Editor’s Note: All this week, through Sunday, we are bringing you a series called A Week In Hunting Camp—seven stories in total, each one about a single day (or night) in camp, featuring both original works and a few modern classics from the archives. You can read the first four stories here: Day OneDay Two, Day ThreeDay Four, and Day 5.

Day Six: The Day Pat Missed the 8-Pointer, Twice

For more than a decade I hosted a deer hunting camp with a group of buddies on the opening weekend of the Minnesota bowhunting season. Every year, the crew would file in one by one on the afternoon before the opener, in time for us all to shoot our bows and hang our morning stands and then have dinner, drink some beers, and b.s. into the night. We had some fine hunting during that time and shot some good bucks. But because bowhunting is such a solitary game, what I remember best about that camp was the times in between hunting, when we were all gathered together.

Aside from the opener-eve, what sticks in my mind is all of us returning to camp after the first morning hunt of the season. We’d stand in a circle in my yard and trade stories about what we’d seen—and more often than not, we’d find out what mischief my buddy Dave had been up to.

photo of deer deocy
Today’s deer decoys look so realistic they can fool more than just bucks. John Hafner Photography

One opening morning in particular, with the rest of us already circled up after the morning sit and trading stories, our buddy Pat straggled in, wearing a sideways grin directed at Dave.

“You look like you have a story to tell,” Dave said.

Dave Diesslin was a high school shop teacher whose constant grin and twinkling eyes always hinted at mayhem. Pat Townley, Dave’s best friend, was sincere and affable—the perfect foil.

“Well, it was still too dark to see when I climbed into my stand this morning,” Pat said. “I just sat there, listening to the owls. When morning finally broke, I got this funny feeling that I wasn’t alone, so I turned and saw the first rays of sunlight glinting off the tines of a beautiful 8-point buck just 20 yards away. The deer was mostly screened by brush, but his rack was visible and, by luck, so was that sweet spot right behind his shoulder.” Pat shot a look at Dave.

“I couldn’t imagine how the buck got so close without me hearing it, but I just went into autopilot, fighting buck fever enough to draw, shoot…and watch my arrow sail over the deer’s back!”

“No!” gasped everyone except Dave.

“Of course, I expected him to blow out of there, but he just stood stock-still, facing slightly away. I nocked another arrow, drew…and missed again.”

Everyone groaned.

“My arrow went clattering off into the bushes—and even then, that buck didn’t move a muscle,” Pat said, pausing for effect. “That’s when I finally realized what was going on.”

We Minnesotans can be a little slow on the uptake, and not just Pat. Dave was the camp’s practical joker. One year, he went out in the night before the opener and removed all the reflective trail markers to my stand, which left me bumbling through the woods the next morning. Another year, he watched Stu hang his morning set from a distance, waited for him to leave, then took it down and stashed it in a bush. So, at this point in Pat’s story, we all should have known that there was something fishy about this “8-point buck” that didn’t move a muscle and couldn’t be spooked. Still, it wasn’t until Pat bull-rushed Dave and tackled him to the ground that I remembered what his best friend had asked me the night before. As dinner wound down, Dave pulled me aside and asked if he could borrow my 3D buck target.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll help you grab it.”

I should have known what the camp practical joker was up to—­especially when he answered, “Oh, I won’t be needing it until Pat goes to bed.”