"You know how most deer hunting articles are fulla facts, figures, statistics and tips on how to get your buck?" said WW&W wildlife correspondent and huntress Paris Hiltunen, who gets hers every year without firing a shot.
"This isn't one of them," she hastened to add.
She's right. I take a more anthropological, cultural, social and romantic approach to the subject, writing from a factional perspective, fiction based on fact. Sure I throw in a random statistic and an occasional inadvertent fact; if I don't have much to begin with, I can always make it up.
You don't have to be a hunter to know that Nov. 15 is Opening Day of yet another white-tailed deer season. Here in the Keweenaw and throughout the U.P., it's generally acknowledged and recognized as a high holiday. So venerable and revered is the hunting tradition that high school students get the day off, as does mosta the work force.
The white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, is our Michigan state game mammal, and deservedly so. In the U.P. alone, there are three times more deer than people, about 900,000 of them to 300,000 of us. In Eagle River, they outnumber us 25 to 1.
"Without the cultural and social components, there's nothing very romantic about the rut," said WW&W whitetail correspondent John Deer. "Prior to breeding, males spar with sapling trees, creating rub marks to make other males aware of their presence. Males also make scrapes, patches of muddy ground where they whiz to attract females. I know it sounds kinky, but that's pretty much as romantic as it gets. Bucks and does mate from October to January, with seven months gestation until one or two fawns, about 8 pounds each, are born with white spots for camouflage."
I admit I go to deer camp for the culture and the culinary arts more than the hunting. Don't get me wrong, I love the sights, sounds and smells of the late fall woods, and the pleasures of wildlife viewing through the crosshairs of a scope. But I take my fishing rods to camp as well. I love to take a break from the blind and sauna to wade the mouth of Fanny Hooe Crick and pay the fish of Copper Harbor a visit. If I get lucky, there's not just plain old surf and turf back at camp, there's splake and steak.
If there's one thing deer hunters know how to do, it's eat and drink well. I know, that's two things. I've been to camps where every night is a special dinner, another opportunity to clog your major coronary arteries. There are exotic wild game feeds, prime rib buffets, fresh and smoked salmon and shrimp night, steak night, chicken & spaghetti night, and pizza and beer night. You'll find friendly inter-camp competitions like Blazing Saddles Chili Cook-Offs, the obligatory pasties, and the time-honored Yooper deer camp staple, venison booyaw, a hearty, slow-cooked stew made with venison, wild game and roadkill-in-season; potatoes, rutabagas, carrots, garlic, onion and celery. To be the real McCoyinen, ingredients must be shot, caught and grown in the UP, but nobody's fussy. Don't ask, don't tell.
Yooper supermarkets, party stores and mini-marts sell hunting supplies by the quart, 6-pack, 12-pack and case. Some camps keep a keg of cold complex carbohydrates handy in the snowbank or on the porch just outside the door, hence the stereotypical sobriquet, beer camp.
I'm not the only cardiology-conversant hunter who believes beer works wonders to help dissolve plaque build-up in arteries and aid digestion of the massive quantities of LDL cholesterol and saturated fat gobbled up at the nightly banquets.
"That's what you call taking it to heart," said WW&W hunting correspondent Buck Snortinen (character courtesy of Kevin Patana). "But let's not forget the emotional, sociological, psychological, relaxational and spiritual benefits - lubricating laughter and conversation, creating the illusion that you have a better poker hand than you really do, and elevating storytelling to an art form."
Yoopers and visiting hunters enjoy a UP-wide life support system, a network of backwoods bars that provides a cultural connection and caters to deer hunters with buck polls and poles, venison and bear meat booyaws, wild game feeds, spaghetti benders and fish fries. My unofficial list of venison venues on the Keweenaw Hunter's Ball and Booyaw circuit are the Drift Inn, White House, Lac la Belle Lodge, Cliff View Inn, Vansville, Gay Bar, Maple Leaf, Mosquito Inn, Dolly Partanen's, Dreamland, Schmidt's Corner, Jayne's L&L, Lake Linden Legion, and UP Pub. Call for dates and times.
Jim can be reached 24/7/365 at email@example.com.