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The hunt is on

The wood stove in the camp’s main room is almost always hot. In my younger years, whenever we were out there, one of the grownups would holler at us to pay attention to it so we didn’t burn ourselves. The hollering didn’t always work.

My family camp has been around for decades. I couldn’t tell you how long. It’s nestled in the woods off M-35 near a small creek, closer to Princeton and Gwinn than to Palmer. We used to have family gatherings there, like when we would blow stuff up with colorful fireworks during the 4th of July and eat sub sandwiches or pasties, smoked fish and juustoa. But we don’t have big get-togethers there so much anymore, opting instead for places with more modern conveniences, like tap water and a toilet that flushes.

But still, every year come mid-November, when the leaves on the branches are few and the snow flurries begin to swarm, the men in the family head to camp. Rather than get their meat secondhand, like from a butcher or off the grocery store shelves, many people feel the need to harvest their own. I don’t condemn hunting, it’s just not for me. I don’t like the iron smell of blood and the sadness that comes with killing. But I do like the taste of venison, so I’ll let the others do my killing for me.

It’s deer season all over again. We’re in the thick of it now. I know there are women out there in the world who hunt, but they don’t come to my camp. It’s all beer bellies, beards and B.S.-ing out there.

“What happens at deer camp, stays at deer camp,” is the motto, so I can’t tell you any of those fine details. It’s kind of like Las Vegas in that there’s drinking and gambling, but without all the flashing lights and sex appeal.

I made an overnight stop at beer camp for opening weekend this year. I don’t hunt, but I enjoy a few beverages and catching up with the guys.

There’s no electricity or plumbing. The only light comes from a gas-fed lantern hanging above the main room. The camp isn’t glamorous like the hotels of Vegas. And as far as what really goes on at camp, I’m sworn to secrecy, a pact I made years ago as a child, naive to the sorts of shenanigans that could occur when a group of drunken men gather in an isolated place for too long. But of course, there aren’t any shenanigans to share. We are always well behaved.

The camp, a few outbuildings, an outhouse, sauna and woodshed make up the grounds. There’s a little swing set with a slide, horseshoes and a bocce ball court for outdoor entertainment. Inside, it’s typically card games and BS.

From the enclosed porch area is the main room, which doubles as the kitchen and living room. A couch and a couple recliners line the walls, with the kitchen counter and a range on another. In the center is a kitchen table. Deer antlers hang on the walls above, overlooking the hunters below who took the trophies in seasons past.

In what would be the front end of the camp are two rooms, each with two sets of bunk beds and a cot in one, and upstairs is a loft that seems hotter than the wood stove itself. If you want a sweaty night’s sleep, that’s the place to go. You can skip the sauna and spend an hour up there instead. You’ll sweat out about the same amount of toxins.

Generally, from my recollections, the only thing thicker than the smoke wafting in the camp air is the slew of curse words being slung from the mouths of men. But that’s to be expected.

At camp, life tends to revert back to a more primitive, primal state – foul language included. I think that’s what I like most about going out there. Not the dirty words, but that fact that you can unplug, so to speak, and put away the television and cell phones for a while and live more in the moment with what’s immediately in front of you.

The quiet solitude of a deer blind, or the outhouse, hearken back to simpler days, when hunter gatherers had to spend hours foraging enough food to feed the family, instead of taking a quick trip to the drive-through restaurant. It makes me think of when I was a kid rambling through the woods in my boots after a fresh snowfall. I didn’t have a care in the world. I could have stayed out till nighttime walking under the stars, my heart thumping from climbing through the brush and over the hardwood hills, and probably beating a little faster from the coyotes yipping and howling off in the distance.

It was simple and good.

Deer season, from my perspective, is an opportunity to enjoy something similar to that, something simple. It’s a chance to connect with friends and family, and also with nature.

As far as enjoying the thrill of the hunt and whatnot, I get the same feeling when I see deli ham on sale at the meat counter, so I think I’ll stick to hunting for bargains at the grocery store.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ryan Jarvi is city editor at The Mining Journal. He lives in Marquette with his wife, Sarah, and their dog, Tino. Contact him at rjarvi@miningjournal.net.