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Excited and ethical

If I were to describe my deer camp personality, I would say I am an excited, ethical hunter.

I didn’t grow up with any kind of serious hunting background. However, at the tender age of 53, and with a deep interest in firearms, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at deer hunting with handguns — more specifically, revolvers. Every year for 10 years, I would travel to the Isanti area where my youngest sister lives, and try my luck. I took my first deer that first year with a Smith & Wesson .500 Magnum. I subsequently took the second with a Ruger Redhawk .44 Magnum. I used a Ruger GP100 .357 Magnum to take my third deer.

The last year that I harvested a big doe, again with the S & W .500 Magnum. Out of those 10 years, I never saw a deer for three or four of those adventures. With the exception of one, they were one shot-one kill situations, and the distance was never more than 30 yards.

What made my first hunt extra special was it was also the introduction year for the S&W .500 Magnum, and I had acquired one of the very early ones made (a four-digit serial number). After the hunt, I had decided to write to S&W, to tell it of my experience and what I thought of its new awesome hand cannon. In response, I received a letter from its CEO, an S & W .500 hat and an embroidered S & W .500 pistol case. Being successful that first year and getting such a response made for a very memorable first hunt.

Hunting with relatives and/or friends is great, but it’s more about being one with nature. Getting your deer is just a bonus. I always take a camera with me, and one year I just kept taking pictures of a young doe that seemed to want to hang out with me. I had a bead on her four different times, but the only thing I shot at her was my camera.

Currently, and I hope temporarily, I’m not hunting. I would very much like to get back to it and, with retirement looming at the end of this school year, I’m looking forward to more of the excitement and success that I’ve already experienced.

Robert Van Bergen, Shakopee


‘Our best shot’

The current patriarch of our deer camp, Al Burton, 78, is an interesting character. He grew up in the woods of northern Itasca County. His dad would give him the family .22-caliber rifle and one shell, and send him out to find dinner. When he returned with a grouse, a rabbit, a squirrel or even a porcupine, he would receive another .22 shell for the next meal.

That arrangement forces a guy to really aim when you only have one shell. Just a few years ago, he showed us how that applies by driving a nail into the end of a log from 25 paces with the .22 rifle. Al is, without a doubt, our best shot.

We don’t encourage our hunters to shoot at running deer, but Al can hit as many as three on a dead run. He has demonstrated that several times since 1975, when he first joined our crew (which was founded in 1957 by many friends and relatives of Albert “Unk” Tanberg, our original camp patriarch).

Al’s weapon of choice is a heavily notched, Long Tom, octagonal-barreled, .32 caliber lever action, that he can make sound like a semiautomatic when he cranks it up. He stopped notching the deer-count years ago when he ran out of room on the gun stock. Stone deaf from years of running heavy equipment and chain saws without ear protection, his instincts, eyesight and olfactory senses kick in, and the deer have no escape once he knows they are present. Two years ago, he announced he got a fancy new hearing aid, so we asked, “What kind is it?” He looked at his watch and said, “It’s quarter past five”.

Having great survival instincts in the woods, Al helped a hunter who slid off an icy logging road into a tree, damaging his radiator, on one opening weekend. Al crumpled up a handful of dry-rot balsam stump into the neck of the radiator and refilled it with nearby swamp water. The fibers quickly swelled shut the hole, and the hunter drove it all the way back to Coon Rapids after hunting the whole season with us.

We have one real bad mud hole to cross to get to camp. Most guys with 4x4s don’t even like to test it, but Al really gave her hell with his ’69 Plymouth Fury, spraying mud 30 feet into the air. He made it across, while troweling the ruts flat with the bottom of his car for the rest of us. It was pure entertainment for all of us.

Martin Dehen, Plymouth


The newbie

“No,” I said to Jim Evenson. “I’ve never hunted deer.”

“Well, as long as you’re going to live up here in Effie and Bigfork, you may as well get started.”

This was not what I expected a new pastor’s responsibility to include. But I did realize that deer hunting was an important part of life in this wooded haven. “I’ll think about it,” I told Jim.

Later that Friday afternoon, another parishioner Bob Hensel came over to the parsonage, handed me a .30-30 deer rifle and a small package of shells, said “I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning about 4,” and left.

“Good grief!” I told my wife. “I don’t think I have a choice. I have a lot to learn in a short period of time.” I hustled back over to Jim’s house. “What do I do now?” I asked.

“I’m sure Bob has a stand for you. Just take a Thermos of coffee with you; go wherever Bob puts you. Be quiet and wait for something to come.”

Still not sure of my destiny, but sure I had no choice as I had told my wife, I went to bed early. Bob’s headlights pierced the darkness, Bob arriving as he had promised, and we left. We walked quietly through the woods and then stopped. “Climb that birch tree to that stand, and wait,” Bob whispered. His advice ended there as Bob sauntered off to some unknown destiny. I checked the gun to make sure the safety was on and began my climb. The morning was crisp — a cold crisp — as I settled on a stump complete with a damp boat cushion and awaited my lot.

Every crackle commanded my attention, but it was only a red squirrel or a blue jay. I peered at the tall, pointed pines, what the hunters called a cathedral pine, and marveled at their beauty.

I decided it was time for a cup of coffee. Carefully, I unscrewed the cup, then the top of the Thermos, and poured the steaming coffee. I quickly discovered it wasn’t so easy with thick gloves on. Actually, too quickly — I fumbled the cup and listened to it bounce off the birch branches on its way to the ground. “Oh, no!” I said softly as I realized I had lost my morning’s coffee. I wondered why people did this sort of thing. I rearranged my butt on the stump.

The hours passed slowly as the sun arose. Like a theatrical production, the woods became alive. I think I fell asleep as I spotted Bob’s orange jump suit coming through the woods. He stood at the base of my stand gazing at my coffee cup. He smiled. “Did you throw that at some big buck?”

“No. I dropped the darn thing. My fingers were so cold, I couldn’t hang onto it.” I lowered my gun to Bob and started to descend. My body didn’t want to move. “Is there something else I should learn here?”

“Yes, but it’ll come in time.”

I kept silent, wondering what it was I had to learn but thankful when I reached the parsonage. My wife greeted me, and with great expectation asked, “Did you get one?”

“No, I dropped my coffee cup and swore twice. And I have a sore butt. That’s it.”

Rod Broding, Battle Lake, Minn.


He goes by 'Pilgrim'

His longtime friends would say he is a hunter known by the Balsam Moor Deer Camp in Beltrami Island State Forest as part legend, part apparition. Whether he uses his handmade longbow, his old, long-barreled flintlock rifle, or his Navy .44-caliber black powder revolver, he gets his deer every year. Dressed in a coyote-fur hat, heavy-wool bibs and Steger Mukluks, he is first out in the morning, last to return in the evening, and not to be expected until he walks through the door. He’s been known to sleep out overnight, atop a cushion of cedar boughs, warm and naked in his brain-tanned buffalo robe, with his guns beside him. He said his ears are tuned to the sounds of the forest and the first stirrings of an ancient, natural rhythm as the sun arises. Part mountain man, part forest creature with stealth and skill, he is known during hunting seasons by the name of Pilgrim far and wide in “True-North Minnesota.” (True-North Minnesota is that remote part of Minnesota, far north of the “northern” Minnesota towns of Brainerd and Bemidji.)

Steven Reynolds, Wannaska, Minn.


The unlucky

Pike Jones was known more for his fishing skills than his hunting skills. He was hunting near Longville, Minn., with Tee-Bud’s Guide Service. Pike was hunting near the cabin because he does not venture too far away. The other hunters in our group go farther into the woods to the “hot spots.”

Hunting with a borrowed gun, Pike shot a nicely-sized doe late in the day near dusk. As the day ended, the other hunters met up at the local watering hole to learn of any Pike sightings. With some concern (because Pike is often the first back to camp), the group went to look for Pike. He was located near his stand trying to drag his big deer out of the woods. The group helped him field-dress the deer because he did not know how.

The next morning Pike left to skin his deer, as the rest of us slept or ate breakfast. Pike returned five minutes later with a large cut on near his left thumb, a mishap while skinning the deer. It was off to the hospital, on icy roads and an hour away. With 18 stitches and broken pride, Pike returned to camp. The group had skinned and cut up the deer for him. It was the only deer in deer camp that year, so he is now known as “Pike Jones, the Great Whitetail Deer Hunter” of 2014.

Tom Fahey, Norwood Young America