Memories spring to life at deer camps

The sign on the gate read "PRIVATE PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING," so I heeded its message. But I stood at the gate for a while in the thin October light and looked the place over.

The sign on the gate read "PRIVATE PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING," so I heeded its message. But I stood at the gate for a while in the thin October light and looked the place over.

It was a classic Minnesota deer camp. The little clearing off Three Lakes Road north of Duluth was fringed by old spruce and mature birch. The grass was neatly trimmed.

Up a slight rise sat the shack. This was the new place, clearly built by guys who knew something about construction. The corners were square. The roof was metal. A concrete apron ran smooth and level along the length of the building.

The place was probably even mouse-proof.

As new as it was, it looked a part of the woods. The exterior was stained a dark brown. The roof was forest green. An old outhouse stood in a dense clump of spruces out front. Handy, but offering a sense of privacy.


Down the hill stood a building that must have been the original shack. It slumped into the hillside, and its rolled roofing was patched in a couple of places.

The old building may still serve as an overflow bunkhouse these days. Or maybe it was left standing to remind the young hunters how good they have it now.

Anticipation in the air

I love coming upon these deer shacks in the woods, especially in the days just before deer season. They seem to convey an air of expectancy.

It seemed clear that the people who will hunt here had been up recently. They would have come to do all the pre-season chores --sweeping the shack, inspecting tree stands, hauling propane for the grill, putting up a new stand or two, stacking wood, clearing deadfalls.

It's delicious work, and every deer hunter knows it.

Now the shack sat in silence, waiting. But the mood here will change dramatically in a few days. On Friday night, the eve of the opener, the hunters will descend on their little hideaway in the woods. The gate, now closed and locked, will be swung wide open. In ones and twos, the hunters will arrive, some with four-wheelers snugged in pickup beds.

They'll unload bulging duffels and uncase reliable rifles. They'll be bearing boxes of food and jugs of water and perhaps other forms of liquid refreshment.


First things first. The gas lamps will hiss to life. Someone will fire up the woodstove. Someone else will start warming supper on the oven. Someone will put out a plate of crackers and venison sticks.

Now we're talking.

Gradually, the decibel level will rise. Uncle Dean will be touting the new scope he got for his rifle. Everyone will chide cousin Timmy about the buck he missed last year.

But much of the chatter will have nothing to do with hunting. It'll be about family and who's home from college and how the hockey team will do and how the new job is going. That's part of what makes deer camp so good. There's plenty of time to get caught up when all you have to think about is what's for supper and which stand you'll hunt from in the morning.

Stepping away

Sometime later in the evening - but not too late - the old man in camp will step out into the night. The scent of woodsmoke will be in the air. He'll stand there alone, listening to the happy banter from inside, noting the way the glow from the windows spills out into the dark. He'll check for stars and note the direction of the wind.

The old man will imagine the coming morning, like so many openers he has seen here before. He'll think about what it means to those inside - his own kids, and now their kids coming up. He knows the anticipation they're feeling for the coming day and the season ahead. He knows because he once felt just that way himself. He still does, to a degree, though the edges are all a little softer now.

He wouldn't need to kill a deer. He might, if the chance arose. But he doesn't have the trigger itch he once did. He would just as soon see one of the youngsters have an opportunity.


He wonders, too, how many more seasons he'll have here. He remembers his own dad and uncles, all gone now. He can't come here without them on his mind. Still misses them, he does.

The old man cannot quite imagine this place not being part of his November. So, he puts that thought away quickly. There must be something he needs to do. Maybe grab a few more pieces of firewood to take inside, some kindling for morning.

He grabs a load under one arm and opens the door. The light and the laughter and the love come wrapping around him.

"Here, let me get that," someone says, taking the armload of wood.

That's how it will be in a few days, up at deer camp on Three Lakes Road.

Sam Cook is a Duluth News Tribune outdoors writer and columnist. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or . Follow him on Twitter at ""

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