Monday, October 10, 2011

Youth Deer Camp

No deer were hurt in the making of this post.


This past week was the Youth Deer Season here in Illinois and for the past 2 years I've been taking Robert and one of his friends (and his dad) out to the Aurora Sportsmen's Club to hunt deer.  This is one of my dreams to have a group of 5-8 boys and their dads come, setup Deer Camp for the weekend and Hunt.  Get the boys away from video games and school and girls and moms and sisters and everything and just go be in the outdoors.

First there was getting packed up.  Loading up the car and camper with everything we need to not only hunt but spend a long weekend camping.   As I'm packing up the stuff in the hunting box, Robert sees the Butt-out tool. and asks what it's for.  Now he cleaned pheasants and he's familiar with the process of field dressing, so this is nothing new.  I explain how it works to remove the anal alimentary canal on the deer.  He looked at again and then looked at me and said "Oh, I thought that was how we dragged them out of the woods."   |O_O| 

So we've got the camper loaded and head out to Shabbona State Park to setup camp.  We've got a couple of spaces (since there are 6 people) and when we arrive Pat and his son Jack are already there with their tent setup and fire going.  We quickly get the camper setup and start dinner.  As prep for the upcoming Cub Scout Campout (and the Boy Scouts) Robert makes dinner.  Italian Beef Sandwiches and pan fired French Fries.  Which is a hit.  After dinner there is a sit down with a map as we discuss where we think the deer will be and where we're going to setup.  Then there is my favorite part.  Hanging around the campfire.  The boys make some S'mores and we all just enjoy the night. Since we'll be getting up at 4:30 bedtime is a little earlier the usual, but surprisingly there's not an argument or complaints.  Setting up camp (and playing some tackle football), has worn the boys out. 

First thing the the next morning is Jack getting out of the tent and saying "Wow, look at all the stars!!  Yes, be out and away from civilization and it's nighttime lighting allows you to see thousands if not millions more stars then you normally can.   It's simply beautiful.  We head off for showers and a then a quick breakfast of deer bacon and eggs.  We head over to the Aurora Sportsmen's Club, wish each other luck and head out in the rising sunshine to our spots.
We wait for a bit and listen to the birds greet the morning, there's a rooster off in the distance and then the turkeys at Hoka Turkey Farm wake up.  Lots of turkeys. Thousands of turkey's off in the distance.  I hit the Bleat-In-Heat can a few times.  and we wait.  Suddenly off to our right, the something coming down the trail we came in on.  Antlers !!!  

They stop well short of us. All we can see are a forked set of antlers sticking up from the brush.  "Can I shoot" asks Robert very quietly, gun up on his shoulder. "Not yet." I whisper in his ear.  "Wait until you are sure of your target, and then aim for his back." The antlers move up and down, then there's a grunt snort, and he cuts off through the brush to our right, heard, but unseen.

"That was SOOOoooooo Cooool!!!!" he says.  I can recognize the after effects of an adrenaline dump.  "Nice job not shooting," I reply.  "You have to have a good clear shot, before you pull the trigger."  

Then shortly we spot a pointed set of ears moving through the brush, and they stop short.  Coyote !!!  "Dad can I shoot?"  "Yes, wait until you can be sure of your target." I reply.  But Wily decides instead to move off to yelp and howl at us, never giving us a clear shot.  

So we wait.  But a ten year old can only sit and wait so long.  I have a couple of deer calls, a rattling bag, and the Bleat-in-Heat can.  So Robert wants to try them.  I tell him that we should really only use one at a time as they have different purposes.  So we try one.  And wait.  Then we do the next.  And wait.  I show him how to use the rattling bag.  I rattle, then he does for few minutes. And we wait some more.   Then he does the Bleat-in-Heat can a few times.  And we wait.  He's getting bored, so we get up and walk around a bit.  That's the picture above.  We got back and sit.  And he starts playing with the calls.  Pretty soon it sounds like a Deer Party.  Several bucks are grunt snorting and fighting as a lone doe bleats that she's looking for a boyfriend.  Sounds like if your a deer and not here, you are missing all the fun, as all the deer are here!!

We go back to camp for lunch, the boys play football while the dads nap.  Jim and his son Conner join us after Conner's morning baseball game.  We again go over a plan for the afternoon hunt and head out.  We walk out to our spots and begin the process of waiting. 

 We spotted nothing, but had a good time looking at various Spiders (including a couple of Marble Spiders and an Orb Weaver), following tracks and looking for scat and droppings.   Finally it began to get dark so we made our way back to the car and then back to camp.  Pat and Jack made Steak sandwiches for us (Wow!!) for dinner, then it was sit by the fire and discuss the days events.  Deer were seen but none close enough, nor moving slow enough to take a shot.  Plans were laid for the next day, and as the fire burned down, we headed off to sleep. 
The morning was Blueberry pancakes (sans syrup as it's not a camping trip unless I forget something.) and more deer bacon.  Mmmmmm.  Again, off before the sun comes up and the boys are just dazzled by the number of stars they can see.  

We get to the parking lot and head out.  Hopes are high as we're starting to figure out where the deer "are". 

There is some walking, much sitting and some talking.  But mostly just being.  Being together and enjoying the beauty of nature.   It really doesn't get any better then this.  A father and son outdoors together.  I hope Robert remembers it.  

As the morning grows longer, we accept that the deer have outsmarted us and head back to camp for lunch.   As a concession to the boys, it's Tube Steaks and chips.  We pack up the camper and the boys decide that instead of more hunting, they want to shoot a slug through their guns (Rossi Combos.  A single shot 20ga barrel with a swappable single shot .22 LR barrel).  So we head to the range.  I fully expected the boys to fire one slug and say "That's enough, can we shoot .22 now?"  Turns out Conner was just that, one slug and done.  My Robert on the other hand is recoil junkie.  Not content to shoot all five of his slugs, he also shoots Conner's other four.  The boys burn through an entire box of .22LR ammo, 550 rounds.  And Jim and I look at each other when there is $1.00 bet made as to whether Robert can hit, within five shots, a pink shotgun hull to knock off a tiny Rubber duck they have brought along.  He nails it on the third shot and the bet paid off when during the next break we examine the hull.

Finally, all the targets are shot, the ammo exhausted.  Nothing left but to finish out the weekend with dinner at Robert's favorite restaurant, Pub West.  Trent, as always, is a great host and serves some of the tastiest food.  Cheeseburgers for the boys, Jim has an Italian Beef and I go with the Texas Burger.  We eat, enjoy some football and at long last head out.

A few weeks back, after the Zombie Shoot about an hour or so after I returned Robert to his mother, I got a text.  "He was returned Tired and Cranky, and if he doesn't straighten up, he won't be going to cub scouts next week."  I took that as a point of pride.  In fact, I joked with Jim that I expected to get a text this weekend complaining that I "returned him Tired, Cranky, Dirty, Sticky and Bruised"  (from shooting the slugs).  
But I know that he had as much fun as I did.


  1. Sounds like you and the boys had a Great Trip.
    My son is 12 I'm slow I know but I'm getting him a membership to our Range for Christmas.
    Shhh it's a suprise :) He's going to be so excited. I'm even going to let him read some of Brigids blogs to give him some pointers in the right direction.

    Thank You for your post.

  2. Great trip, even if the 'targets' didn't cooperate... :-)