BARRONETT, WIS. – Early indications are no mice have yet invaded the undisclosed location near this northwestern Wisconsin town where I hole up during deer season. The reference here is to Wisconsin’s deer season, which is different from Minnesota’s, just as Wisconsin is different in all respects from Minnesota.
Different, in fact, from any place, anywhere, except perhaps faraway galaxies.
I say this being a big Wisconsin fan, particularly during the state’s nine-day firearms whitetail season. It’s then that I angle my truck toward a shack that sits so far back in the woods no one can find me except by explicit intention. My wife and I have two sons, and for many years during Thanksgiving week they also set upon these parts, heading with me north by northeast, guns in hand as soon as they were legal here; age 5, I think, or thereabouts.
It’s said by some that a Minnesota visitor to Wisconsin can travel safely west to east across the northern tier of this state, Twin Cities to Green Bay, without being a Badgers fan. Perhaps that’s true, perhaps not. Uncontested is that along the same longitudinal line a Minnesotan best not brandish too much purple and white. Better, and safer, for Vikings fans to concede they’re behind enemy lines and instead blend in, saying little and ordering off the chalkboard, the fish fry a no-brainer.
I hunt with a big group here, and Friday evening the bunch of us, some 17 or 18, gathered at Bistro 63, a first-rate eatery in Barronett. This is a long-held tradition, and the one guy among us who can actually sing, Dave Berg, for many years serenaded Bistro’s fine diners in the manner of David Allen Coe, wailing about prison, rain and momma gettin’ run over by a train.
On Friday night, Dave didn’t sing. But the memory lingered, and before eating we recalled the entertainment he provided, and recalled also those in the gang who had passed on, or otherwise couldn’t make it to camp this year.
Say what you want about the hoi polloi. This, in a nutshell, is America writ large, good times passed, with more to come.
• • •
Saturday morning arrived cold with a northwest wind that alternately was bothersome and not.
Walking the short distance from the shack to my stand, I climbed up with a fool’s confidence. In front of me sprawled standing corn, with a mix of hardwoods to the left and right.
Jacking a shell in the chamber of my .270, I waited an hour or so, then poured a cup of coffee and settled in.
Patriarch of our bunch is Norb Berg, brother of Dave, and somewhere a mile or so distant, both were in tree stands of their own, rifles at the ready. Kids of theirs, and grandkids, were similarly on site, as were friends. For each, deer or no deer, this gathering is an annual highlight, a respite from busy lives and from a world gone crazy.
This year, Tony Berg, Norb’s son, welcomed his son, Frank Brannon, and son-in-law, Charley Thornton, to camp, both from the Chicago area. Bears fans, but otherwise good guys, the two, like the rest of us, were hoping to see bucks — big, small or in between.
For me, 10 o’clock came and went, then 11.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the group’s first buck, an 8-pointer, was killed by Mark Bradley of Madison, Wis., father-in-law to Norb’s son, Paul.
Not long thereafter, a 10-point behemoth was felled by Kevin Berg, another of Norb’s sons.
The stand Kevin hunted from is called California, and when the big buck made an early appearance there, he was dispatched forthwith.
I would like to say I came upon a buck of a size similar. But I did not. The only live four-legged animal I saw all day was a fawn.
This sighting occurred about 1 in the afternoon, and the curious little deer, a buck, wandered aimlessly a stone’s throw from me before departing in a direction randomly chosen.
Or so it seemed.
Others among us had better luck. Or more skill. Joe Sturdivant, who lives in the Twin Cities, shot a 10-pointer and Frank Brannon took a fork.
As I write this, once more in the shack, gaslights aglow, a wolf pack howls in the darkness just beyond.
The rangy canines moved into these parts some years ago, and when it was legal, a trapper hereabouts plied his trade, winning one round, but losing mostly.
So it went Saturday, location undisclosed.
Dennis Anderson firstname.lastname@example.org