Arrived around 5:30 and unloaded quickly—temperatures are hovering around freezing. Brought up bedding for the futon and the infrared heater. I plan to stay in the keep this weekend but will be leaving the bedroom and bathroom doors closed to help it stay warm. Fired up the heater immediately and lit some candles to give it a boost. I set up the sheets and comforter on the futon and put away the only other things I brought up: my clothes and overnight bag. This weekend, I’m just here to relax.
Headed over to the big trailer where Dad, Steve, and his son Sam had already settled in. Dad was frying up mushrooms to go with the massive steaks that Steve brought up from Leroy Meats. Steve and I headed out to the pole barn to get the grill and struggled to get it to light properly. I cleaned it out thoroughly with the air compressor, but we still couldn’t coax much more than an anemic flame from it. Dad resigned to trying to cook from what we had, but managed to extinguish the burners just by slamming the lid. It seemed like all hope might be lost, but upon relighting, the grill roared to life. The propane regulator must be over-sensitive or something. At least we got it going.
The steaks, mushrooms, and baked potatoes were delicious, and Dad, Steve, and I washed them down with our Brasky-sized glass mugs of Korbel and Coke. Sam’s still quite a few years away from joining us in the brotherhood of brown liquor.
After setting up the DVD player with Seinfeld and hanging out for a few episodes, I left the hunters and returned to the keep. I brought the propane tank and sunflower heater with me as the indoor temperature was barely breaking 50°. That did the trick. After about 15 minutes of letting it run, I got the place up to nearly 70°. Between the infrared heater and the better insulation this year, I didn’t need propane assistance for the rest of the night. Being comfortable in here with just a t-shirt and shorts is unprecedented for this time of year.
I was lazy for the rest of the night, laying around and watching movies. It started snowing around 9:30. By the time I dozed off a little after midnight, there was almost an inch on the ground.
Woke up for the day around 7:00. Cooler today, in the upper twenties, so the snow is sticking around. It wasn’t long before I heard a shot fired from pretty close by. I texted Dad, who said he thought he got a buck. He was waiting for Steve to get cold enough for him and Sam to head back in for the morning before trying to track it. I dressed warm and was off to the pole barn to assume my role as the Deer Retrieval Unit. I let the blue ATV idle and warm up while I found some warm gloves and gathered some rope.
In the meantime, Steve had tracked Dad’s deer. It had two less antlers than he had led us to believe, but was impressively massive for a doe. She dropped only a few feet from the edge of the trail on the far marsh loop, so it was easy enough to get her roped up and dragged out. The marsh is mighty wet, which wasn’t much of a problem for me, but sucked for Steve. One of his waterproof boots had developed a small hole in the toe. He gutted out the doe on the edge of the marsh where I had just cleared last month. After bagging the heart and liver, we rode back to the yard and used the winch to hoist the doe on the meat pole, a large pipe spanning two trees about 15 feet off the ground.
Steve went inside to change out of his freezing boots while I set off to get the pump running and the hoses hooked up. The big priming jug next to the pump hadn’t frozen up yet, but the water started turning into slush and ice as soon as I poured it. I had to heat water on the stove in the big trailer to melt the ice crystals and prime the pump. Steve came back out to rinse out the doe and cut the backstraps. As soon as he was done, I disconnected the hose and let it drain. No sense in letting it freeze up. I also took a moment to fill the bird feeders, which had been picked clean.
While we were busy outside, Dad had prepared a grand breakfast for us. Fried eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes. I called him Aunt Jodi, though I’m not sure he really took it as a compliment. Afterwards, I looted some snacks and drinks and headed back to the keep. Even as temperatures continued to drop outside, it stayed above 60° in there without any help from the propane heater. I queued up a few more movies and got a nap in for good measure.
As I was enjoying my lazy afternoon, I noticed a lot of bright movement outside. The feeders were packed: chickadees, nuthatches, and juncos were everywhere, several downy woodpeckers were hanging around, and there was even a cardinal and a blue jay. But, for the first time since I set up the feeders by the keep, I saw a red-bellied woodpecker and a pileated woodpecker. They’re both huge birds, much bigger than a blue jay. It’s a nice feeling to have all these guys coming back around.
There was also a squirrel chowing down who was not invited to the buffet. I lined up a clean headshot with the tactical .22 and turned it into his last meal. When I went to collect my furry prize, I notice the shot actually got him way low. That gun was just sighted in last month, so I was confused. I knew I had him clean in the crosshairs. I went back in to look at the rifle, making sure the mounting screws on the scope were tight. They were, but the screws holding the mounting rail to the rifle weren’t. I never thought to check those. I had some blue Loctite in the pole barn, so I coated the screw threads and secured the rail. I’ll have to sight it in yet again, but this time it should stick.
At 4:30, I heard three shots, very loud and close. Dad texted me that it was Steve, and that he had dropped two deer. I put on my cold weather gear again and was walking across the yard when I heard another shot, this one even closer. After a short delay, two more shots, then two more. I made sure I was wearing a blaze orange hooded sweatshirt over my jacket this time before heading out on the blue ATV.
Steve and Sam were pretty far out this time, but had tracked the first deer Steve shot, a six-point buck. They were just as confused about the last set of nearby shots as I was. As I dragged the buck past Dad’s stand, we got our answer. He had dropped his rifle. It was none the worse for the wear, but he had to readjust his scope. Steve gutted the buck in the same place as the doe, then I winched it onto the meat pole. I got the pump running again when Sam called from the marsh that he had found the other deer, bedded down. Steve didn’t get this one as cleanly, taking out the right rear leg.
I asked Steve, half-serious, if he wanted to use my .357. He pointed out that it would actually be a lot easier to carry through the brush than a rifle, so I loaded it up, grabbed my good flashlight, and we headed off to meet Sam. We found the deer about 50 feet north of the path to Dad’s stand, bedded down and panting. I got close, lining up for a clean shot so the deer wouldn’t have to suffer any more than it already had, when it sprang up and took off running on its three good legs. We tracked the blood trail further and this time I was able to put it down with a clear shot to the temple. And that’s the weird, semi-legal way I shot my first deer.
Dragging this doe out was a pain in the ass, as she had gotten into some thick scrub growth. In trying to mow down some of it in the ATV, a branch jabbed my throttle cable, sending the engine racing. I had to use the winch to free the ATV from the bushes it had beached itself on, re-route the throttle cable, and adjust the idler screw to get out of the woods. Steve gutted it, I hoisted it on the pole, he cleaned it out with the hose, and I put everything away for the night. I drained the pump and used the air compressor to blast all the water out of the combined 150 feet of hose. Three deer on opening day. It’s been a long time since we’ve had such a successful year.
Dinner was Mom’s delicious homemade chili and it did wonders to thaw us out. I helped Steve register his deer online, a new requirement this year. He had to leave after dinner; his mother-in-law is in failing health so he went to be with his wife. Sam stayed up with us, though, as he wanted to hunt again tomorrow morning.
I headed out to the keep and resumed my weekend laziness. I was asleep relatively early, before 10:30, but woke up uncomfortably cold around 4 am. Temps had dropped to the low teens outside and the infrared heater couldn’t cope, topping out around 50°. I blasted some propane-fueled BTUs and put another movie on. Within a half hour, the temp in the keep reached the upper 70s. Once again warm and cozy, I shut off the sunflower heater and dozed with the TV on.
Up for the day a little after 8:30. Still in the mid 60s in the keep and quite comfortable. Made my way to the big trailer for another full “lumberjack breakfast” with Dad and Sam. Steve plans on heading back up later this afternoon. After eating and helping Dad register his deer, I headed back to the keep to begin packing up. Loaded up the truck with my clothes, bedding, the infrared heater and the few remaining contents of the fridge. I winterized the place: poured antifreeze in all the drain traps, put all the cleaning supplies in the sink (in case they freeze and burst), shut off the fridge and propped open the doors, and tripped the outdoor GFCI outlet, cutting off power to the keep. Locked up and was on my way back to Oshkosh by 1:00 with the Green Bay/Minnesota game on the radio. I enjoy working on projects up here, but it’s also fun to just relax every now and then, do next to nothing, and enjoy the year’s efforts. This was an excellent lazy weekend.