Opening Day in Deer Camp 2016

“The current temperature is 32 degrees and the wind is calm,” the weatherman announced, on our radio at 4 a.m. this past opening morning, November 5. “We will have a high of 68 today with a 5–10 mph winds from the south and a low of 27 tonight.’”

The high of 68 declaration was then followed by a chorus of moans. By November 1, winter fur on our northern whitetails is fully developed; it prepares them for lows near 45 below zero. Whenever the temperature rises above 40 degrees during a November hunting season therefore—despite the fact that whitetail breeding begins on November 3 in our hunting area—our deer are inclined to spend all but their earliest daylight hours lying in shade in their secluded bedding areas.

“Well,” I responded, to the forecast, “it will be cool enough deer for deer to be active until about 9 to a.m. If we all get to our stands at least 30 minutes before first light, one or more of us ought to take a buck this morning.”

Dr. Ken Nordberg’s son Ken Jr. with 8-pointer taken at a well-chosen stand site during the first hours of hunting season; note the dense forest cover.

At 8:45 a.m., two close together gunshots of the very few heard that morning (near or far) echoed from “Acorn Mountain”—our name for the highest, most extensive hill in our area, 1 1/2 miles northwest of where I sat. This meant one of our gang had taken a mature buck, knowing none of us would take a lesser one on opening morning, and, also knowing we are all excellent shots.

The lucky hunter was my youngest son, Ken, who showed up in camp at 10:30 to fetch my plastic toboggan for dragging a deer through the woods to a nearby logging trail. Then, my utility garden wagon would be used to haul any deer the rest of the way to camp—snow cover permitting—and seek help.

It wasn’t surprising because Ken has long been particularly talented at finding quickly productive buck-stand sites. While scouting three weeks earlier, despite an access problem caused by beavers, he chose a stand site with a good hunting history: one located within a stone’s throw of a bear scratch tree near where Silver, my 83-year-old hunting partner from Wisconsin, took a trophy buck a few years ago near where my son Dave took one for the wall a few years earlier, and, near where Dave and his son Tyler have taken black bears. The reason this site has been productive is found on an adjacent wide bench or level area on the south slope of this enormous hill: a dense grove of mature red oaks much ravaged by bears that cannot wait for acorns to begin falling in August. Our whitetails, of course, relish acorns too. The clincher for choosing this site was plenty of fresh tracks, droppings, antler rubs and ground scrapes made by a mature buck following some freezing temperatures in back in mid-October. Despite the former trail leading to this area—now being under deep water—making it necessary to add an extra half-mile of connecting deer trails to reach this site in darkness only possible from the south, Ken felt certain the extra effort would be worthwhile. But he had plenty to grin about before leaving camp opening morning, with the breeze coming from the south.

As you can see in the accompanying photo, the forest cover in the area in Ken’s stand site is especially dense. Though normally a one-shot expert, his first obviously bullet ricocheted off something on the way to the buck that showed up at 8:45. It put the buck down, a nice 8-point, 3 1/2 year-old, but a second shot was necessary to finish it. Because of the unseasonably warm temperatures, Ken had to rush his buck to the nearest business that processes deer in our hunting region some 50 miles away.

Ours was a happy camp that evening, and it was a great start to the hunting season, despite unfavorable conditions. We topped off the evening with a sumptuous chicken dinner preceded by kippered sardines, crackers with buck heart hors d’oeuvres, a longtime Nordberg tradition.