POTAMO TOWNSHIP, Minn. — “Second marriages,” I heard a pastor say once, “Are a triumph of hope over experience.” Those words were spoken in 1992 at a small church in Waseca, Minn., as my paternal grandfather got remarried a few years after my grandmother had lost her battle with cancer.
Roy “Red” Myers was a fixture at our deer camp in Lake of the Woods County nearly every year from the mid-1970s until he died in 2008, a few days shy of his 95th birthday. He was our camp chef until he handed off the reins to a grandson with a propensity for writing. The last buck he dropped with a single shot from his Winchester 351 is still one of the legendary trophies from our family’s decades of hunting across four generations.
Memories of hunting partners like him are seemingly always in mind when one visits the deer camp at any time of year. Such was the case on a recent cool but pleasant weekend in September, during two days of prepping for the coming rifle season.
Based on the results of recent years, where hearing the not-distant-enough wail of the timberwolf is as common or more than the sight of a deer while hunting, preparing for deer season is, like a second marriage, a triumph of hope over experience.
In the more successful deer seasons of the past, when our party of between eight and 10 family members and friends has had close to perfect opening days, the biggest challenge has been finding places in the shed to hang all the tagged deer. In the 39 previous seasons that I have found my way to a spot in the woods south of Williams, Minn., the success rate has varied wildly. Factors like tough winters, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources management policies, a new power line constructed within sight of our camp (and the disruption to wildlife movement caused by the months of cutting and construction), a massive miles-long fence put up by a now-deceased neighbor and the “successful” growth of the wolf population in the region can all contribute to a dearth of deer in this particular area come the opening weekend of November.
Still, to paraphrase non-deer hunter Benjamin Franklin, if one fails to prepare, they are preparing to fail. Hence two sunny early fall days at deer camp spent on myriad simple but enjoyable tasks. Among them: cutting down a few dead trees and testing the bonfire pit, to make sure it is ready to go come the chilly nights of November; clearing brush from around deer stands; checking the sturdiness of ladders and replacing boards as necessary; cleaning a mouse nest out of the heater in one deer stand and getting rid of a basketball-sized hornet nest near the deer camp; mowing the yard and trails; and sighting in rifles for accuracy from both 100 yards and 50 yards.
With enclosed stands to ward off the cold of early winter mornings in the 218, mice are seemingly always an issue, making nests in the small spaces, and filling them with grass, foam, shreds of carpet and whatever else is readily available. The mice live there year-round, and we just visit for a few weekends in November. Still, one cleans out the mess and hopes that they cannot or will not re-establish a new home in the next six weeks.
Then, tired but happy, you drive away and lock the gate, knowing you’ve done all you can, and the rest is in the hands of whatever deity governs the movement of whitetails. Despite the experience of a few disappointing deer seasons in a row, there remains hope for better luck on the 2020 opening morning.