CUMBERLAND, WIS. — North of here in a shack fitting the occasion, deer hunting began the old fashioned way Saturday. Snow on the ground. Temperature in the single digits. A rusty wood-burning stove needing stoking when the alarm rang at 5 a.m.
It's a big, 16-member gang of us that meets up in the woods in these parts each fall for Wisconsin's firearms whitetail season, our eyes collectively peeled for the old-time bucks of legend; big-antlered ghosts that we wholeheartedly believe will someday materialize where they never have before: behind the crosshairs of our scopes.
Each season, we run some lead through our rifle barrels and take some good deer. But so far the legendary stuff, with a few exceptions, has remained just over the horizon. Which might be the attraction, anyway.
Good enough for us, my boys and I stay in a satellite shack a mile or so from the headquarters encampment. Ours is a waferboard and gaslight special, and we need a four-wheeler to get here, or at least four-wheel-drive. At nightfall, we depart this tiny abode to visit the bigger group at the headquarters cabin to eat and tell stories, following which, the next day, we return to stands in wonder of everything transpiring around us. We perk up especially when a shot is discharged, which sets off a round of imagining about just who might have leveled their sights at what.
Some years back, I bought a radio for $1 that provides two-bit entertainment in the small shack where the boys and I stay, and each opening morning, like clockwork, at 5:30, I tune the little battery-powered transistor to a Rice Lake, Wis., station that, also like clockwork, broadcasts the song, "Turdy-point buck.'' Call it a public service.
But Saturday, no song. Not at 5:30. Not ever.
Perhaps, I thought, some guy from Ill-i-noise bought the station and was messing with our heads.
The boys ad I saw nothing worth shooting in early morning. Others among our group did. At 8, Tony Berg, hunting from us about a mile or so, witnessed a 9-pointer coming through a swamp and dropped it about 80 yards with his .308.
Nearly simultaneously, Rick Battis, also in our group, and like Tony from the Twin Cities area, squeezed the trigger of his .300 Win. Mag and dropped a buck he thought was at least eight points. Turns out one side of the animal's rack was nearly broken off, a disappointment to Rick, but a big, mature animal nonetheless.
The morning was cold, with a north wind, and when the boys and I gathered in the shack to warm up about 10, we decided that something should hang from the meatpole, buck or not, and soon.
"Freezers have feelings, too,'' I said. "Winter is coming.''
Which was all the encouragement Cole needed. Sitting on a high stand overlooking both woods and field, he cracked off a shot just before noon, filling his antlerless tag.
Our group finished the day with one more deer, a buck, a dandy, a tall 8-pointer, this one taken by Mark Bradley of Madison, Wis., a retired policeman and SWAT member who knows his way around a rifle, as the 8-pointer soon learned.
The day never really warmed up, and the north wind tussled the treetops until the end.
Then, at nightfall, converging at headquarters with stories to tell, each of us, the whole bunch, hung up our guns, kicked off our boots and prepared to tell the tales of the day's hunt, some true, mostly.