BY THE MASKED BIOLOGIST
Special to the Star Journal
My dad liked to hunt. He hunted ducks until lead shot was outlawed, and the point system for limiting waterfowl harvest went into effect. He mostly hunted grouse, rabbits and deer. He started bow hunting somewhere around 1980. Our family hunting grounds were located in a single block of the Langlade County Forest. I remember Dad heading north with a variety of cousins and wishing I could go along. When my older brother started going along, I wanted to be included all the more.
“I never remembered a good or bad trip revolving around the grouse. It was about the trip itself.” The Masked Biologist
My dad wouldn’t take me along to deer camp until I could hunt, but he did bring me grouse hunting before I turned twelve. My younger brother wasn’t far behind; in fact, I am not sure I really ever went along without him on a trip. Most of my childhood memories of grouse hunting involve Dad and us three older boys – the youngest came along much later.
At first, grouse hunting was a bit of a mystery. We walked through the forest, on a mowed trail, and every once in a while, Dad would turn and shoot into the woods. It took quite a while for me to figure out what we were even hunting for! We would also drive the gravel woods roads, watching for grouse as we listened to the Brewers, Badgers, or Packers games on the radio. There were really good grouse years, and really bad grouse years, but I never remembered a good or bad trip revolving around the grouse. It was about the trip itself. Trips were always an event. We didn’t usually make one day trips; we lived just far enough away that an overnight trip was justified.
I grew up in a poor family; my parents were thrifty and utilitarian folk. A trip up north to hunt was extravagant, because even though most of us had guns we got free or traded for livestock, we needed to buy shotgun shells. To keep costs low, we would bring food and sleeping bags along, and camp right in the county forest in whatever vehicle we had at the time. We heated our food over the fire on a stick we whittled ourselves, or we ate it cold. We drank generic soda (an otherwise forbidden treat) and ate sweets we bought with our own money at the gas station in Antigo. We got two solid days of rare, undivided attention from a father who travelled for work, was the volunteer fire department chief, and ran his own car repair business while also serving in the Army Reserves. We spent time together as guys, away from Mom and the sisters. We would pre-scout our deer hunting spots, climb on beaver dams, and listen to the howling of the coyotes (or were they wolves?) on moonlight nights. We would only make one, maybe two trips a year, but they made us into hunters.
My Dad loved hunting. He wasn’t the best hunter, but I have to give him credit for taking us all out to spend time together, love hunting and learn to be outdoorsmen. I think of him a lot now, as I take my three young boys out in the woods. We heat our food over a fire. I try to teach them to be skilled outdoorsmen, enjoy time together as guys, and love different kinds of hunting as much as I do. I also stop and let them climb trees, admire beautifully colored leaves, clamber up and across beaver dams and select the perfect whittling stick for later around the fire. Although I have less jobs than my own father did, I feel like my time is always in high demand and I never have the time I would like to spend with the boys while they are this age. My heart bursts with joy every time one of my boys says “Dad, this has been the best weekend ever!” or, “When can we do that again?” As a father, you never know what moment or experience will make a lasting impression on your kids.
The Masked Biologist earned a Bachelor of Science degree from a university with a highly regarded wildlife biology program. He has worked for natural resource agencies from the Rocky Mountains, across the Great Plains and into the Midwest. He’s worked with a variety of common and rare fish, plant and wildlife species. Follow The Masked Biologist on Facebook.