We closed deer camp recently, leaving the place reasonably clean for the next tenants, deer mice and such.
As deer camps go, the 2005 rendition was an unusually mild moment in the woods: very little wind to hinder the hunt; no ungodly cold to make life miserable in a deerstand.
It was November perfect.
Bucks were chasing does just like they're supposed to do. In the name of deer numbers, these are the good old days in Minnesota.
With five hunters in camp, we could have easily filled every tag, including bonus antlerless licenses. But like most hunters, our goal was not to create a pile of deer carcasses.
Two of us, John Larson and his adult son, Scott, chose to carry single-shot muzzleloaders this season and forego deer rifles with scopes and fast reloading.
The two muzzleloaders they carried, both Thompson Center Fire models, are a far cry from the weapons of our forefathers. Yet, the basics are the same: open sights, limited range and one shot.
John Larson shot a doe and Scott Larson a buck the old fashioned way.
Two others in camp, Rick and Robert Schara, ended their deer hunt without any venison to take home. Oh, they could have legally killed small bucks and large does. But they chose to pass those deer.
And when both hunters decided to take any deer for winter meat, none came by. That's why it's called hunting, not shopping.
As I departed deer camp, I looked back at the place once more for old-time sake. I felt sad about leaving.
What is it, I wondered, that makes the place so meaningful?
After all, the place in the woods appears unsuitable for human habitat. It's a mouse house most of the year. Ditto for the outhouse. Every roll of toilet paper has teeth marks.
If you want water, you run to get it. There are electric lights if you start a generator. In almost any other setting, this deer camp would be described as a dump. So why do we love it there?
It's the company, I'm sure. The woods environment, too. The company of deer, also.
The nightly campfire offers a peace and tranquility that no modern furnace can match. Maybe it's the card games, the laughs and nightly banter. Maybe it's these things and more.
Also recently, a deer hunter I know went to his deer camp and carried a special package into the woods the cremated remains of an old deer-hunting companion. His friend had died of cancer.
When the time was right, he spread his buddy's dust where they so enjoyed each other's company.
I couldn't pinpoint the reason I felt sad for leaving camp. By rights, I should have been ecstatic. Lord knows, I needed a shower and shave in a bad way.
"See you next year," I said to the empty shack.
With deer camp in the rear-view mirror, I hurried home, cared for a 10-point whitetail buck I'd killed and, later, checked email.
One communiqué was especially interesting:
A reader of this space wrote that he was confused about why we hunt deer. He said he read something I wrote that suggested most of us hunt deer for the thrill of the kill, and he responded as follows:
''So I invite you to explain, in an upcoming article, what it is about 'the kill' you enjoy. I think this could go a long way in helping me understand hunters and murderers alike. I completely understand if you don't appreciate the lumping 'hunters and murderers' together; it's not really fair. But I cannot think of any other group that professes an enjoyment of killing."
I think I'll invite him to deer camp to meet the murderers.
Ron Schara may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling 888-755-3155.
October through December, Ron Schara's short feature "The Outdoor Beat" airs at 7:55 a.m. ET Sundays on ESPN2. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.