Buck Shot Club

A shorter version published in The Lakeland Times, Minocqua on May 22, 2009.

Published in A Wisconsin Harvest, Volume II, WWA Press, September, 2013.

buck shot PrintingThe mythic power of the hunting camp, strong and enduring in north woods communities, became clear to me during the memorial service for my 89 year old father, in fall 2008. As each family member took their turn sharing memories of our dad, many funny and poignant stories were told. Among my most vivid childhood memories, I recalled Dad spending hours, days and weeks packing each year for what seemed like a very important trip to a place called “the shack.”

As his departure time drew near, our spare room was taken over by an ever growing pile of jackets, duffle bags, boots, socks and blankets, topped with boxes of ammunition and a gun tied into a canvas bag. Dad was never home on Thanksgiving, always off on this big and important trip. During that time, we waited anxiously for his phone call to tell my mom he’d “gotten one.” My eulogy noted how Dad, not a religious man, had become most comfortable with the Native American concept of spirituality, focusing on the interconnectedness of man and nature. I said I visualized him up in his north woods haven, on a vision quest, walking through the forest with Native American chiefs and medicine men.

From that, it was just a quick skip and a jump to the family’s consensus that Dad’s ashes should be scattered at his old hunting camp near Rhinelander. The clincher was when Mom stated Dad had told her this was his wish. I accepted the assignment and felt most capable since I’d moved three years earlier to Eagle River. We lived a mere half hour away, according to the map. Deciding I would do what I could to locate the shack, I optimistically took home the cardboard box filled with ashes. My father’s ashes. All that’s left of the Buck Shot Club. Fortunately, Dad had also kept a log of his long ago hunting adventures, which was invaluable in my search.

His log described “The Buckshot Club,” founded in the summer of 1949 by him and five of his cronies who “wished to have a place of our own in the Wisconsin north country to hunt deer.” The log included maps, pictures and a definition of the property, described as “41 ½ acres, north of Rhinelander, just east of Hwy 17, in the Town of Pine Lake.” According to the map, the property was south of Mud Lake. shack 1949It only took that one 1949 Labor Day weekend for the men to construct the original 12’ x 20’ building with a lean-to roof. Two double beds in bunk fashion and a studio couch was enough for them to declare it slept six. It had a three-burner, bottle gas hotplate and was heated by an oversized, round, black oil space heater.

shack 1956In October 1956, an addition was added that doubled the building’s size. As a hobby printer, Dad had fashioned paper napkins with the Buck Shot Club logo. He took them up to the shack, laughing that it was “for the ambiance.” Dad spent 35 deer hunting seasons at the shack.

His comic description of his first forays into this unknown territory is best expressed in his own words: “When I became one of the six joint owners of the Buck Shot Club’s 40 acres and hunting shack in Oneida County, the group was not exactly experienced in basic and effective whitetail hunting methods……This would be my first time ever in the woods, so I was more liability than hunter. We saw deer but the wrong end and under a full head of steam. Many were the heart-stopping encounters with unseen deer that started with a wild crash! crash! crash!. Then tense silence. Within a few years, we found ways of getting standing shots at the front end of the deer and I became able to get around without having to blaze every other tree in the forest.”

On a more serious note, his awe for the beauty of the woods is evident: “Old logging roads were barely discernible, as were decayed and collapsed corduroy at swamp crossings. Deer sign was abundant and in some places the runways literally resembled well-used barnyard cattle trails which, if followed for any distance, would wind progressively deeper into the thick and all but impenetrable swamp. Some of the local residents called this area the BIG BUCK COUNTRY.”

As the years passed and he and the other men aged, they added and subtracted members and finally sold the property in 1984. I began to have serious reservations. So many years had passed, I doubted the building itself could possibly still be there. Condos or vacations cottages have overtaken the area, I reasoned. Progress, you know. I decided I’d be realistically happy just finding the location and hoped there’d be an appropriate place for his ashes. I visualized trying to reason with, pleading with a condo owner that an old hunter’s ashes would be a meaningful addition to their property.

So, with map in hand, on the last day of the 2008 deer hunting season we decided to take a little ride, driving south on Highway 17 looking for Mud Lake. We’d planned to turn onto any roads south of the lake and see where they led. Though not called Mud Lake Road on his old map, there now was a road sign. Oh Oh. Here’s the progress I’d been worried about. The concrete road was about a half mile long and then it became a gravel path. Just as the map indicated. Driving further on the narrow and ever shrinking trail, I was becoming disheartened when we came upon a driveway. There was a building. It looked somewhat like the shack but quite a bit larger. Could it be? How would I know for sure?

Trucks were parked in the yard and just as we drove in, a couple of men came out, carrying duffle bags and rifles to their vehicles. One man walked toward us and when questioned, said, yes, he was the owner. When our purpose was explained, the man said he’d hunted the area as a young man and recalled another group of men who hunted there each year. He especially remembered seeing deer hanging on a pole in the yard. The man said how he’d been happy when he and his hunting group had the opportunity to purchase the property. present shackThen he proudly pointed out his improvements, the front porch and the large addition he’d added to the back. The shack, if this was the shack, had doubled in size once again. As he heard more about my father and his hunting buddies, he looked puzzled. “Was one of them a printer?” he asked. Yes, we replied. “There are some paper napkins in there that say Buck Shot Club on them,” the man said as he waved his arm toward the building. That was enough for me! I’d found the shack!

After more discussion, the man said we could scatter the ashes on the property. I was elated. But as plans materialized, I realized I still didn’t have the whole story. I wanted to talk once more to the man in the woods. A call to the Oneida County Register of Deeds got me his name and I made another call. He filled in the rest of the story. The Buck Shot Club sold the property in 1984 to the man in the woods and his hunting group. On their first visit to the camp after the purchase, they’d found a letter, signed by each member of the Buck Shot Club, wishing the new owners as much enjoyment and great hunting memories as they’d experienced. Then in 2005, he took sole ownership of the property. Now my work was done. Well, maybe the easy part was done.

In spring 2009 we had a family camp-out on our property in Eagle River. Five of Dad‘s children, various in-laws and grandchildren gathered for the celebration. Mid-afternoon, we made our way to the hunting shack. As we nervously gathered, a general offer to say a few words was put forth. Then a Native American (Hopi) prayer was read:

I give you this one thought to keep
I am with you still
Ido not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone
I am with you still
In each new dawn
twoThen each sibling and their family took some ashes and walked around the property, saying their individual good byes. After the ceremony, everyone returned to our house for more of the north woods camp-out experience.       My father had a long, full life and knowing he’s resting easy in a place of infinite peace and comfort gives us a sense of completion. He was a strict parent who instilled a strong work ethic in all of his children. So, I think he’d be proud that I was able to finish this final job and do it right. I think he’d also be pleased to see how his children were able to come together, finish our family business and begin to build new relationships for the future.   In fact, we have a family camp-out planned for next summer that just might include another visit to the shack.

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