So anyway, this Wisconsin guy, big-time hunter, goes up north on opening day for deer, as he and his buddies always do. You know, it's tradition and ritual, almost religious. But, sadly enough, he comes home with no trophy buck, nothing at all, which isn't all that unusual, I guess.
When he gets back, he tells his wife the bad news, then says it seemed that she'd not packed his socks (news flash: some wives pack their husband's suitcases--this is an old, old joke). Anyway, his wife has this s--t-eatin' grin on her face. "I certainly did," she tells him. "They were in your gun case."
That's a Wisconsin joke, where deer hunting is as much a tradition as fish on Fridays. I shot a lot of things growing up and had a great time doing it, but I never shot a deer because deer hunting was something you got into because your dad took you. I mean, squirrels and crows and bunnies--you graduated to those things once you passed Sputzies I and got your first .22. But white-tailed deer. . .that was another level of hunting altogether: it involved a gang of men, and, often enough, required a weekend. My childhood was steeply deprived.
I remember a time, years ago, when a guy from our church shot a good-sized buck in some wetland acres behind his house, "just out of town," as we would have said. That he got one close by was a news story--man bites dog--even though I grew up on Wisconsin's lakeshore, where there was no shortage of white-tails. Real deer hunting required a trip up north.
My first teaching job--in rural Wisconsin--offered a break on the weekend of deer opener, when most of the high school guys and a smattering of girls would be absent without leave. Hunting deer was as much a required course in Wisconsin curriculum as munching cheese curds and summer sausage, or being sure your brats were soaked in Miller beer.
I don't claim to know what things are like along the lakeshore these days because I haven't lived there for years, but I suspect, as elsewhere, there are, today, far, far more deer than hunters. As unlikely as it seems, a gadzillion Bambis have somehow acclimated to suburban life and therefore terrorize backyard gardens all over the Midwest. These days, more deer may end up dead from cars than rifles.
They drive our friends in Sioux Falls nuts, destroying neighborhood gardens so utterly the city hired bow-hunters to kill them--well, "harvest" sounds less bloody. My Michigan cousin sees them in her backyard every day, she says, and she lives pretty much in the middle of the city.
Still, deer are a wonder of beauty and grace. I saw three in our backyard not long ago, but the neighbors claim they've only begun to show up, now that harvest is in. Once the hunting season begins they'll appear here in abundance, we're told, because just next door a woody preserve along the squiggly Floyd River offers just about anything some buck or doe might want, mid-winter.
Somewhere deep within me, a Wisconsin hunter is still sitting in a woods somewhere, posting, waiting in all that lush nature for a big buck. Someday, who knows?--maybe I'll shoot one myself right out my back door, then feast on venison summer sausage, maybe fashion a pair of gloves, and hang a trophy in the garage to stare at when I pop open a Miller beer.
Just because I'm old doesn't mean I can't dream.