Whether at home or hunting, the turkey was plentiful, and the stories entertaining
BY THE MASKED BIOLOGIST
Special to the Star Journal
In my family, Thanksgiving was a victim of the traditional nine-day firearms season, not every year, but occasionally. On the years the stars aligned, Thanksgiving was a chance for our large family to come together. We would travel to the Mississippi bluff country in western Wisconsin and invade Uncle Don and Aunt Joan’s house. They only had one daughter, older than all of us, so having six little kids swarming in their home must have been a test of mental, physical and emotional strength. Their house was built into a hill, and there was a fast, clear stream running through the valley below. You can guess what kept us boys busy! In the evening, after rolling on the floor groaning about eating too much turkey, we would build with Erector sets, or play a card game. Then we would all sleep on the living room floor while the parents talked, laughed, and enjoyed sharing a big jug of wine. Those were great times.
I remember several years, though, where Thanksgiving played a pivotal role in our deer hunting year. Dad was relentless about going deer hunting, desperate enough to take all three of us older boys into the woods with him. Good health or bad, funded or not, we had to go out deer hunting. Dad would sell stuff if necessary to get gas money to drive our school bus, converted to a camper, up into the Langlade County Forest and stake our claim on a deer hunting spot. For over three decades, Dad never missed opening day.
Deer hunting during the second weekend was never a sure thing. Sometimes we would try to gain advance approval; other times we would bring it to mom after returning from the opener. Dad was not good at effective communication with mom, but he knew how to get what he wanted when it came to deer hunting. The requests had variable outcomes; sometimes we would go up after Thanksgiving dinner. Other times, we would get the three day weekend. But there were a couple times when we either got to go up on Wednesday or take the entire nine-day firearms deer season in the woods. That meant we got to have a special Thanksgiving in the woods.
Those were great Thanksgivings too. I never asked what mom and the girls did for their holiday. We had a turkey in the gas oven, and we had football on a little black and white TV hooked up to the bus battery. We ate like kings, just Dad and the boys, sitting around in our long johns. We would hunt, if the weather cooperated, but days upon days of trudging through the snow would take its toll on our bodies and our enthusiasm. One might suspect that deer camp wasn’t strictly about how many deer you shot, or who shot the biggest buck. It was that one magical time of year when we got together as guys, heard the same hunting stories about Dad, Grandpa Deering and Uncle Ray. It was about having a little brandy lemonade to warm up before bed, and a big greasy breakfast of bacon and eggs every morning. It was about brothers being together in the woods, where blaze orange outfits and colorful back tags made us all equal. It was about heritage and tradition.
Now that I have boys of my own, just beginning to start hunting themselves, the tradition will continue with the next generation. A lot has changed about deer hunting in Wisconsin, some for the better, some for the worse, but at least we can spend time together as a family. I can pass on hunting camp stories about my brothers and I, as well as those about my Dad, Uncle Ray, and the legendary Grandpa Deering. For some of you, Thanksgiving may mean hunting, welcoming family home, or travelling to be with relatives for the long holiday weekend. Whatever it means to you, enjoy the deer hunt and the Thanksgiving holiday.
The Masked Biologist earned a bachelor of science degree from a university with a highly regarded wildlife biology program. He has work for natural resource agencies from the Rocky Mountains, across the Great Plains and into the Midwest, which provided opportunities to work with a variety of common and rare fish, plant and wildlife species. Follow The Masked Biologist on Facebook.