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2014 Deer Season: Score – Murphy-4, Hunters-5 plus

At this point I’m calling deer season a success. Granted if I’d get a shot at a deer before season ends it might be better … but still, I’m chalking this one up as a success.

More than a dozen years ago when I started writing stories for hunting magazines, other periodicals and websites I was told by a very wise old outdoor writer that readers don’t only want to know when you caught, shot, snagged, gigged or trapped something. Just like readers, writers have good and bad outings, successful and unsuccessful ventures afield, and sometimes hearing how someone else handles the mishaps and miscues is more entertaining than reading about them bringing home meat for the table.

This is akin to Murphy’s Law … you know, the old adage that states “anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Just like life in general, it’s not that you’ll live it without trials and tests – even the Good Book says in Matthew 5:45 that “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” – but it’s about how you handle the trials and tests when they come your way.

 So in that vein, here’s a brief synopsis of how opening weekend of rifle deer season went at our deer camp.

The plan was to head to deer camp on Friday around noon. I spent much of Thursday evening packing gear and loading the 4 wheeler and some firewood. Since my brothers wouldn’t be coming in to hunt this year I invited two guys I’ve hunted with over the years. And my son would be driving in from the other side of the state and be arriving later in the evening.

I was going to be gone from home from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening. My wife planned a trip to Springfield with her mom for a shopping outing starting Saturday afternoon and returning on Monday.

All was going well until I woke up around 3 a.m. Friday morning and realized our electric furnace had gone out. The house was 12 degrees cooler than the thermostat said it should be. [Murphy’s Law: Score 1]. We have a wood furnace as a backup alternate heat source. I could easily light a fire and warm the house that way. But I was leaving in a few hours for three days. My wife was leaving the next day for three days.

That left a two day overlap with no one there to feed firewood into the furnace as needed. Unless the electric furnace was working I was facing returning home from deer camp on opening day and spending the rest of my weekend sitting around the house tending the furnace.

I’m usually the “fix it” guy around my house – because I’m too cheap to pay someone else to do it if I think I can do it myself – but the line is drawn at brain surgery or heating and cooling. The good news is I have a good heating and cooling guy. The bad news was that he’s even more of a dedicated deer hunter than I am. I suspected he wasn’t going to work Friday and likely wouldn’t be available until after the weekend at least.

So I waited until 6:30 a.m. and called him, Chris Briley of Briley Heating and Cooling. I’m not one to name drop in a commentary, but I think Chris deserves a mention in this case, and he’s representative of the many exceptional, dedicated small service businesses we have in our area. To my surprise he had not left for his own deer camp yet. Not surprisingly, he said he would come over before he left for his hunt and get my heat going so I could deer hunt without further worry.

By the time I wrapped up things at the office and went home to leave for deer camp the house was toasty warm. [Score 1 for the Hunters, with a hearty “thank you” to Mr. Briley.]

My two hunting buddies headed to deer camp a couple hours before me. About the time I walked into the house I got a call from one stating the other guy had locked his keys in his truck. [Another for Murphy: Total of 2 points.] A quick call to the guy’s wife determined that since I hadn’t left the house yet she could deliver an extra truck key to me to be transported down to camp. [That makes 2 for the Hunters … we’re even at this point.]

I finish packing my gear and hook up the trailer and kiss and hug my wife goodbye for the weekend. As I pull out of my driveway with all my deer camp stuff and the friend’s extra truck key in my pocket, my phone rings. The guy’s wife has just discovered that overnight a water line froze and busted and the shut off valve is located beneath the house. [Murphy scores again: 3 total]

As I’m headed to camp I finally get in touch with the hunting buddies and inform them of the new water issues back at home. As soon as I arrive at deer camp with the extra truck key the fellow hunter jumps in his truck and heads home to deal with his plumbing issue. But as I exit the county road and start up the lane through the family farm I see a huge doe bounding through the field … wait for it … being chased by a massive buck! Granted it’s not season for another several hours, but it’s definitely a good sign to see such deer activity happening [Hunters: 3]

The remaining hunting buddy and I start unloading and getting stuff carried in the hunting cabin. I build a fire in the woodstove, and we put away the most important gear – the groceries and cookware. At this point we’ve had some setbacks, but we’ve also witnesses some victories … we’re running dead even with whomever this Murphy guy is!

About suppertime my son calls. He’s checked in a couple times along his drive across the state. But this time he calls to tell me he’s just outside Leadwood and the transfer case just went out in his pickup truck. [Score a big one for ole’ Murphy: Now at 4] I instruct him to use our available towing service and call a tow truck to haul the truck to our house, and I call my wife to see if she can pick him up and haul him down to deer camp. She can, and despite the truck issue she is glad to get to spend some time with her “baby boy”. An hour later I meet them at a gas station, swap over his hunting gear, kiss her goodbye again and we head back down the back road to deer camp.

At this point we’re running even with Murphy and his law. We’ve had some setbacks, but we’ve fought through and resolved each of them head-on.

After a good night of great food – big warm helpings of Slumgullion, sides and dessert – and some good conversation and talking hunting strategy, we turned in for a good night in the warm cabin. The next morning we were faced with the frigid opening morning of season. Everyone bundled up in extra layers of assorted camo, flannel and water-repellant outerwear. A few cups of coffee or hot chocolate, some warm oatmeal, and we headed out on foot fanning out across the property with big dreams of a massive deer on the ground by noon.

In an effort to start squelching this already-lengthy commentary, let me just say I saw seven nice deer opening morning … but never took a shot for assorted reasons. Some were a little on the small side, while others were too far away or too deep into thick cover for a good shot. Our hunting buddy saw one doe but couldn’t get a good shot. My son saw nothing but squirrels opening morning.

By midday the other hunting buddy arrived at camp. We all gathered in for a quick sandwich and to warm up and swap hunting stories. By 2 p.m. we were back in the woods with plans to hunt until dark. On the way to his stand my son saw a massive buck but could not make a good shot so he didn’t try.

About an hour into his hunt he sees two coyotes coming through the woods past his stand. Coyotes wreak havoc on turkey poults and other small game, especially in this part of Missouri. And over supper the night before I had just mentioned that a friend was looking for a coyote to have mounted and display in his home. “Boom” I hear, and then another “boom.” Those nuisances are gone, and my friend gets a phone call that we have that coyote for him to take to the taxidermist. [Hunters: We score one point for helping a friend, for a total of 4.]

About 45 minutes later a nice-sized buck wanders past my son’s tree stand and is quickly put down [Hunters: 5]. I finish my opening day of hunting by helping him get his deer and the coyote back to the cabin. After a long evening of field dressing and skinning the deer, and getting everything else around camp tidied up, we settle in for a big Dutch oven full of hot chili and all the trimmings. Some homemade cookies for dessert and we’re ready to get some rest and try it again on Sunday.

We wake up Sunday to a skiff of snow and bitter damp wind. The three of us with deer tags still to fill pile on the layers and orange and head out to our stands and blinds. The fourth one, who filled his tag on opening day, gets to sleep in and hang around the cabin. He spends the morning butchering his deer and packaging the meat for transport. The morning produces no deer for us hunters, and we hear very few shots off in the distance. Apparently the deer are smarter than we are and have decided to bed down and let the cold, damp breezes pass.

When we all wander back into deer camp shortly before noon Sunday we’re met with the bony remnants of a deer carcass and a happy hunter just packing away the last of the bags of venison in coolers. On the wood stove in the cabin is a sizzling, steaming big cast iron skillet of fresh venison stir fry. The menu called for sandwiches again for lunch, but my son decided to treat the rest of us to one of his own venison recipes … and enjoy it we did [Hunters score big with this one, giving us a total of 5 for the weekend]. That afternoon we cleaned up, packed up and all headed home.

Now here we are in the second weekend of fall firearms deer season in Missouri. I took one day off work earlier in the week and drove down to hunt for a few hours. While there’s still a lot of fresh sign of deer activity, the beasts were elusive and I came back home empty-handed again. If the weather cooperated I intended to give it one last try today. Tomorrow I have a family obligation which will keep me out of the woods. If I don’t shoot a deer today I’ll end the season without filling a tag – something I’ve done only a couple times in the past couple decades.

But I’m not counting deer season as a loss … not at all. I got to spend several hours hanging out with a great bunch of guy including my now-grown son. We ate good food, enjoyed good conversation, got some exercise walking through the fields and woods, and breathed lots of fresh air. I hunt on what was my grandparents’ farm, so each time I’m there the flood of childhood memories rushes back.

I benefited from the professionalism and generosity of a top-notch heating and cooling repairman. And even the guy with the plumbing problems was able to make it back and hunt much of the weekend. And my son, who will be out of the country for a several-month-long project shortly after Christmas, was graced with a loaner SUV to drive these next few weeks. And my wife had a good time shopping and visiting with our daughter and my mother-in-law, and got to visit the malls and quilting supply shops I prefer to avoid at all cost when I’m with her.

Sure, we have a truck to repair, and my hunting buddy has some plumbing to fix. We didn’t all get deer (but hopefully will before season ends). But, as I’ve said before, opening weekend and deer camp are about much more than putting venison in the freezer. If you add all those benefits in to the total then we hunters really outnumbered ole’ Murphy and his law this year. It was a good season! 

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