Passage of a Rite

This was the first time I’d gone deer hunting alone.  Granted, I had often engaged in the act of hunting by myself.  Ever since I was old enough to hunt apart from someone else, my practice had been to split up from the others after a brief initial hike.  Even though we might be separated for a time, there were always stories to be shared back at camp or during an accidental meeting in the woods.  This year, there was no camp, and I had no companions.

The camp eventually known as The Animal House was established only in 1961—a relative latecomer to the scene of the great Northwoods hunting camps.  It was not a “camp” in the sense of a privately owned piece of land with a cabin; instead, it was a site in the Ashland County Forest of Northern Wisconsin, on which a tent would be temporarily erected each year.  My father began hunting there in 1962, after leaving the military.  Different people came and went during the early years, but the number had stabilized by the time I joined in 1984, as the fifth and youngest member.  We formed a consistent crew for decades to come.

There was a time when tent camps were not uncommon, but even by the 1980’s, ours had become a notable anachronism.  When you told someone you’d just met that you hunted out of “the tent,” that was sufficient.  There was no other within the vicinity.  The...

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