Tales from deer camp: Remember when ...?

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Mount Pleasant — Gather round, young’ns, and hear about the real meaning of deer hunting season.

Sure, some of it has to do with bagging the biggest buck.

But one day, you’ll learn what your parents already know: Eventually, it becomes all about deer camp.

Once a year, you slip away from your workaday lives, spend time with relatives and friends you’ve known so long they might as well be family, and update each other on your lives.

“Even if you don’t get a buck, you can still have a good time,” said Bob Mills, 76, who has been hunting for 62 years.

For two weeks in November, you’ll play cards, split the chores, eat like the members of House Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” and snore so loudly it could crack the Arctic ice cap.

You’ll play practical jokes on each other and, once they’re exhausted on your contemporaries, you’ll start on the next generation.

And, best of all, you’ll tell stories. Some may even be true.

Remember when Andy fell asleep in the blind and we replaced his rifle with a teddy bear? Or Jake sneaking back to camp early because of the cold and trying to make it seem like he had been out all day?

Or the time Bill called his wife on his cellphone, thereby putting all the other hunters in the doghouse because they had told their spouses the woods didn’t have phone service?

For now, greenhorn, you’ll be listening to the stories. When you get older, you’ll be telling them.

Here are some of the tales from the wilds of northern Michigan.

It’s about camaraderie

For 56 years, a group of friends from Kalamazoo has traveled to Lake Gogebic in the Upper Peninsula.

But for much of that time, they never knew one of them was a sleepwalker.

Pete Scott, 67, found out the hard way in 1995. He was sound asleep when the son of a friend grabbed his head and held it.

It was just after the O.J. Simpson trial, a case that had preoccupied Scott.

Suddenly awakened, he screamed “like a little girl,” he said.

The culprit has no memory of the dastardly deed. He said he was sound asleep.

It’s stories like this that keep the Gogebic Lodge fueled year after year, said owner Brian Berquist.

“They tell stories all the time,” he said about the campers. “It’s all about the camaraderie of friends.”

Marina, 12, got a deer

Mike Terenzi, of Macomb Township, joined a group of men to hunt in Curran last weekend, so guess who got a deer?

It wasn’t Terenzi or many of his friends and relatives — all men.

It was his 12-year-old daughter, Marina.

“It’s fun to have bragging rights,” she said.

She hunted during the youth season earlier in the fall, but she was holding out for a buck.

She’s been shooting a .22 since she was 6.

Proud papa Mike, who didn’t even get off a shot during the weekend, said Marina got into hunting because of him and practices every time the family goes up north.

Feeding the family

When Frenchie LaMay talks about hunting, he goes right to the beginning.

He describes how his grandfather trained him and his brother to the point where they rarely needed more than one shot to get a deer. It was an important skill because the brothers helped feed their family of nine.

“We kept the fridge stocked for a full year,” said LaMay, 54.

He still hunts near his home in White Cloud.

As for who’s the better shot, there isn’t much of an argument, said LaMay. It’s his brother, Joel, who is one year younger.

He will even admit this to other hunters, which shows brotherly love trumps camp bragging rights.

Mice in the stove

Mills’ hunting blind north of Mount Pleasant has hosted all manner of animal. Birds have flown into it. Squirrels have jumped in. Unfortunately, he was inhabiting it at the time. But those creatures were just visitors.

One year, the retired Central Michigan professor was trying to heat the blind on the first morning of hunting season. He struck a match and held it to his propane stove.

Instead of flame, he was greeted by a bevy of mice that scurried from the nest they had built in the stove during the offseason.

Mills just about jumped through the roof. Now he and his friends just laugh about it.

“Good clean American fun,” he said about deer camp. “It’s filled with laughter, good food and funny stories.”


(313) 223-4186

Twitter: @francisXdonnell