Deer Hunting TalesDeer hunting in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula
by Richard Franklin Bishop
I was raised in Michigan where it was, as the old French-Canadian Trappers would say in neighboring Québec, Canada, de rigueur (obligatory) to go Deer hunting as soon as you were old enough to get a license and big enough to “tote” a large caliber rifle or a shotgun for that purpose.
Normally, in High School, just about every well-to-do youngster of my age had some kind of family arrangement that accommodated him during the Deer hunting season complete with a gun, the area to be hunted, a place to eat and “hang his hat” when weary, and the partners to go along.
But this, my first time out, was shared with some Mattawan High School “buddies” who, for arrangements, were in the same slim fix that I was in. For equipment, about all we had was our borrowed Automobiles. We also “scrounged” our guns from relatives and were “loaned” our cold-weather gear, as well.
We had all heard wild tales about how plentiful Deer were up there where National Guard members went to their Summer Camp for training every year. That was why my very first Deer hunting trip was to the forests of the lower peninsula around Higgins Lake and Houghton Lake in Roscommon County; and somewhat North of there around Grayling outside the bounds of Camp Grayling, the Michigan National Guard Military Reservation. We only went for the 2-day week-end.
Cast of Characters H.S. Class
Darst Atherly 1947
Don Atherly 1947
Dick Bishop 1947
Joe Kamps (name changed) 1948
The 2 Atherlys were brothers and had borrowed and were sharing their Parents brand-spanking new 1946 Ford 6-cylinder 4-Door Sedan. More importantly, it had a heater than was fired with Regular gasoline and could be operated without the engine running. They carried water-proof sleeping-bags. If I remember correctly, for Firearms, they were equipped with Shotguns with rifled single-slugs.
I drove our family second car; a 1937 Plymouth 4-Door automobile. It possessed a normal automotive hot-water heater. Joe Kamps of Eagle Lake, rode with me. He brought along two Pup-tents. I brought along several blankets. As I remember, he carried a family-owned Model 94, lever-action, Winchester in .30-30 caliber (quite possibly, the most popular Deer hunting Rifle of all time).
For a Firearm, I had followed-up on a Newspaper Advertisement placed by a Gunsmith and paid $ 40.00 rent for the two weeks season (he wouldn’t rent it for only a few days). It was a German Military Mauser 8 mm Rifle (a World War II relic) together with hand-loaded ammunition and a leather sling. The experimental ammunition was about $ 1.00 a cartridge or $ 20.00 for a box of 20. The bullet was merely cast lead (and thereby not too sophisticated when it came to knock-down power). Not too many ”American Manufacturers produced ammunition for Mausers this soon after the War. It was very heavy to carry through the woods. Despite it’s heaviness (which should have somewhat dampened the “kick-back”), it’s “sledge-hammer” recoil with a steel butt-plate was very uncomfortable. I wasted 5 rounds on a target to see how it worked at 50 yards and found out that it’s accuracy was only so-so; the result was a “fist-sized” pattern. I learned not to like that combination of weapon and ammunition very much.
We took off in a two-car convoy Saturday morning early and after a four-hour drive arrived near the two Lakes in time to spend the rest of the day scouting up an area for the hunt on the following day, Sunday.
After a hot meal at a drive-in, which included ordering take-out sandwiches for supper, we located a forest clearing in the woods about dusk that was remote and quiet (no automobile or motorcycle traffic) and just right for two Pup-tents and two sleeping-bags. After eating our brown-bag Sandwiches and drinking Cokes for supper, we had just enough time to spread our gear around before it got really dark. We placed plastic lawn & leaf bags under the Pup-tents for protection against the ground moisture. The sleeping-bags used a tarpaulin as insulation against the cold ground temperature.
For everybody else, it was a big Saturday night in Deer hunting country! The bars we passed were all jammed full. Every town turned out their best hospitality during the hunting season for all those wearing the standard red plaid Mackinaws with matching trousers and red hats with ear-flaps tied up. None of us in our group had a Michigan Liquor Card (showing each of us to be at least 21 years of age) so we turned-in for the night fairly early fully-dressed under the blankets for a get-up at dawn. Each car had brought along an alarm clock and set it for 05:00. Then the ordeal began.
About midnight it started snowing -- giant, really wet flakes that had everything covered in half an hour. Just like heavy rain, it turned the solid ground greasy and slick. In an hour there were 3 - 4 inches of heavy, wet snow blanketing the two cars, the Sleeping Bags, the Pup-tents and the entire area. The pervading feeling of intense cold and the creeping wetness and the sagging tent roofs woke us up out of a sound sleep. At first, I thought the moisture from my breathing (trapped inside the tent) was the culprit that had made it so uncomfortable. The plastic underneath us had done no good against the 100% humidity and flowing wetness. The temperature reading on a Thermometer would have shown that it was not very cold perhaps 30 degrees F. but we were shivering in our dampened winter clothing like it was below Zero, damp blankets and all. About 03:00 we gave up and crawled out of the Pup-tents and headed for the Car; permeated with wetness through and through!
The Atherly Brothers also had had enough and beat us to it. They invited us into their new Ford car and, lo and behold, they had the gasoline heater going. My, what luxury, to be able to dry out in a warm atmosphere even in the back seats, it was just like being in front of a fireplace (if we had had to use the Plymouth, we would have to have started it and let it warm up for about 20 minutes while the radiator fluid gradually warmed the heater coils). They added to our comfort by making a pot of hot coffee with a new-fangled 12 volt beverage heater that plugged into the Cigarette Lighter socket.
Joe Kamps, shivering with teeth chattering, said: “Geez, sometime a bit after Midnight I was wakened by a thumppety-thump sound and I do believe that a Deer jumped right over the top of my Pup-tent.” At daylight, before we started moving out to hunt, we checked around his Pup-tent (before he knocked it down to put it into the car trunk). Sure enough, there were little depressions in the most recent fallen snow showing Deer tracks underneath in the earlier snow. Male or Female we couldn’t decide. Joe said, amazed: “Man, I didn’t know Deer could see in the dark Hell, in that blizzard, it’s a miracle that it didn’t crash into one of our cars!”
Then the snowing stopped, completely. To make a long story short the next hours at our hunting “stands” were boring and otherwise miserable. Not one of our fearless four hunters spotted a Deer; not even tracks (the one exception noted above). There were plenty of tracks left by other hunters, though, and the high number taught us that this was one of the heaviest hunted areas of Southern Michigan.
Near the end of the day, I spotted a squirrel. I didn’t ask anyone if the Squirrel season and the Deer season overlapped and shot at it (anyway) at a range of about 100 yards; but with my eye-glasses and open sights, the result was “no game in the pot.”
We returned back down South to Kalamazoo and Van Buren Counties wiser but still craving hunting “booty”; naturally, we all were young enough not to be daunted by our abject failure. On that ride back, we were already planning the next hunt.
Deer Hunting In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
As I was leaving for the Military on 6 September 1950, I remember selling a .30-30 caliber Deer Rifle to a good friend of mine (complete with a hand-made carrying-case crafted by my Father). It was a cute little Stevens/SAVAGE Rifle, Model 325, and was sold exclusively by Sears, Roebuck & Co. from 1947 to 1950. It was just the right size so that it could be used in the woods in thick brush situations. It was bolt-action and it had a tiny 3-cartridge Magazine (with one in the chamber) giving the Hunter 4 shots in all. It was a short “Carbine-style” Rifle and my friend thought it was proportioned just right for his Mother, who was also a Deer-hunting enthusiast.
I had dropped out of College in the school year 1948/1949 to work and fill my “War Chest” with real money. One of the extra “bennies” was that, instead of reeling under steady “study pressure” 24 hours a day, I now had plenty of time to do some of the things on my “wants list” (now called a “bucket list” in modern slang). In other words, after 14 years of continuous schooling, I had the inner-urge to see what’s around the next bend of the River or over the next Hill.
That Autumn, as I approached the age of 18, I chose to go Deer hunting in an area I had long wanted to see; the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I thought that maybe there, in the heavily forested “Wilds”, one could possibly see the “remnants of old times”, i.e., I could perhaps see what had become of the Paul Bunyans or at the very least, where all the Hawkeyes had gone.
I asked Conrad (Connie) S. Burket (Mattawan H.S. School class of 1948) if he would be interested in such a trip. During our Summer of 1947 trip “Out West”, I found out that Connie was a great companion as a traveler, always cheerful and never a complainer (See CHAPTER 17, my book: Out Of Kalamazoo County cited at the end of this Story). He jumped at the chance and said: “Why don’t we see if my Father also would be interested in hunting Deer this year; specifically, in that geographic area” (his Father was Ralph Burket, who ran an Independent Insurance Agency we were dead-sure he would be fascinated with the idea). Connie continued: “He’s got a new car now, a big 4-door OLDSMOBILE 98; maybe he’ll even want to drive it up there. There’s a ball-hitch on the back, and with a trailer, we can take hundreds of pounds of supplies and cooking equipment and make the trip really plush.” Well now, that sounded like a warm first class ride . . . a whole lot better than a cold and grimy 1937 Chevrolet pickup truck! As predicted, his Father enthusiastically agreed.
We borrowed a farm two-wheeled trailer from my Father (Elmer J. Bishop) to tow behind Ralph’s big Oldsmobile 98. In it we hauled a 16’ X 16’ Officer’s tent that we had bought for the occasion from a War Surplus store and packed three folding sleeping cots and enough “grub” and appliances to do our own cooking
We started looking at maps and picked an area near the 3 small towns of Michigamme, Champion and Republic in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. What made the area so attractive to us “Flatlanders” was the nearness of real mountainous country. To the Northeast of us would be the Huron Mountains ringing the Lake Superior coastline and due North, beyond that, was Lake Superior, itself. To the Northwest, in Baraga County (and due West of the Huron Mountains chain) would be Mount Arvon, at 1,979 feet the highest point in Michigan.
The nearest big town was Ishpeming in Marquette County (pop. was 7,200 per my Rand McNally Road Atlas of 1996). East of the town of Champion there was the smaller town of Humboldt. This was in the general area where we were to hunt and it was near the flatlands South of U.S. Highway # 41 (also designated as State Highway # 28); these flatlands were mostly scrub woods surrounded by lowlands and marsh.
(As an aside, we were surprised to find that Van Riper State Park located at Lake Michigamme alongside of Highways # 41 & # 28 had the same unusual name as one of our neighbors on Milham Avenue back in Kalamazoo).
We made arrangements to stay two weeks, camping out. Since they had been going Deer hunting for years and years, both Burkets took along standard, red-plaid Hunting clothes and fine Deer Rifles in heavy calibers.
I was still assembling my hunting equipment “on a shoe-string” and thought a War Surplus store might be a good place to begin for this trip. There, I found in the Military Cold-weather Gear section of the store, Arctic trousers with suspenders and a matching coat, both alpaca-lined. A little red dye plus waterproofing and they were ready. For a weapon, I took along the above described Carbine-sized .30-30 Rifle Stevens/SAVAGE, Model 325, that I recently had purchased at “Sears.” The red hat and boots, I already had.
When we got to the Humboldt hunting area, we found out that it couldn’t be called the “Wilds” any more; after all was said and done “Civilization” had just about wiped-out the grizzled trapper image of the “Hunters of old.” The big Saturday night in Deer hunting country was the same here as in the Lower Peninsula! Every evening, the bars that we passed were all full. These towns also turned out their best hospitality during the hunting season for all those wearing the standard red plaid Mackinaws and matching trousers; i.e., the Restaurants were filed with hungry people who wanted theirs to be gourmet “three-square-meals” while otherwise claiming to be “roughing it.” No wilderness here!
Connie’s Father, Ralph, gave us both a lecture on demeanor . . . . a well-deserved verbal kick in the behind. We had made the mistake of saying in superior smart-alecky fashion: “Let’s go further on into town and see what the ‘Local Yokels’ are up to.” He said: “Don’t you ever talk down about our Northern rural brethren. They’re “salt-of-the Earth” people just like you and me who work hard for their money and they try to be good citizens even when times are hard. From the looks of the country we passed through in the past three hours, they’ve had enough of those.” We got the drift quick and got off that cocky teen-age line of talk.
Well, you guessed it. Two weeks of home-made stew made on a gas-fired hot-plate, keeping the space heater going by collecting and chopping wood with a hatchet, and hauling water in a 20 gallon Milk-can, and we never did see a Deer to shoot at. Sometimes, when moving about in the car in the flat-lands, we saw them at a great distance, but never when walking miles and miles through the scrub timber or sitting-out in a “stand” at the edge of a clearing in the deep woods. There may have been Deer all around us, but that year it did not snow during the two-week Deer hunting season; as a result, we could not easily see tell-tale tracks wherever we went.
But, all this was not surprising; most folks know that Deer become “spooked” during the designated hunting season, and lay low. Anybody from Southern Counties who regularly hunts seasonally up in the real North country and who tells tales down in the Southern Peninsula about how He or She brings back their Buck every year is either a Professional Hunter or telling tall tales. If you live up there (full-time), that’s a different story.
Connie’s Father, Ralph, was the surprise of the trip. In all the cold and misery of wet and clammy weather, he was always there, daily, with encouraging words to keep our morale up despite no luck in getting our Bucks. When we dragged ourselves, dog-tired, back to camp at days-end it was kind of comforting to hear pep-talks about tomorrow’s hunt.
We had a beard-growing contest (probably to help pass the time) in which his Father, won handily because he looked so much like a Grizzly Bear with it. I took second place because, for some reason, it was auburn-red and I looked like a Pirate. Connie took third because his was a little scraggly but he laughed and as ever, was good natured about it.
But, he got even with me and had the last laugh when we got back to Kalamazoo, because his beard shaved off easily and my Father’s Barber in Oakwood, Mr. Beck, flatly refused to shave mine off for me since he said a tough beard would ruin his ultra-sharp razor! At home, I “cussed” at every painful razor stroke. Probably Connie’s Father, Ralph, did the same, but with nicer language!
My 30th Story, that is
If you would like to
read about a successful
Deer hunt of mine, then I offer to you CHAPTER 14, entitled
Buck”, from my book which is available at the Internet LINK:
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click on the tiny text in blue “Paperback”
and scroll on down, for full details. You
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