By Ben Gruber
I have fond memories of my first year deer hunting. Years of tagging along with my father built anticipation. When I was finally old enough to hunt myself, the excitement made sleep impossible the night before.
That first-time excitement only comes once, but I have found it no less thrilling to relive it through the experience of others. Nowhere is that raw excitement and anticipation more evident than our annual Kids And Mentors Outdoors (KAMO) deer camp experience at the DNR’s MacKenzie Center near Poynette. Every year KAMO hosts a Learn-to-Hunt Deer Camp at the 500-acre property, complete with bunkhouse lodging and camp-style meals.
This year we had 21 first-time hunters paired with experienced deer hunting mentors. Many of the mentors rolled into camp Friday afternoon to put out blinds and prepare for a long weekend. Children started arriving later that evening as they were able to escape the confines of their classrooms across the state.
An hour of firearm safety training was followed by a presentation from a wildlife biologist, and then a local warden gave advice and instruction to facilitate a safe, rewarding, and successful hunt. Chili and beef stew filled our bellies before heading to the center’s four bunkhouses. Mentors expecting an early night’s rest were sorely disappointed as the children were far too jacked up to sleep.
Morning and breakfast came early. Our volunteer chefs Jeff and Patti had eggs, biscuits, gravy, and cinnamon rolls ready for us at 5 a.m. Fresh snow made for excellent hunting conditions as we made our way out.
Braedon, the young man hunting with me this weekend, witnessed 18 deer in the 15 minutes before legal shooting light. Once that magical time came, only one deer moved by us, and it never presented a shot. Our fingers and toes began to complain about the cold, so we wandered back to the lodge with thoughts of hot cocoa.
Almost immediately, other hunters began making their way back, and the pole for hanging deer began to fill up fast. Five deer, including two very nice bucks, were hanging by lunch time.
Hot stew made with last year’s venison warmed our stomachs and prepared us for nap time. After naps we were right back out for the evening.
Falling snow made for a beautiful scene but tough hunting. We did see deer, but we were not able to get any to hold still enough for a shot. Darkness fell with our deer tags still burning a hole in our pockets.
On this night camaraderie was the name of the game. These children fell all over themselves to tell stories of their first experiences. Sitting around and listening to the children relive their first deer hunting experience was like going back 20 years to my own first hunt and reminded me why I make the effort to be involved in this hunt every year.
In the end 12 deer were harvested. We do it entirely on the backs of volunteers, no paid staff — just regular folks like you and me.
KAMO is in need of mentors here in the greater Marshfield area. There are no special requirements, just some guys and ladies that are willing to share their passion for the outdoors. Contact me for more information.
Ben Gruber can be reached at email@example.com.