CUMBERLAND, WIS. - The news was upbeat Saturday at noon when I returned to the shack after 5 1/2 hours on my stand: four deer hanging. This was opening day of the Wisconsin whitetail season, and I was wanting some lunch.
I would be dining alone. Cole, my younger son, had departed well before shooting time, angling away in my truck to distant parts of the countryside, to try his luck there. Usually on opening day I make French toast and bacon for breakfast. But with Cole quickly out the door I had lost my motivation, and ate cereal instead.
Besides, as it turned out, I had forgotten the bread.
Come November, this small shack in the northwestern Wisconsin woods is home away from home, an outpost to our hunting group's main bunkhouse a mile or so away. Headquarters, or the "barn,'' as the bunkhouse is called, has electricity and indoor plumbing, whereas the shack's showpieces are gas lights, a wood-burning stove and plywood bunks. Not far away is an outhouse. Or, as the British call it, a thunder box. For entertainment, a battery-operated radio that cost me $1 pulls in signals from as far away as Rice Lake.
Word had come to me by text that Mitch Berg, Rick Battis, Joe Sturdivant and Cole had each shot bucks. Rick's came straight up at 7, only about 20 minutes into the season. The other three were down by midmorning. This was all good news. Our group tries to shoot only mature bucks where they were hunting, part of a well-considered long-term program begun by Norb Berg and sons Kevin, Mitch, Tony and Paul, organizers of our group and owners of the land we hunt.
If you're averse to cold, you couldn't ask for a better opening morning. When I reached my stand, the temperature was 28 degrees.
I had arrived a little late because I refused to leave the shack until "Turdy Point Buck'' played on the radio. Every year the country station not too far away plays this redneck spiritual between 6 and 6:05 opening morning. This time it was 6:20. Maybe, I figured, a new DJ was in town. Perhaps someone's no-good brother-in-law from Ill-i-noise.
In the morning, I had seen a doe and her young-of-the-year, and also a nice fork. Meat on the table for sure. But I wanted to see how the day would unfold. Wait too long, of course, and the old freezer yawns at you all winter long. But there you go. That's hunting.
After lunch, I took a jaunt over to the barn to size up the livestock. Each of the four deer was a dandy, and each, I knew, would come with a story. But tall tales aren't told in our camp until Saturday evening after dinner, which, by tradition, is spaghetti and meatballs, with Mitch wearing the chef's hat.
Toward midafternoon I eased back into my stand as if it were a recliner in a movie theater. Blue jays flitted about, as did black-capped chickadees. Overhead, skeins of Canada geese paraded in neat V's. Doubtless they were merely tooling around, seeing no need to leave this good country with its good weather, quite yet.
In camp we have 13 hunters, and the nine of us who had no bucks at noon also had no bucks at day's end.
But it all felt great nonetheless, sunup to sundown. And will only get better, beginning just now.
I'll write this one last sentence, and one more. Then douse the shack's gas lights and make my way to the barn, looking for dinner and a good time.