My 2008 Wisconsin gun whitetail deer hunting season started off well with a relaxing 3 hour drive up to deer camp in the Moose Lake area of the north woods. My brother Brent and I got off work at noon in order to have a more relaxed, traffic jam free drive up to our destination of Louie’s Landing. We have been renting a small cabin at Louie’s for a number of years now and it works well as we’re just minutes from the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest where we hunt. This year’s camp featured 7 hunters consisting of my Grandpa Mathison, Dad, Brent, my Dad’s friend Dan, his son Joe, my uncle Orv and me. Using beds, cots, air mattresses and futons we all fit in a 2 bedroom 1 bath cabin. The last few years my dad has been required to work the week of deer hunting season, so he and grandpa had to head back to Eau Claire on Sunday night, leaving the remaining 5 of us to hunt until Tuesday. And hunt we did! Each morning we woke up around 4:30, made a breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage and headed to the woods around 6 a.m., well before daylight, in order to sneak into our hunting spot in time for the spectacular north woods sunrise. We hunted all day, sometimes taking the truck and switching spots around noon in search of a better spot. In this respect, hunting is like fishing; if the fish aren’t biting, try a new spot!
Even though we hunted from dawn until dusk, I didn’t see one deer the whole opening weekend (Saturday thru Tuesday). Brent, who I hunted closely with most of the time, had similar bad luck. My dad was a bit luckier, shooting his first deer in years, a nubbin (yearling) buck at about 9 a.m. Saturday (the opening day). Dan and Joe hunted near each other and each saw multiple deer on the weekend, but only Dan was able to harvest any, getting two doe on Sunday from his ‘normal’ spot which has been very productive (and a well guarded secret) over the years. The rest of the group was skunked for most of the first 4 days.
The evenings at deer camp this year were filled with stories from years past as well as theories on why the number of deer in the woods might be down this year. In between the deer talk, we managed to spend the first two nights with a deer camp ritual: nickel and dime poker. This probably isn’t the most exciting poker game played in deer camps in Wisconsin, but it allows everyone to play and have fun without losing their allowance for the week. We let the dealer call the game, with popular variations such as 5 card draw, 7 card stud, 5 card draw with a pair of jacks needed to open the betting and 3 of a kind to win (‘jacks to open, trips to win’), and the staple of the Mathison deer camp: Baseball (in the rain), a very exciting version of 7 card stud with 2 wild cards (3,9), a bonus hole card (if you draw a 4) and the possibility of rain (a Queen of spades drawn as an ‘up’ card). If it rains, you must throw you cards in and the game is re-dealt and the pot rolls over to the subsequent game of baseball. The real excitement comes when it rains multiple times (it rained 3 times once this year) and the pot builds!
Another tradition of deer camp is the annual visit to the casino (sense a theme?) In the past there has always been someone who has been left behind since the age limit at casinos in Wisconsin is 21. This year, the youngest member of the group (Joe) was finally 21, so everyone was eligible for the casino trip. Sunday night after Dad and Grandpa had left, Orv, Brent, Joe and I made the trip to the casino (Dan was spent from shooting two deer that day and opted to stay back at the cabin go to bed early). I believe Orv and Brent finished down a couple bucks and Joe and I finished up about $10 each playing blackjack for a couple hours. Not great, but still better than coming back down!
The final evening was spent watching the Packers on Monday Night Football at the bar at Louie’s Landing. I won’t say too much about that, except for the fact that we went home to back to the cabin and to bed at the end of the 3rd quarter, and not because the Packers were winning 😦
All in all it was a fun weekend in the northern Wisconsin wilderness, even though I wasn’t successful at harvesting a deer in the first 4 days of hunting. Tuesday night Brent and I drove back to the Twin Cities to do a little work and get ready for the Thanksgiving holiday, during which we took a short break from hunting.
After an enjoyable Thanksgiving, we were back in the woods south east of Eau Claire near Fairchild, WI on Friday to continue the quest for a deer. Brent and I slept in a bit and met Orv, Dan and Joe in the woods at our usual spot near the pipeline off of County Highway I. Within 10 minutes of entering the woods, I spotted my first deer of the season, but it was traveling quickly and I wasn’t able to get my scope on it before it disappeared into the short pine trees. Later in the day I had some more action, jumping a deer as I walked through the swamp. Unfortunately the swamp was so thick, the deer was out of sight before I could get my gun up. But at least I was seeing some deer!
Sadly, although we hunted the rest of the weekend until about 2 on Sunday, I didn’t see another deer and have to chalk this year up as an unsuccessful hunt for me. I think I’ll blame my shiny new equipment for my lack of success. The new tree stand worked well, and my boots were very comfortable and kept my feet dry the whole weekend. I can’t say they kept them warm though, but I think I’m just destined to having cold feet while hunting, as no boot seems to do the trick. From what I’ve read though, I’m not the only unsuccessful hunter this year, as the initial deer kill in Wisconsin appears to be down about 20% overall and even more in the northern regions of the state.
It was a fun week of hunting and seeing family and friends, and even though I got shutout in the deer department, it gives me more motivation to look forward to next year. The 2009 Wisconsin whitetail deer hunt can’t come soon enough!