“DAYLIGHT IN THE SWAMP!” The dust is shaken from the 1960s’ Airstream Trailer as Dean, a lifelong member of the deer camp, throws open the door and wakes me and 2 other men with a holler. Normally it takes a series of alarms to get me out of bed, but every November 15th, merely whispering these words would have sufficed. As my feet hit the wet laminate floor of my temporary home, dubbed “The Silver Bullet,” I hear Dean greet the other eight people in three other trailers packed in a tight circle in Crawford County.
Dressed in my camp clothes, I crawl out of the Silver Bullet into the pitch blackness of the Northern Michigan woods. In the camp’s kitchen (a 30-foot wall tent) a prominent member of the camp, Doc, fries three pounds of bacon in an enormous cast iron skillet. Gene, the camp’s founder and leader, fills an old thermos from a percolator on a propane burner. He has been hunting the same land for over 60 years, and can tell you every nicknamed trail and deer blind with the story behind each. I walk around the large table filling glasses with Uncle John’s Cider, the camp staple beverage until the dinner sangria and beers begin to flow. Eggs are next into the skillet gaining flavor from the bacon grease, and a 4-foot long griddle full of pancakes is tended by Dale. Once the dozen men sit down and eat, the excitement is realized inside the smoky tent. Opening Day is officially here.
After insulating as much as we’re able against the early Michigan snow that fell this year, I grab the youngest member of the camp, Ben, and we head out in my truck. Down rutted two-tracks, and through a foot of untouched snow, the headlights of my fellow campers disappear from my mirrors in different directions once we hit Confusion Corners, a particularly twisted intersection of trails whose name is well earned. I drop Ben off at his blind and continue down a narrow trail unknown to maps and GPS. As I load my rifle and begin my walk to my own sacred spot, all of the preparation and purchases made begin to justify themselves.
Although Crawford County is no haven for Boone and Crockett Deer, there is no place in the USA I would rather spend my November mornings. Antlers are rarely even seen, but the group of men and the brotherhood of deer camp is what draws me there year after year. Not only do I have the privilege to hunt in Michigan, but also the family that makes the entire operation possible has graciously held a bunk with my name on it. This year, I was one of two in our camp lucky enough to harvest a deer. Even though I didn’t see a single antler, you can bet I am counting the minutes until I hear “DAYLIGHT IN THE SWAMP!” ring out in the cold November air once again.
Wherever you may hunt next fall, be it the crop fields of Manchester, the woods of Ontonagon, or the swamps of Kalkaska where I call home, keep it in mind that some of the best memories of hunting are not always the ones hanging on your wall.
What is your Michigan Hunter’s Tale? Share with us where you’ve hunted and why it was awesome!
~ Frank Israel, Guest Writer
Frank is proud resident of Northern Michigan and loves to take advantage of the outdoor beauty and recreation the region has to offer. Although he works full time in construction, weekends are spent playing outside in Michigan as often as possible. Aside from deer hunting, he enjoys fishing, ice fishing, camping, duck hunting, snowmobiling and small carpentry projects.