One thing I’ve learned about riding horseback during deer hunting season:
never underestimate the value of a cowbell around your horse’s neck. I’m referring to that time of year when every buck stalker in possession of a Cabela’s credit card slips into blaze orange and dons a camo headlamp for a few days. It’s a taxidermist’s dream and high season at the Buck Knuckle Saloon—which happens to be right down the road from our riding trails.
So, what’s the meaning of this gun toting quest for a multi-pointed hat rack. I once thought conceal and carry was what you did when you nicked the last slice of apple pie at Thanksgiving. Yet it’s come to my attention that this isn’t about deer or hunting. It’s about old friends getting together to play cards, wear stinky clothing, and raise a toast to old friends.
My own family provided this little line of reasoning. It all started when my father, a retired judge, and three of his depression era cronies hatched a plan to make one last trip to deer camp— for old time’s sake. These guys had been making a North woods pilgrimage together since 1945. Incidentally, I cannot recall The Judge or any of the hunting party coming home with a departed deer strapped to the roof of his car.
Anyhoo, on opening day, the senior hunters loaded Alden Losby’s Dodge Minivan with the required, Cuban cigars, toilet paper, Bicycle playing cards, a cribbage board, and a large rolling cooler full of groceries. Alden traditionally planned the menu, and The Judge traditionally complained that it included too much of his wife Myrtle’s krumkake and not enough steak. Meanwhile, The Judge, who had spent decades dispatching orders from his bench, appointed retired police detective Walt Schwenk to help Alden cook. He then assigned old Ed Witzig to tend the fire and the mousetraps. Ed also brought a handful of bungee cords to keep nighttime prowlers out of the garbage cans. As for The Judge, he volunteered to manage artillery.
It took most of the morning, but the guys finally managed to stuff all their supplies and sleeping bags into Alden’s minivan. With everyone onboard, Alden pointed North to the favorite hideout, Camp Rum Dumb.
After stopping once for coffee in Hayward and a second time to pick up a bottle of bourbon at the Dew Drop Inn, they pulled into camp. Everyone agreed that they should unload the perishables, and check the propane tank before setting out to trail trophy bucks. Only The Judge and Alden carried guns, which seemed like a blessing. Armed with binoculars, Ed and Walt tottered down the fire lane behind the other two. Walt brought a couple of egg salad sandwiches to share, and he and Ed ate their lunch while regaling one another with Camp Rum Dumb tales from years past.
There was the time Ed fell out of his deer stand and landed on a sleeping bull snake. Then, in 1965 a skunk family took up residence under the kitchen sink forcing Alden to move his food prep outside to the grille. These mishaps and a couple of stovetop fires shed light on why nobody ever got around to locating deer. They were beginning to sound like a bunch of birdwatchers.
Once more they hit the trail hoping to finally change their luck. An hour passed with no deer sightings. So, the fearsome foursome decided to go back to camp and set up housekeeping. Ed secured the garbage can lids from wayward raccoons, while Alden and Walt cooked up a meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Ed and The Judge played a couple of hands of gin rummy. It was a perfect day The Judge later reported to my mother. After dinner, a crackling fire in the fireplace and a drop of bourbon topped off their stroll down memory lane. At midnight, they all retired to their sleeping bags.
About an hour later a clatter arose from the kitchen.
“What is it?” whispered Walt, groping for his glasses. “Who’s in here?” he demanded. “Come out here with your hands above your head!” No response.
The Judge clicked on his flashlight to have a look. Nobody felt compelled to try to capture the intruder. “What’s going on out there?” he bellowed. Just then the flashlight beam landed upon a startled weasel with a salad fork in its mouth. It glared into the light from atop the kitchen table.
“Well, I’ll be,” croaked Ed. “He must have liked the meatloaf.”
Nobody moved a whisker, including the weasel. Finally, the deafening silence was broken with an equally deafening explosion. Walt had packed his old service revolver and chose that moment to shoot a hole in the ceiling. Maybe he thought the weasel would see the new skylight and find its way out.
Nope. Instead, the weasel darted off the table but not out the hole. By this time, The Judge’s flashlight had tumbled to the floor with a loud clank and rolled under a bed. This was followed with a chorus of, “Shoo, shoo! Get out!” as the weasel rounded the cabin and rocketed first into Alden’s duffle bag. Given the rumpus on the other side of the room, they could tell that the weasel had made a second dive into Ed’s sleeping bag right alongside Ed. What followed was proof that an eighty- year-old man can run as fast as Jessie Owens when joined in bed by a fork -wielding weasel.
I was almost afraid to ask what happened next. Thankfully the weasel made it out of Camp Rum Dum alive. And, believe it or not, old Ed suffered nothing more than a twisted ankle and soiled skivvies.”
Everyone was relieved that Walt’s gun made it back to the holster with no more action. The Judge promptly locked the sidearm in the trunk of Alden’s minivan to avoid any encores. And so, the four old friends had a fine time deer hunting without firing a shot. More- or- less. The weasel lived. Camp Rum Dumb suffered a little cosmetic damage, though small wildlife probably appreciated the new cabin entrance.
Oddly, this little caper now makes perfect sense to me. The oldsters might not have bagged a buck. And they no doubt faced plenty of worries and limitations that came with aging. But they sure knew how to have fun with their friends.