There aren't many days on the calendar that I can tell you exactly where I was on that day last year, let alone where I was on that day the last 19 years in a row. As a matter of fact I will go so far as to say that November 15th is the only day on the calendar that I can look back on over the last 19 years and easily recall my activities on that day.
If you are a deer hunter in Michigan than you know November 15th as "Opening Day" and many of us treat it as though it's a holiday akin to Christmas or Thanksgiving. We check the calendar at the beginning of the year to see where in the week it falls and begin planning out our time off from work just as soon as we can. Small towns schools have the day off and the local population of many northern towns may easily double as hunters roll in during the days prior to the 15th. While some may argue the merits of our current firerams season alignment it's hard to argue with the excitement and aura that surrounds November 15th every year.
My earliest Opening Day's were spend on family property near Mt. Pleasant but this Opening Day found me heading to the same camp I've been in since 2005. We got on our current property back in 2005 and that was the first year that we started our current Opening Day camp which consists of my father inlaw, my two brother inlaw's and myself. It takes place at my inlaw's cabin which is smack in the middle of the 240 acres that we hunt on.
In the years past we have had pretty limited success on opening day and have spent several November 15th evenings sitting around discussing how surprised we were with the lack of activity. Despite the slow hunts we are always excited to get together and we always have a riot up at camp. The hunting is obviously a big part of hunting camp but it plays a very small role in the overall experience of deer camp when it's all said and done. The majority of the memories are made outside of the deer blinds and it's those experiences that make "deer camp" what it really is.
This year Opening Day started with a very unwelcome awakening from the alarm clock after a nights sleep that was much shorter than it should have been. As we all slowly got rolling the excitement and anticipation for what the day had in store started to build and the walk to the blind was filled with visions of big bucks in the crosshairs.
The view from my opening day stand.
I had chosen to go back to an area that I had used on opening day's past but that I had abandoned the last few seasons. It's a good natural travel and funnel area and has provided me with some Opening Day action in past years. The blind is a pop-up style blind set along the river overlooking the funnel area where the corners of two woodlots come together. We have a treestand in this area and it had produced some good encounters during bow so I was excited to see what Opening Day would bring.
As shooting light arrived and the first few shots of the day rang out I anxiously awaited my first action of the day. About a half hour after first light I heard a shot from behind me and was hoping that my brother inlaw, who has yet to take a deer, had connected with something.
He was overlooking the edge of a winter wheat field and was overtop of no less than 12 scrapes that had been active all fall long. The large tracks working the edge told me that at least one of the visitors was a good sized buck and I could only hope that he had provoked the shot I heard. After some discussion on the radio with my brother inlaw I let him know I would head over in a bit to help him but was going to sit and see how my morning played out.
After some lightening of this picture its obvious that at least one big buck was working the scrapes near my brother inlaws stand.
After another 45 minutes or so I decided to go help recover the deer. To make a long (and disappointing) story short, we were unable to recover his deer. It was a small buck and from what we saw and what he said it appeared as though the shot was low and the wound was superficial. We tracked it for over 1/4 mile before losing blood and did some searching after that which turned up nothing.
This was not the start we had hoped for but thankfully my father inlaw connected on a nice big doe that evening which lifted spirits a bit. My other brother inlaw also spotted the big buck that we've been after all year and while he couldn't get a shot it was good to see the buck head into our cedars. We now know that he's still using our property and also know that he made it through Opening Day which is the biggest hurdle to jump in terms of a deer making it to next year. We'd love to get a crack at him this season but if we can't it would awesome to see what he becomes next year.
This doe, and the river behind her, made for a story and a memory that will last a long, long time.
Aside from that sighting my brother inlaw Chris also provided us with one of the highlights of the trip when the doe he shot decided to expire after crashing into the river. Chris sent me a text explaining the situation and my father inlaw and I hopped in the Mule to go give him a hand. As we walked along the river we couldn't see Chris right away but I quickly spotted him standing on the bank sporting nothing other than his boxer shorts and an thermal top and I knew we were in for a good story.
As it turns out Chris tried walking into the river along some brush but as his weight weighed down the brush his deer broke loose of whatever she was snagged on and began floating away. Chris then knew it was time to go in after her and promptly put on his swimming clothes. It wasn't until he got the doe to shore that he realized that in the excitement he had brought her to the wrong side of the river. Back in he went again to get her to the proper side and then, as we walked up, he was drip drying prior to getting re-dressed.
After getting dried off it was time for some smiles and pictures.
As my father inlaw and I listened to the story, both laughing the entire time, I couldn't help but think of deer camp's to come when this story was re-told time and time again. How it would become just one of the many, many tales to eventually become the backbone and frame of what our deer camp is all about. The deer will be an inconsequential part of the story as it's re-told over the years but the shared memory of walking up on him along the river bank and listening to him slowly explain the situation will never be forgotten.
As I drove home at the end of the weekend I was surrounded by many other fellow hunters making the journey home from their camps. I couldn't help but wonder what stories they were thinking about and what memories they had made over the last several days. I'm sure they were driving along reliving the weekend just like I was and were looking forward to next year just as I am.
I am lucky to be a part of some really good deer camps and every year as I get a little older and a little more aware of how quickly time passes I begin to appreciate their traditions more and more. There is nothing like the camaraderie and kinship that exists at camp and it's something that just can't be duplicated elsewhere. The deer hunting may come and go from year to year but the traditions will always continue.
Take care, and thanks for reading!