Traverse City Record-Eagle


November 12, 2012

Garret Leiva: The call of the wild ... or a warm bed

While no longer a young buck, I can still go wild; as in pickled bologna for breakfast and no running water.

The annual trek to the woods to practice poor hygiene and tell tall tales — otherwise known as deer camp — begins this week.

After packing up every wool sock in the house, I'll travel 200 odd miles to the family hunting lodge — or what the uninformed might call a shed. Built in the 1960s, the red shed is nestled in family acreage near the Huron National Forest.

The plywood and rusted tin-roof shack screams rustic charm. The nearby outhouse also elicits screams on subzero mornings.

I didn't stay in the red shed as a young nimrod. Instead my father and I trudged out to a two-man deer blind. I toted along a lever action .30-30 rifle that probably last saw duty on a stagecoach.

Sweating and swearing, we lugged enough provisions to supply Patton's Third Army. We also managed to step on every bone-dry stick in the faint light of dawn and equally dim flashlight.

Deer still traveled past our blind despite efforts to frighten away every animal in a 5-mile radius. They either had a morbid curiosity or knew we had dozed off in our blaze orange coats.

The first time a 3-point buck tested this theory, however, I was wide awake — too wide-eyed. After all, my hand never went for the trigger, or any other part of the gun, despite nudges from my dad's elbow. The deer walked away unscathed.

I treated this first bout of buck fever by swallowing my pride along with a ham sandwich.

My early opening day memories involve sitting in a deer blind with Dad. I can still hear my teeth chattering as we waited for legal light.

If opening day fell on a Sunday, Dad brought a battery-powered radio to tune in the Detroit Lions. Over the hiss of a kerosene heater, Dad would politely remind Gary Danielson to "throw the ball, dummy."

For some reason the deer stayed away on game day. They must have been Tampa Bay Buc-caneer fans.

I moved to my own deer blind around age 17. The converted ice fishing shanty still stands on a ridge called the Hog's Back. Dad and I used walkie-talkies to stay in touch. Our deer blind communications centered around two things: what to eat for lunch and when to go home.

Every so often a wayward deer would cross our path and a stage whisper conversation ensued.

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