Hunting > Whitetails

The Deer Camp Time Forgot

“The shack and the forest and the deer are ageless. The rest of us change.” —Tom Heberlein, Camp Boss

The railroad tracks weaving beside the Bad River in northwestern Wisconsin cross the Conley Road just beyond the last bridge west of U.S. Highway 13. The paint-flecked span carries rattling pickup trucks over the river where a bullet-pocked railroad-crossing sign suggests a few paused before rumbling through.

For deer hunters, this intersection of rail, river and road separates them from the tardy bills, grumpy bosses and un-raked lawns they avoided 200 miles southward. As they ease off the brake, they return to a place and time where their forebears viewed dead deer as meat and dead trees as heat.

The scene even looks timeless. When hunters reach the junction, they’re long past telephone poles and power lines. As I looked northward up those tracks and snow-covered right-of-way in November 2008, I recalled old photos of a hunter pulling a homemade hand-cart along the rails to haul Tom Heberlein’s buck from deep within the Chequamegon National Forest. Those 1976 photos showed Heberlein awaiting the flatbed cart, which its owner towed with a rope over his shoulder while smoking a cigarette.

Heberlein is still around, but not the helpful hunter nor his rail-cart. Still, when scanning these same rails, the riverbanks and flanking forests, you swear only 32 minutes have passed since Heberlein killed that buck 32 years ago. Farther west lies Heberlein’s shack and his 40 acres, bordered on all four sides by national forest. He calls the property “Old Tamarack,” or “Old T,” and it has been in his family since 1948 when his Uncle Carl and Carl’s friend Jerry Simonson bought the place and converted the one-time farmhouse into a hunting shack. Heberlein’s father, Charlie, assumed ownership in 1955, and transferred it to his son in 1976.

Throughout its history, Old T has inspired ageless feelings. In a 1983 camp journal, Heberlein’s friend Lyman Wible wrote, “Deer hunting is unchanging. It might as well be 1963, 1970 or 1975. [Or 2009.] The experience is the same basic camaraderie and communication with the elements. The woods, the sky, the shack, the wind and the elusive whitetail are always ready with the same greeting.”............

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