By Craig Porzondek
-- I was reared on hunting. The woods are all I knew from the age of 5 to forever. My first buck was taken with a bow and my second buck went down with a single-shot 12-gauge slug. Our family lived for hunting, and it seemed hunting lived for us. Opening day was bigger than Christmas morning and deer season was a national holiday. It never occurred to us to why my uncles always seemed to arrive at camp with some sprain, strain, or broken body part and always right before every Nov. 15.
Our hunting cabin was more than rustic - it was panel board, more specifically panel board from the inside out. Open insulation, mice with pet names, and antlers on the wall, with stories bigger than their racks, took up space in that cabin. We burnt wood and coal in the late hunting season and camp was a musty house of smoke. Add a little Swisher Sweets, and you had one sweet smell of tradition. There was no running water, electricity, (gas lamps only) and the outhouse was never friendly no matter how much paint you would splash on it.
Another tradition of our camp was the "Big Story." The bigger the better. Moss horns, snipes, lost hunters, drunks, fights, and the one that got away. Anyway, it seemed as if my family invented the word bragging, or at least registered it as an official mental disease. My uncles, brothers, grandparents and older siblings ruled the card table with fable after fable until stories were too big for the room and then they started over.
The one bad thing about camp was that kids were not seen or heard, and rarely spoken to. Our stories were not grand enough to be heard on the big stage, a kitchen table. My mere presence at camp barely equaled a shadow on the wall. Other times, I was recognized as a beer gofer. The only other time we were acknowledged was when we were in trouble. A clear sign of trouble meant our grandparents would speak Polish. That meant a night of chopping wood or time to go snipe hunting.
The entire hunting clan considered itself the greatest gift to hunting since the traditional musket; their individual knowledge of hunting, tracking, deer habitat and feeding patterns were above reproach. It was odd to me how each of the hunting lords obtained most of their hunting skills only spending about 3 days in the woods each year and some of them never left the camp. Kids catch on to this quick and sometimes harbor animosity, specifically myself and my cousin, Frankie, in the fall of 1975.
It didn't occur to the hunting lords that kids were often more astute and cunning than the adults gave them credit for, specifically in the area of fooling the Buck Lords. It all started when we were left behind at camp during an evening hunt, and bored with shooting tin cans from a second story window. Frank and I, officially known as "shadow" and "beer gofer," created a devious and ingenious plan to defuse and bruise the ego of the Buck Lords. And all it took was two shots from a slug gun and one can of beet juice.
That evening after shooting tin cans from the second floor and not particularly happy with the fact that the Hunting Lords left us back at camp again, Frank and I set out to officially debunk the mystical knowledge of the Hunting Lords. First, just before dark, we shot twice from the window with a shotgun. Second, in the valley near our camp we poured beet juice directly on and around a commonly used deer trail. We poured juice on sticks, leaves, and anything that would leave a trail. We fed the trail with beet juice a good 100 yards into the woods and beyond. We were certain that this practical joke would boggle the minds of the Hunting Lords. At the same time we feared defeat and anticipated the repercussions of the highly astute hunters.
Would you know, not only did it boggle the minds of the Hunting Lords, but it led to a tracking party of about 13 uncles, brothers, grandfathers, and most importantly my older brother - who in turn did the most tracking and claims until this day he followed the deer blood far beyond anywhere near the last place we dropped beat juice. He even claims to have spooked the wounded deer during his walk thorough the woods.
The buck fable ends here and if Uncle Frank, Harry, and my brother, Georgie, are reading this - I was planning to take this to my grave but decided to pass my practical joke onto the next generation of little hunters.
A big kudos to my all uncles, my dad, and my grandfather who did not live to hear the true story. And to Frank, thanks for best camp memory ever and for making those shadow and beer gofer days extremely tolerable.
Craig M. Porzondek