It’s difficult to say if we’re at the beginning of a new era of deer hunting in North Dakota. Two years of 1980s-like license number totals is too small of a sample size to say this is how it’s going to be from here on out.
For our hunting party, a small, five-guy assemblage ranging in age from 19 to seventysomething, things couldn’t be more different. Our future, beginning November 8 at noon and ending when our doe tags are hopefully filled, is uncertain.
We’ve hunted together in the same unit in eastern North Dakota in the Sheyenne River Valley for more than a decade. It’s a big unit, with a lot of no hunting signs. We mostly wander the eastern third of the unit, hunt on public land and a few private acres that aren’t marked with posters taped to five-gallon buckets or stapled to fence posts.
This year, for the first time in many, we won’t be going to deer camp. Camp was sold in spring, and an auction featuring everything from a garden tractor, to waterfowl decoys, to a mounted wild boar’s head, was held before the first day of summer in a hard rain.
Forced indoors at one point, auction-goers struggled at times to decode the auctioneer’s rapid-fire bid-calling from rain drumming on a metal roof. A flatbed lined with shovels, power tools, chainsaw and empty coffee cans filled with nuts, bolts and other hardware sold to people with soft-shell tacos in one hand and bid numbers in the other.
The 150 or so acres of CRP that was for years the camp’s dominant feature was plowed and planted by auction time by the new owner. I wondered aloud what would follow in the place of waist-high grass, and someone nearby with a practiced eye for what was already sprouting, said beans.
It will be strange to drive by camp this season and not see the CRP, and odder yet not to be able to turn into the short driveway without permission. And if someone is sitting in the deer stand built atop four old telephone poles behind camp, we’ll wonder who in the heck is in it and if they’ve spotted any deer.
2012 was our last season in deer camp, but we didn’t know it at the time. Freezing rain, snow and high winds knocked out power to camp and there was some discussion by flashlight about spending a cold night without heat. The outage lasted about an hour, which was much shorter-lived than anticipated. Years earlier, another storm robbed us of power for a day or longer, but we borrowed a generator from a friend in the area and life in camp barely skipped a beat.
This season we’re staying in a small motel in a town of fewer than 1,000 residents. I’ve never been inside, but the woman on the phone when I made reservations said rooms include a microwave, small refrigerator and a television. A restaurant within walking distance serves a hunter’s breakfast beginning well before sunrise.
After more than a decade of staying in a camper, hanging wet hunting clothes from cupboard doors and sleeping to the low hum of an electric space heater, we’ll be able to shower at day’s end and maybe catch a ballgame on TV when it gets dark.
It won’t be deer camp, but maybe we’ll get used to it.