I pull gently on the Hayes Disc Brakes to slow my Schlick Northpaw as I pull up next to an idling four-wheeler along Masterson Fire Lane. “Any of your guys get anything this morning?” I ask?
“Stubby saw that five-pointer but he let it pass,” Buck Masterson said with the combination of disappointment and approval that only a deer hunter interested in Quality Deer Management can appreciate. “I saw some does.”
“I ran into Old Man Henke going in to his stand this morning,” I say. “He got that big six we all had on our trail cameras.”
“Damn, that would have been a nice deer next year,” Buck responds through clenched teeth.
John Henke has been hunting on the four 40s across the fire lane from the Masterson land since 1967. He still wears the same pair of blaze orange wool hunting overalls he bought when they outlawed the red and black plaid in 1980. He even has an old brass compass pinned to his belt. I like him for his frugality as well as for his timeless sense of hunting fashion. “Yeah, but you can’t tell those old timers to pass up a legal deer this late in the season,” I say.
“Well, it’s his land, but that would have been a nice deer next year,” Buck repeats. “All the other guys at my place are gone. Squirrel left Monday, so did Weasel. Josh left today.”
“What about Wildcat?” I ask.
“He didn’t come this year. I heard he was pissed the other guys gave him so much crap about shooting that little six in Canada he decided not to come,” Buck responded, referring to a recent similarly unsuccessful hunting trip for whitetail we all made to Manaki, Ontario. “I guess he was mad his own son was giving him the business about that pimped out Ford he bought too.”
“All right then, I’m going back out to the knob to sit, then I’m done. All I’ve seen is that same yearling and that doe. I gotta head home tomorrow.” Buck nods and we part ways as he takes his wheeler back into his stand to sit and I pedal my fat bike the mile or so out to my stand.
Neither one of us fired a shot that afternoon, and even though this was the first year in 13 seasons that nobody hunting on Masterson land would tag a deer, neither of us was complaining. That’s deer hunting in the Northwoods.
I’ve been hunting the gun deer season with the Masterson clan in Peeksville, just north of Butternut for the last eight years or so. Before that I hunted alone and camped out in a tent on public land in Black River Falls State Forest or on a five acre chunk of land my parents used to own outside of Mauston.
Our deer camp consists of a $1,500 mobile home with no running water or electricity that sits on 40 acres of wooded land and swamp owned by my buddy Casey Masterson, who I met when he joined my bike team, Velo Trocadero. Casey’s forty sits next to 140 acres his dad owns and another 20 owned by his older brother Ben. Casey’s uncle Tom “Buck” Masterson owns another 120 on the other side of the fire lane with a really nice cabin he built to host the 6 or so guys in his deer camp.
It might be hard for non-hunters to appreciate, but getting a deer is a bonus that every deer hunter hopes for but never expects. A big part of what I love about hunting is just sitting in the woods alone all day. If I was more “granola” I’d say it is my therapy to sit by myself and think while staring out into the woods and doing my best not to make even the slightest sound.
I love sitting on my stand all day. While some hunters only sit mornings and afternoons, heading in over the noon hours to eat and warm up, Casey and I sit the entire day. In fact, although he stops hunting when the rules say, Case will often sit for an hour after it starts getting dark if there is good snow and a moon to make it possible to see in the woods.
But I need to get past Casey’s stand to get back to camp, which is a little more than a mile walk. Riding my fatbike out to my stand is not only quicker than walking, it is also a much better way to get out to my stand and back without disturbing any deer on the way.
Deer don’t seem to be bothered by non-human noises. Even the engine noise from four-wheelers often won’t kick up a bedded whitetail, but the sound of even very quiet footsteps sends off an alarm through the forest that will push any deer within a hundred yards away. I have ridden past Casey, still sitting in the dark with a bunch of deer around his stand. He said none of them looked my way even as the fat tires of my Schlick Northpaw floated over the snow and down the logging road past him.
The other big benefit of hunting by bike is that I get to my stand a lot faster and warmer than if I had to walk. Even on the morning when it was eight-below zero when I headed out of the shack at 5 AM, I had to keep my orange unzipped to keep from overheating while I pedaled.
I also really love sitting in the woods, its great to warm back up at camp, listening to stories told over a beer while snacking on something pickled or smoked, waiting for a big pot of venison chili to heat up on a hot wood stove at the end of a long day freezing in the woods. After all these years, I am finally able to place the characters with multiple nicknames in the stories with their given names. I finally think I’ve got the Who’s Who of Peekesville down.
When I lived down in Milwaukee, I would hate going home without anything to put in my chest freezer. I started hunting because I want to know where my meat comes from, not so much for a trophy. The hunters in the Masterson deer camps generally follow an eight points or better to shoot rule to try to increase the number of bigger bucks in the area. That means there are years when I won’t fire my Henry Long Ranger .308 at all in Peeksville.
While I would love to tag Buckzilla, I hunt to eat so I don’t mind shooting a smaller deer. I have to admit, there have been years when Buck Fever has gotten the best of me and I tagged a six or seven pointer. The guys have been pretty forgiving when I have broken their rule.
Now that I live in Seeley, I have been scouting timber sale areas for deer sign, and I have a couple of promising spots picked out for bow hunting. I feel pretty confident that I will have venison in the freezer before my truck tires touch Highway Unlucky in Butternut. That will make it a lot easier to pass on those smaller bucks in Peeksville.
I’ll be 59 this season, and I hope that 20 years from now I am still able to ride my fat bike to my stand and hunt whitetail with the Masterson clan. And when I shoot another six pointer, some other young buck at deer camp will excuse me with “but those old timers won’t pass on a legal deer.”