Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson
For November 12th, 2010 Edition.
As Wisconsin inches towards its annual gun deer season veteran and rookie hunters alike are gearing up for the hunt. However I hear an increasing vocalization by a number of deer hunters that they are going to bypass the season in protest of the way our northern deer herd had been managed. Like many things in life this situation is not new and I have lived long enough to see the pattern repeated. History teaches us, (for those that spend time studying history) “If we don’t learn from our mistakes we are doomed to repeat them.”
I took part in my first deer hunt in 1946 when I was nine. As an unarmed tag-along I followed dad through the snowy forest on several deer drives and watched in awe as he downed a magnificent eight point buck with one shot from his old .30-30 Winchester model 94 while the buck was running in overdrive. At that moment I became a deer hunter, at least in spirit.
During my early formative years the northern deer herd was in excellent shape. In fact, the only region in Wisconsin that actually had a “deer herd’ was the northern section, roughly the area north of Wausau. Those who wished to hunt deer generally loaded their vehicles with deer hunting stuff and headed north for what then was a seven day season and bucks only!
Wolves still roamed the woods but their numbers were steadily dwindling due to trapping and the fact most hunters shot them when the opportunity presented itself. Some counties were still paying a bounty for dead wolves. So, unlike our present situation concerning the effect of wolves on the deer population, wolves were a minor factor in herd management.
In 1943 the Wisconsin Conservation Department, forerunner of our current DNR, tried an experiment to “reduce an overpopulated deer herd.” We had our first “anything brown is down” season. It was a monumental slaughter. The Anderson-Jorgensen Deer Camp housed fifteen hunters and fourteen of them had a deer suspended from the camp’s meat pole by the end of the second day. Twelve of which were does/yearlings and two were bucks.
One positive aspect of having all deer being legal targets is it nets the DNR lots of money. And what government agency doesn’t enjoy taking more money from the public? So, again during the deer seasons of 1949, 1950 and 1951 the Conservation Department sponsored an all out war on the north’s deer herd.
Our deer camp housed 15 hunters in ’49, 19 hunters in ’50 and 21 hunters in ’51. During those three seasons every hunter had their tag filled by the end of day two and of those 55 deer only 7 were bucks.
By 1952 deer were so scarce even the locals were taking pictures of deer when an occasional one was spotted! Dad and I, plus numerous other hunters, boycotted the season and did not buy a hunting license. Nine of our camp’s charter members did return for the hunt of ’52 and by seasons end only one buck had been taken and it was the only deer with horns that was sighted! I donned my red wool hunting clothing and hunted hares during opening week end and did much better than the deer hunters.
I’ll still spend time in the woods this coming season, but I know the conditions will mirror those I remember during the seasons of ’53, ’54 and ’55 following the slaughters of the previous three seasons. But – a day in a November woods is bound to create some additional memories and I plan on adding more to my memory banks, even it they don’t include bagging a buck!
I shot my first deer during the season of ’49. Actually, my role in harvesting a mature doe that snowy day can only be recorded as “an assist.” Another hunter had wounded the old gal and I simply put an end to her suffering. But, I still could claim one of the deer suspended from the camp’s meat pole had my tag on it. And the memory of the pats on my back and words of encouragement from the veteran hunters in camp are still fondly recalled. Today its called “male bonding.”
Some of my most cherished memories I’ve accumulated while deer hunting are not about bagging a deer. The season of 1950 produced one of my most vivid memories, an experience I recorded in a story I included in “Growing Up Isn’t ALL Fishing and Hunting”, a tale I simply dubbed as “Blizzard.”
Dad and I headed out for a late afternoon hunt on the Friday after Thanksgiving. All the other hunters had already departed our deer camp, leaving only dad, uncle Bud and I to finish the season. The two of us trudged westward across what then was County Highway C in St. Germain towards the “Big Ravine”, which was less than a half-mile from our house.
Upon reaching the eastern crest of the wide, open valley dad and I split up, he headed south and I went north towards a favored location where dad had shot two nice bucks in years past.
The day was cloudy and blustery with a very humid southeast wind, a sure indication that more snow was on the way. But to a thirteen-year old kid who thought he was the reincarnation of Daniel Boone, the obvious evidence of an impending storm was the furthest thing from my young mind.
The first snowflake hit my cheek about 3:30. By 3:40 snow was pelting down by the shovel full! Wind gusts were whipping the branches of the jack pine tree I was leaning against with ever increasing blasts, but my thoughts were still optimistic that a big old buck would cross the ravine looking for a safe place to bed down for the night. Such are the dreams of youth!
Deep twilight fell with an unexpected suddenness. Funny how young Daniel Boone never noticed until he realized he had delayed his departure a bit too long! With concern rising in my stomach I quickly headed out to meet dad at our appointed location, our mailbox at the end of our driveway.
The area I had touted as being as familiar as the back of my hand had somehow changed into an unrecognizable swirling gray world of snow and howling wind. I soon realized that the landscape I was rapidly moving through looked totally unfamiliar to me and I panicked! Tears of raw fear poured down my cheeks and froze into mini ice balls. My short life began to pass before my eyes as I tried to imagine what freezing to death might be like. I recalled tales told in the deer shack about hunters freezing to death. It had been said they simply went to sleep and never woke up. The thought of dying that way only made me bawl harder.
Suddenly I spied fresh boot prints in the snow! Now another deer shack tale crashed into my mind. Tales of lost hunters walking in a circle during a blizzard - totally lost and doomed to death! My fear kicked up another notch!
But then I noticed the boot prints were much larger than mine! I was on the track of another lost hunter. I increased my pace to catch up to whoever was out in the storm with me and maybe we could console each other while we froze to death!
Within a few minutes of following the boot prints in the deepening snow I unexpectedly burst out of that fearful dark forest into an open area! Hey, I’m on highway C! Hey, there’s someone standing just down the road by our mailbox! You guessed it – it was dad and I had been following his boot tracks!
I rubbed the frozen tears off my cheeks and tried to compose myself as I nonchalantly swaggered to my father’s side.
“Did ya see anything?” he asked.
“Nope, not a hair. How about you dad? See anything?”
“Nope, me neither. Let’s get home, your mom will have supper on the stove.”
Together dad and I ambled down our driveway and minutes later were warming our wet bodies by mom’s wood burning kitchen range.
I waited three years before I told dad what really happened to me during that snowy afternoon blizzard deer hunt. Dad grinned and said, “It’s all part of growing up and learning to be a woodsman.”
I’m still learning!
Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin. Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean, both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide. Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.
Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here
Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger
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