Legendary Deer Camps, by Robert Wegner


Mar 11, 2001
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June 20, 2002


James A. Sawn, NRO Outdoor wrtier

Robert Wegner captures a unique American institution.

Legendary Deer Camps, by Robert Wegner (Dimensions, 208 pp., $24.47)

pring turkey season is over and the fall hunting season is months away, but all across America hunters are planning. They are applying for prized big-game tags, and looking forward to where they will hunt this fall. For many, thoughts are focused on the fall deer camp, a unique American institution.

A hunting club is more than a roof over your head, a hot meal, and a place to play cards and stay warm when you aren't in the woods. It is part of a legacy of secret hunting societies that trace back to the Stone Age. Hunting camps are a culture unto themselves — and a relatively unsung part of American history. That is they were until the recent publication of Robert Wegner's richly illustrated Legendary Deer Camps.

Wegner, founder and former publisher of Deer and Deer Hunting magazine, has been a passionate deer hunter for half a century and a leading writer on buck hunting for almost three decades. Wegner is also a former professor of history at the University of Wisconsin. Weaving together his love of deer hunting with his professional training as a historian, he has become the dean of the history of deer hunting in the United States.

In Legendary Deer CampsWegner brings to life the rich tradition of deer camps like no one has before. In each of the eleven chapters, the reader is guided to a different deer camp of unusual character, such as Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch, Aldo Leopold's Cabin, Buckshot Inc., Buck Horn Tavern, the Ten Point Club, Whitefish Lake, and William Faulkner's Mississippi Delta. The artwork alone — photos and paintings in classic black and white and color — makes the book worth its price. But with narrative prose, and excerpts carefully pulled from diaries and writings, Wegner guides you right into the heart of each camp's soul and the colorful lives of those hunters of yore who made deer hunting an American institution.

Wegner describes the rituals of the hunt that came out of these camps — the blooding the face of the neophyte who makes his first kill; a shirttail cut off when someone misses a shot. He also reports practical jokes, recipes, songs, and poems inspired by the quest for big bucks.

Here and there we also find nuggets of precious trivia collected from the writings and records of American deer campers. From the "Did you know?" file:

William Faulkner won a Noble Prize for literature, but he turned down the chance to travel to Sweden and accept the award because it interfered with his annual deer hunting.

Aldo Leopold not only founded the modern science of wildlife management, he is also responsible for getting archery hunting for deer legalized in Wisconsin (the first state to do so).

The first two or three bucks that Teddy Roosevelt saw gave him "buck fever badly."

Wegner describes an earlier era when people took pride in carrying on traditions. There are accounts from the 1800s and the early 1900s of the colorful hunters who dressed in red-and-black checkered-wool suits and withstood the cold of the blind in anticipation of that monster buck with the massive rack. Later, when they warm up in hand-hewn log cabins beside woodstoves and fireplaces, we warm with them, nourished in the spirit of the hunt.

This is a living history book that connects the past with the present. We're reminded that deer camps are really about capturing the spirit of the wild, as much as the deer.

Will our children and their children be able to carry on the heritage of deer hunting? Will the deer camp of tomorrow be as exciting and memorable of those of yore? Let's hope so. Heritage and tradition ground our lives. They are cornerstones of culture that give meaning and purpose to life. As Wegner points out, deer camps represent something very basic and vitalizing in the human spirit.

This is the kind of book every serious deer hunter will want to have. It is almost like a family album for hunters, and it will help remind us that we are the caretakers of a great tradition.

Camp Notes
Autographed copies of Legendary Deer Camps are available from the author for $41.00, postage included. Write to: Robert Wegner, Deer Valley, 6008 Cty K, Blue Mounds, Wisc. 53517.

— Mr. Swan is the “Media Watch” columnist for North American Hunter magazine.


Mar 13, 2002
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Hey...I also would urge anyone to get this book! Its well written and holds your interest and the old time pictures bring back a lot of good memories.Camps are a big part of our lives here in Michigans U.P. and the importance they play in the family interaction is great.The book can be good therapy on a day that hasnt gone as well as it should!

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