The turn signal clicked off and the pickup started to roll down the steep blacktop township road north of Black River Falls. Moments earlier, the long shanked padlock was daisy chained to an odd set of other locks securing the steel gate of the hunting land. A sappy sad moment for me for I had that duty. The 33rd, 34th, or 36th Twangfest had come to it's conclusion.
The bowhunting weekend has been a tradition with a bunch of my friends since our days in college at UW LaCrosse in the early eighties. Quick Sunday trips to Jackson County to bow hunt turned into long weekends of camping in late October or early November each year. None one seems to be able to nail down the exact “first Twang.” At that time we were busy graduating from college, moving to other towns and cities, starting careers-beginning the adult life.
Luckily for us, Twangfest was a consistent reason to pull us back together each year. For most of the 7 or 8 of us, we've been back over three decades...and counting.
The Black River Falls area has been our home base, landing on three properties through the years. Fortunately, we have connections through parents who are generous land owners and allow us to gather each year and hunt their land. We try to be good stewards of their generosity and are so appreciative in these times of shrinking hunting access. We're scattered from Neillsville to Nashville, to Chicago and Minneapolis, so having a once a year home on private property is something we're grateful for.
The 2015 edition starts like everyone before it-immense anticipation starting at about 50 miles down the road from the previous year. The prospect of the next Twangfest grows throughout the year and everyones calendar is kept clear the first week in November (prime whitetail rut, of course). Thoughts of what new “junk” (hunting gear) needs to be procured for Twang doesn't end until we pull into the gassy landing in front of the old trailer. No different for me as I made a quick stop in BRF for last minute things before heading up the steep coulee.
Typically we arrive on a Thursday late morning and hunt until Sunday noon. The first day is so much easier than the last-trucks and cars are swiftly unloaded-tubs overflowing with camo and food stuffed into the modest, if not rough old mobile home. Resident mice are encouraged to leave and stale air circulated out the door. Man hugs and back slapping abound, for most of us have pretty limited chances to see each other during the year. It's a homecoming of sorts for the “brothers.”
Greetings and catching up conversations gradually subside after the last vehicle pulls in and thoughts of hunting commence. By all accounts, we should hit the peak rut just right these four days-I'd seen a lot of sign of that in the previous scouting trips here the past week. For most of the gang, this is their only bow hunting opportunity of the year, so we try and make the best of it. New crisp camo and old ratty stuff is soon donned and practice arrows flung at a target just to be sure bows and arrows are good to go.
We hit the woods early-during the rut, animals could be moving and chasing at any time and with the expectancy of shooting a big buck running high, there was little delay. A pick-up is loaded and soon bouncing down a logging road to the far end of 200 acres with happy hunters aboard.
That first afternoon always feels like a test run of sorts, the real hunt would begin in the morning. Some of us use the same general stands and blinds each year, while others, are “not sure where to go” and skulk around a bit for the most promising spot. We use this opening p.m. hunt to get back the feel, the aura of the woods and where the deer may be.
The general theme of the hunt at Twang this year was wind-lots of it. Forecasts looked fine temperature-wise, but strong breezes would not let up. With tall ridges and deep valleys, the gusts also circulate from all directions it seems. A steady blow from the north west most days up above was south east or variable down below where most of us hunted. Not to make excuses, but it did hint at limiting deer activity. Sadly, it's the only thing I could come up with.
One of the best parts about hunting with these guys is “story time” when returning to the truck-while I may not have seen anything, it matters little if someone else did or there is a tale to be told. Each new reappearance of someone at the pickup would begin the same: “Whatja see??? What's the story?” And the new report would be woven into the previous ones and the first ones back would need to repeat everything again. I'm never sure if it's best to tell ones tale first or last.
The narrative from the day one gathering (and every morning and afternoon sessions thereafter) was almost the same for everyone. Maybe one or two deer seen-mostly far away, very little chasing activity, no “horn monsters” and bows frustratingly remaining at rest, arrows in the quiver.
There were a few variations to that theme-a small “sixer” did peg “Junkman” as it appeared behind him-7 yards. “Polecat,” who had a divine location nestled into a quiet draw, would be skunked everyday. Nixter, directly from Nashville for his annual woods venture, seemed more surrounded by turkeys than whitetails. “Googins” (yes, everyone has a nickname) would watch helplessly as does worked in and out of the “sanctuary” on the neighbors land. “Pete” the conductor, JoJo, Claudius and I all stayed with the light-in-the-deer-sightings version. That's why it's called hunting, right?
They were long days in the stand, but as usual, we feel alert there and everyday work, news and distractions are forgotten. These woods and the hunt insulate us from diversions of real life. Maybe what we were doing was more “real?”
Evenings are filled with cooking, enjoying a few refreshments, and laughter overcoming the howling winds outside. Guitars, a bass and feeble attempts at percussion join the revival of songs echoed here each year. It's Twang-Jam time and some of us (myself especially) just sit back an enjoy watching the talent in the room come alive. The music stops only when the last few heads start to droop or tired hunters shuffle to their bunks. The Son's of the Pioneers would be blaring too loudly and too soon the next morning as our alarm-quite effective.
I'm not sure why, but this year seem to fly by way fast-all of a sudden it's Saturday, our last full day to hunt. Seemed like we just pulled in. I shouldn't be surprised I suppose-time has a way of accellerating as we get older. We were just 20 or so when this 'fest started, now we're pushing through the mid 50's. A lot has changed. Appreciate the time together more? The effort to come together worth it? Yes to all those thoughts.
My truck had the shortest drive back home after leaving the Twangfest grounds and locking the gate. I'd be unloaded, washing hunting clothes and showered before some of the guys were even half way back. Like the rest of the vehicles, mine was empty of deer- no venison from this outing, but like anything that challenges us, we'll keep coming back for the next time. I can't wait.