OULU — Jake Magdzas is having one of those crazy busy times in life when work and home and fun all seem to jumble up.
This weekend he’s been extra busy in his job as ice manager at Amsoil Arena, what with the UMD men's and women's hockey teams both playing Friday and Saturday games on their home rink.
On Wednesday he closes on his first home. Then, after Thanksgiving, the Bulldog men are home again for a weekend series.
And sandwiched in-between there’s Wisconsin’s nine-day firearms deer hunting season, which started Saturday.
“I’m going to be doing a lot of driving between town and deer camp this week,’’ said Magdzas, of Superior.
On Friday night he scurried out of the arena in Duluth at 9:28 and was at camp in northwestern Bayfield County by 10:17 p.m. There was simply no way Magdzas (pronounced Madgess) wasn’t going to be among the half-million or so hunters in the woods and fields Saturday morning as the annual transition from Dairy State to Deer State took place.
“It’s the deer opener. It’s kind of like Christmas morning, only better,’’ he said just before heading out to his deer stand. “It only comes once a year.”
Clear but not too cold
A fresh coating of snow — about 6 inches fell here early Thursday — greeted the Magdzas deer camp, making it seem like full-bore winter in the woods. It was a crystal-clear early morning Saturday with a crescent moon shining. But temperatures were mild, in the mid-20s to start the season and rising well into the 30s by afternoon when the sun got higher.
Jake was joined Saturday by his dad, Doug Magdzas, of Superior; his uncle Darrell Magdzas of Superior; his other uncle Daryl, Daryl Jensen of Amery, Wis.; uncle Joe Pajac of Grantsburg, Wis.; and cousin Drew Magdzas of Superior.
The camp hunts on 80 acres that Jake’s grandpa Pete Jensen bought back in the '70s, where a dated but cozy trailer house serves as the deer shack. (Pete, 91, is in Arizona.) Daryl Jensen also owns another 80 acres a few miles away, giving the guys enough room to spread out, and there’s plenty of state land around, too.
“There are some pretty nice bucks around that we’ve seen on our (trail) cameras,’’ Doug Magdzas said.
They call it the EFRON Hunting Camp, formed in 2003 (not long after the ENRON scandal) after they had a falling out with a guy named Ron at another deer camp. EFRON is emblazoned on their hats and sweatshirts. Let’s just say Ron is not their favorite person and leave it at that.
Since then they have added electricity to grandpa's old mobile home, built some nice deer stands and shot quite a few bucks.
“It’s home for a week,’’ Darrell Magdzas said of the hunting shack.
“The first year we hunted up here all five of us shot bucks by Tuesday and were filled out,’’ Doug noted. “That doesn’t happen every year. But we do pretty well.”
That includes Doug’s 10-pointer that came about eight seasons ago. Since then the camp has had a wager, everyone kicks in $10 each year, with the next 10-pointer taking the pot.
“Nobody’s got a 10 since then,’’ Darrell Magdzas said. “The pot’s over $500 now.”
Pajac was hoping to get his deer early in the season. On Tuesday he heads into the hospital for some heart surgery.
“That’s how tough this camp is,’’ Jake said with a laugh.
Most of the guys in this camp shoot .270’s. Jake up-sized to a .300 Winchester short mag a few years ago. On Saturday Doug carried his grandfather’s .44-40 Winchester Model 1894, a trusty lever action with an octagon barrel and much of the bluing now worn to silver.
“I’ve shot a lot of deer with grandpa’s old gun,’’ Doug said. “It’s pretty accurate out to 50 or 100 yards.”
Enthusiasm and optimism abound for most hunters on opening morning, and the Magdzas camp was no different. These guys want to shoot deer. But they also don’t fret if they don’t.
“It’s as much the camp, the camaraderie, getting everyone together, as it is the deer,’’ Jake said. “You want to shoot a buck, sure. But, for us, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t.”
Early success: backstraps for brunch
Drew Magdzas was the first in the group to score and was hanging his six-point buck on the camp meat pole by 9:30 a.m. He was hunting on some state land about two miles from camp, up in a tree on a climbing stand, when he noticed the buck walking through some pine trees.
“I got down out of the stand to try to cut him off. I happened to look over and there he was 30 yards away,’’ Drew said.
The buck was eating acorns, Drew said, of which there was a bumper crop this year in this area. The buck either didn’t see or didn’t mind Magdzas, even after he had to eject three cartridges from his malfunctioning semi-auto rifle. He even had time to put another shell in the clip and reload, finally getting the fourth cartridge to fire.
“He apparently wanted to die,’’ Drew said of the deer. “Probably the dumbest buck ever. But he’ll taste good.”
Indeed he did. By 10:30 Doug Magdzas was back in camp (he hadn't seen any deer from his ground blind) frying up fresh venison tenderloins, the backstraps from Drew's deer, along with eggs and sausage.
"Hamburgers and brats tonight. Venison chili tomorrow night ... we eat pretty well,'' Doug said.
Back to work
Jake Magdzas helped his cousin drag the buck out of the woods and hang it up. He had just made a fresh pot of coffee and was sitting on the camp couch when he realized he needed to get back to town and to work. He’d only been in his deer stand a few hours on opening day. But it was worth it, even if he only saw jays, crows and squirrels and no deer.
“Two games again today. I need to be back at the arena by noon,” Jake said as he traded his blaze orange for street clothes.
But there was no doubt that he’d be back in camp within an hour of the last game ending.
“I’ll be back in the stand Sunday morning. And I have all day Monday,’’ Jake said. “There’s still time. I’ll get one.”