years some dandy’s too!  We’ve had some tough years and we’ve had some terrific years as scoring venison goes.  But over the years, it’s not the harvesting that keeps me coming back to the Woodside Sportsman’s Camp, it’s the camaraderie, the stories and the special moments that are forever etched in my heart that keep me coming back year after year.  In my opinion it’s not about the harvest or the cabin building itself, it’s what’s inside, the great bunch of guys that make that deer camp something special. This year I’m hoping for another double, I want to see my dad (grandpa) and my son both score.  And who knows, maybe I will too.  But I know one thing; there will be lots of good food and plenty of good stories to make 2014 another special year!   From all of our gang at the Woodside Sportsmen’s Camp in Florence Wisconsin, have a safe and special hunt this season!