Grandpa’s Deer Camp


In this post I would like to depart from my bow-hunting experience and reflect on the family hunting heritage I have been blessed with here in Minnesota.

Deer camp has been a tradition across North America for many generations. From the small Shanties of yesteryear where hunters gathered to harvest meat for the winter, to our modern cabins of luxury and taking an animal of choice, the excitement of deer season has remained the same. My fondest memories of deer camp bring me back to Grandpa and Grandma’s cabin on Little Spirit Lake in Vergas Minnesota.

I wedge my cased Remington 30-06 semi-auto into the back of my pick-up with the other gear and make a quick mental check-list. Cooler with grub, hunting clothes, boots, ammo and buck tag. I am set! I hug and kiss my wife and roll out of the driveway with our Son for another hunting season.

Out on the road I witness the annual parade of campers, and 4×4’s with orange gloves and hats stuffed up on the dash-boards driving to their destinations. Some are stopped for gas and last-minute supplies while hunters, sporting their favorite blaze hunting caps, share the excitement of the annual pilgrimage with one another. 

Grandpa’s cabin is forty-five minutes East from my little town, which is situated on the transition zone of Prairie and Lake Country in West Central Minnesota. As I get closer, my pickup seems to anticipate our arrival like a team of horses heading back to the barn after a good run.

I turn into the cottage driveway and my headlamps scan the edge of the woods in search of deer activity. The gravel under my truck tires is a welcome sound as I roll to a stop next to Grandpa’s old tan Suburban, his hunting rig of choice. I step out of the heated truck and breathe in the clear cold air. As I grab my rifle and duffel from the pickup box I pause, and gaze up at the brilliant canopy of stars. Orion the Hunter watches over me. A hint of wood-smoke is in the air and my boots crunch the carpet of leaves as I make my way across the lawn. Deer Camp!

I lug my pack through the door and am instantly greeted by familiar voices, smiles and hugs. I work my way through the gathering of family and friends to set my rifle with the collection of hunting guns before getting settled in. The fireplace holds a crackling blaze and sandwiches are being made for tomorrows lunch on the stands. The cousin’s laughter, old hunting stories and boastful promises of this years biggest buck fill the room. Supper is announced and we gather around the table for Grandpa’s traditional giving of thanks. After jostling for the front of the line, we all settle in for a feast of Grandma’s homemade Chicken and Dumpling soup, another hunting camp tradition.

One by one we start pulling ourselves up from the couch and easy chairs to make last minute preparations for the hunt. Some stay up playing games and visiting, but I turn in, even though I can never find sleep before the quiet hours of the night.

I lay wrapped in the comfy cabin quilts. The wind plays at the windows and I hear an occasional pop from the ebbing coals under the fireplace grate as the murmur of voices and laughter drift up through the floor. I turn my thoughts to past deer seasons, old friends, my sweetie back home, and dreams of how tomorrows hunt might play out. Finally my anticipation gives way and allows me to capture a few hours of slumber.

The next sound I hear is Grandpa making coffee down in the kitchen.

Its daylight in the swamp at Deer camp!

Thank you Grandpa.






The Rattled Deer

I have always enjoyed trying to rattle in Whitetail bucks, but its been with limited success at best. In talking with my friend Bill, we concluded that one reason it seems difficult in the Minnesota north-woods setting, is due to Timber Wolf predation and public land hunting pressure, which places the deer population on higher alert compared to the farm land animals to the south and west of our region, but this could be a hunters excuse. Whether there is any truth to our conclusion, or its just my line for bad rattling technique’s, it’s been a fun learning curve.

One avid bow hunter I swap stories with gave me a word of advice, “don’t give up on rattling for bucks”.  I think I will take those words to heart, and keep on trying to lure in Ole Wooly with my antler clashing.

Here’s a rattling story from last season.

I face a stiff west wind as I head out for an afternoon hunt on the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge. The autumn sky was veiled. It had been a rainy week, the air was damp, but not cold. I wanted to get set up on the south edge of about four hundred acres of deer woods that bordered the east side of Tamarac Lake. Flanking this chunk of trees was an equal sized natural meadow, mixed willow cover and sloughs. It was the type of afternoon and terrain that just felt like deer hunting.

I had hunted the north side of this plot before but always noticed a mature stand of Norway pines guarding the southern tree-line. They drew me like a leaf to the ground. Before long I stood facing the giants as though I was waiting permission to enter under their watchful eye. Not yet willing to commit an entrance into the forest, I still-hunted my way along the edge, peering into the shadows in hopes of spotting a bedded deer as the steady wind covered my movement.

I came to a finger of grass which pointed into the woods. Two converging deer trails emerged from the thicker cover and emptied into the meadow. This was the spot for my evening ambush.

Several downfalls provided good  sitting spots. I decided on one and set up my carry-in stool. The deadfall offered good back cover and an excellent view of the denser woods and clearing.  I was in a transition zone for the forest, and the deer, where the trees relented their hold and conceded to the prairie grass. After settling in, I sat motionless for quite some time before attempting my first rattle.

My approach has always been to mimic two smaller bucks sparring, in hopes of attracting a dominant animal to come and stake his claim. After working my cherished buck horns I had taken many years before, I waited.

The tree-tops tossed in the wind, but I was bedded down, protected on the forest floor. The woods were expectant, waiting on the woodland creatures that inhabit the night. I sat in expectation as well.

There was just under an hour of hunting light left, and fifteen minutes had passed since my last rattle. I tried again. I slowly lifted my antlers, secured at their base by a small rope, and touched the tines.

Instantly, a deer signaled its warning and disapproval of my presence. It was about thirty yards into the woods, just out of my sight. The alarmed animal worked its way around me announcing its warning call about every thirty seconds for several long minutes before it moved on.  Except for the haunting wind, the Whitetail’s agitation left the forest quiet and alert to my intrusion. I had been completely busted. After the deer was gone, I fought the urge to get up and make my way down the line of Norway Pines to another location. I realized that was pointless, and sat tight, with one last hope that a cruising buck from some distance away may still come through, unaware of the recent drama. That buck never materialized, and once again I witnessed the forest change to night.

Was that deer making its way toward me in response to my first antler call? Did it see my movement when I rattled? Was it just bad timing, and happened to be walking toward the field at that time? Was it a trophy buck, or a cautious doe? These are the questions I have to live with.

I did learn a great lesson. Even tough I had decent cover for a ground sit, when I added the rattling technique, I needed to have a downed tree or some sort of cover to protect the sequence of movement. Having never attempted using a rattle call on the ground before, it was a good tutoring session.

As I look back on this hunt, I have a feeling the animal in this story is the dominant buck I walked up on in the ‘Close Encounter’ post as it was in the same area. I will be back after him next season!!

Regardless of this hunts outcome, it was a successful outing for me because I was there, and I can add this story to my other ‘Trophy’ memories I have collected over the years. I hope you can take a few moments and record your own hunting experiences. It is a great way to etch them into your story-telling catalog.





Rattling from the Ground

I want to address the most important aspect of rattling and hunting from the ground with your bow. Movement. When I was a rookie hunter, one of my mentors, Pastor Fred Soyring (RIP), always preached that if you want to see deer from your stand, movement was critical, or I should say, the lack of movement. This never left me, well, at least I know its value, but to be honest, I don’t always follow through!

There are many great videos on YouTube, and articles for learning the finer points of rattling in Whitetail bucks that I encourage you to find. They have been very helpful to me, but this hunting tip has one specific focus, concealing your movement while rattling and hunting on the ground.

The obvious approach to concealment is a ground blind. I have not used one myself, as I like to travel light, and be mobile, but I am thinking about buying a light-weight, carry-in model. The other option for ground hunters like myself, is locating good cover. I will discuss a few factors of using the terrain to your advantage.

Background foliage such as a downfall, or heavy brush is imperative, regardless of whether you are rattling or not. This breaks up your silhouette. But for rattling, you need to be sitting behind a fallen tree or some thick brush as well. Another option is to find a small ravine, or hole to drop down in to conceal your movement. Another good idea is to get tucked up next to a waterway, or set up on a steep hillside. This keeps deer traffic in front of you, and decreases the odds of getting busted from behind, but you should still try to have cover concealing your forward position for rattling motion. Also, when you are doing your winter and spring scouting, you can locate great ambush spots, and build some natural cover blinds to slip into when the season opens. Its just another great excuse to get in the woods! Think of it as scouting good tree stand locations, just on the ground.

This will give you some ideas to think about if you choose to become a ground hunter. It really ramps up the challenge of hunting, and those face to face encounters are intense.

So for a quick review, remember these key points in trying to rattle in bucks, and hunt from the ground. (1) Back ground brush or trees to break up your silhouette. (2) A downed tree, stump etc. in front of you works to hide your rattling sequence, and hunting movement. (3) Using terrain such as waterways and hillsides for taking advantage of natural deer funnels decreases your chances of being discovered.

God bless ya, and have fun hunting from the ground. There’s nothing like it!


Nubbin Buck

Safe by Momma’s side


I watch you

from my autumn perch



Epic battles await you



Monster Buck

Boone & Crockett





Swamp Buck

Ole Wooly


Faded picture

Grandpa’s Deer Camp

Hangs above

Old Outdoor Life magazines


Fireplace stories

Invite dreams for boys and men







Become legend


Young Woodland Prince

I see royalty in you



Nubbin Buck By:  David Bakke

Photo Credit: Bill Berquist




Pine Lake: Tamarac Wildlife Refuge

I love bow hunting the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge of North-East Becker County here in Minnesota. As a boy and teen, I spent many hours tromping these roads and wood-lands while spending summers at our lake cabin on Round Lake which borders this Preserve. For me it is home. I am so thankful for those adventurous summers, and equally thankful to be hunting this area with my friends and enjoying the lands of my youth.

Today I saw a fantastic film on you-tube produced by Gritty Bowman titled, ‘Trophy Places’. It is all about being connected to your hunting area in a way that puts the land you hunt on, at an equal value as the animal you are hunting, and so the title ‘Trophy Places’. My friend Bill calls it the, ‘Aesthetic Value’, of your hunting spot. That’s how I feel about Tamarac Refuge and Round Lake, they are my ‘Trophy Places’.

The land surrounding the pristine Pine Lake on the Tamarac Refuge offers a beautiful variety of deep woods, open natural meadows, and the always present Minnesota sloughs and Tamarac Bogs. These forests and grass lands are connected by several X-C Skiing trails, and the North Country Hiking Trail which provides quick access to deep Whitetail cover. If you are ever in my neck of the woods, try and get out to Pine Lake for a hike, X-C ski outing, or possibly even a bow hunting excursion. You will be glad you did.

I hope you can find your ‘Trophy Places’ to hunt, I hope you can learn to enjoy the ‘Aesthetic Value’ of your hunting spot like I have. When you do, every hunt is a trophy experience.



Watch Your Back

The normally active Aspen leaves were motionless in the still air. Tall prairie grass pressed against the tree-line and waited patiently for a breeze to dance with. Cool air descended from the clear sky, it covered me like a thin blanket. I was bow hunting. I sat tucked up against a down-fall where the grass gave way to the forest. I anticipated the unmistakable sound of an approaching Whitetail. Near sun-down, my heart skipped as I heard a cautious deer working toward me from the darkened wood.

Anchored like a statue, I waited, listened and watched, straining my peripheral view in hopes of seeing a buck stepping out into the lighted meadow. Tense minutes passed between each cautious movement of the deer, but the animal did not make an appearance. Instead of offering me a clear view in reward for my effort, it came out behind me! It was so close. I heard the animal sniffing, trying to determine what I was. I could hear tiny twigs break each time it took a guarded step through the young stand of Poplar trees. For a moment, I thought the visitor was going to walk out on top of me. Still holding expectations the deer would make a grand entry onto the field, within range of my eager bow, I waited,  trying to hold my breathing in check, but it turned, and melted into the shadows.

Well past dark, I finally stood up, flung my hunting stool over my shoulder, fought off a chill, and found the trail back to my truck. Maybe next time!


Surprise Encounter

I walk out

under wind blown canopy

forest trail

rain soaked



collect last moments of light




opportunity gone

I continue


Big buck



trespass challenge


I pull up my bow

like M-1 carbine

on patrol

heart racing reaction



I watch


He turns bolts




silhouette memory


Woodland King



Surprise Encounter By:             David Bakke











Impatience Kills a Good Hunt

Over the last ten years of rifle hunting  the north-woods, I gravitated towards working from the ground. I would start my hunt from a favorite morning stand, but by 9:00, I’d have breakfast and hit the forest floor for a day of still-hunting, and set up in a natural ground blind for the afternoon ambush. Besides getting itchy feet, and not being able to sit all day, this approach offered many great hunting experiences, and presented opportunities to take my biggest bucks.

When I picked up a bow for my first archery hunt, I carried this same mentality with me, but I had to re-learn the art of still-hunting from the archers perspective. With my trusty old Remington 30-06 semi-auto, I would push the hunt, knowing I could find my mark with a well placed off-hand snap shot. There were times I would bump deer, and still get off a clean look from a fair distance. Of course there were times the brush was too thick, or a wise animal kept cover between us, but there were many times I was able to get off a kill shot too. I learned quickly that my hunting margins became much narrower with a bow. A great example of this came about on my second archery hunt.

I was with my buddy Matt again. We started our day out with a beautiful, but un-eventful morning on East Pine Lake, over-looking a stretch of meadow grass in the Tamarac Refuge. From there, we drove down the Blackbird Trail, and hiked in to South Chippewa Lake from the North Country Trail access. It was an amazing little trek about a half mile to where we wanted to hunt. It was new territory for both of us. After crossing a spill-way constructed by the Conservation Corps way back in the day on the Ottertail River, the trail brought us to a stand of open hard woods. It was prime ground hunting county. The woods offered great visibility, with many ridges and small slough structures. Matt took the Ottertail River side, and I walked on a ways and made my way to the opposite side of the high-ground.

We had a good solid afternoon to work our way into spots for an afternoon sit, and planned to meet back on the trail at sun-down. I spent a couple hours still-hunting my way through the open woods. Stopping often, walking very slowly, until I came to the edge of the hard-woods and the terrain gave way to a long, low slough . A perfect area to set up on. I followed the transition for some time, until I came to a spot that offered a great view of the slough, a flat spot in the middle of the incline, and also a view of the hard woods. It was a fine spot. I had some decent cover, and could see quite a ways from my perch. I was set-up for the afternoon sit with plenty of time to watch the forest change to evening, and possibly have a chance at an unsuspecting deer… now for a little hunting tip!

I had done everything right up untill that point. I had studied Google Earth to get a lay of the land, I hunted into the wind, had pulled off a nice quiet still-hunt, and found a good ambush for my evening post. How could I possibly screw this up? By still operating from my old gun hunting mentality! Remember I said I used to push my ground hunts, knowing that I could compensate with my trusty semi-auto and some quick shooting. Well, not so much with the bow.

I learned a good lesson on patience. After a good hour I became restless and  started thinking, maybe I should move back down the ridge towards where I had come into this little area. Man, there was some sweet spots a ways back, and it happened… I talked myself into getting up, and trying to sneak back down to some other areas that offered promise.

Mind you, I stayed in a still-hunting mode, but as I was sneaking back along the slough-line it happened. I took a step, and heard a deer bust out about thirty yards from me! I instantly knew the deer had been coming towards me, because it had not been bedded there when I had hunted my way through a couple hours before. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! I just stood there, realizing I had basically busted a whole afternoon hunt. After several very long minutes, I meandered a few minutes until I found a spot to sit, plopped my sorry behind down, and watched the forest slowly grow dark.

If I had been rifle hunting, I may have been able to quickly get around the brush and get a shot at that deer, but then again maybe not. My big mistake was obviously getting up and moving, and I learned a vital lesson about ground-hunting with a bow that day. Once you put on a good still-hunt, and get into an area deer are not expecting you to be… Stay Put!





New Beginnings: My Journey Into Bow Hunting

How do I tell a story that spans a lifetime and involves so many different people and experiences? I could start by describing my early years of deer hunting and the back-woods crew that took this young green-horn under their wings. Or my first attempt at shooting a bow. It was a total failure. I could tell you about my closest friends that helped move me towards archery. There is the story of  my ‘Super-Bowl’ of deer hunting, the ultimate still- hunt, which I could not have scripted any better with my buddies at our first Round lake Deer-Camp. The success of that hunt seriously turned my thinking toward taking my hunting to the next level. How about walking into a local pro-shop for the first time and being greeted by a very friendly staff that pulled a lefty off the self, gave me a few pointers, and let me sling some arrows for the first time. That felt so good! Buying my first old used Hoyt Raider bow might be a good starting point. Or the day a friend at church blessed me with an almost new Hoyt Ultra-Mag that he did not use anymore… I had to hold back the tears on that one! All these events certainly have a place in my archery journey, and are worthy of a short story all on their own. But I think I have to start telling my tale from the very first day I stepped into the deer-woods holding a bow.

A new beginning.

I set out with my buddy Matt for the Tamarac Refuge on the opening day of the 2017 Minnesota archery season. He was also a first time archer and our sleepless nights, dreaming of the bow hunt, where finally a reality! After pouring over Google Earth, we decided to hunt the Waboose Lake area. My very first plan was foiled. I had hoped to walk the edge of a clear-cut and set up along a ridge on the back-side after a quarter mile walk. The under-brush and new growth proved to be thicker then I anticipated, not having scouted it pre-season, so we made a quick call to back-track, and drove to the near-by Dry Lake trail. After a short walk we came to the west side of the clear-cut. Using logging trails, Matt and I were able to move into the cuttings with a fair amount of ease. The area offered a lot of running trails and deer beds for us to imagine early season bucks behind every brush-pile. After posting for awhile, we met up for a breakfast break about mid-morning. No animals had been spotted moving, but we were so excited to actually be out in the woods, it did not seem to matter. We were like two kids on Christmas morning!

After kicking around Waboose Lake for awhile, we decided to head up to my hunting area at Round Lake and walk a trail for an afternoon sit. The late summer cover was stifling! It is such a different atmosphere then the open deer-woods of November. We felt like a deer could be ten yards away in the thick jungle-like foliage, and we would not even see it. Matt and I walked out to a point of land, defined by a big Beaver Dam I wanted to cross, we took a short lunch break when it proved to wet for a late summer crossing. We were just making it up as we went, and having the time of our lives!

It was time to get set up for the evening sit. We followed the narrow walking trail to another one of my favorite spots and stealed our way into an open Oak ridge. I had always noticed deer movement in this clearing. Matt settled into some good ground cover, I went on a ways until the terrain sloped down to a small creek and I found a place to watch the grassy bottom. I waited. It was quiet. The air was dense with no evidence of the changing season. Some flies discovered me and enjoyed dive bombing my motionless lack of defense. I heard the forest floor pop from time to time. Acorns!

The exciting first day of archery turned itself over to long shadows and darkness. I made my way back towards Matt and would have walked right by him if he had not stopped me with a short whistle. He emerged from the woodland cover like Rambo, and we greeted each other with smiles that refused to disappear! As we walked back to the truck it was impossible to contain our enthusiasm. We both felt like we had been transported back in time.

Although neither one of us caught a glimpse of a Whitetail that day, it was a successful hunt, because we had been there. The pure joy and simplicity of being in the forest with a bow was contagious. This was a new day! It was the first of many adventures to come,  and we were hooked on bow-hunting!

“… all things are become new” (Second Corinthians Five, Seventeen)


David Bakke

Logo: Matt Bernier