Deer Camp Report: Kings of Drummond Island

Drummond Island Deer
By T. Edward Nickens It's a little odd that Stevens Recreational Camp was established just a month after the stock market crash of '29. Maybe it's because Drummond Island is so remote, the news hadn't yet arrived to the big deer woods of Michigan. Maybe it's because the U.P.'s "Yoopers" lived so close to the land they were more likely to put stock into a big garden and a centerfire rifle, things more tangible than a bank statement. Or maybe it's because Opening Day of deer season in Michigan was coming up, and nobody much cared about anything else. That's what I figured. That's what I found. The largest U.S. island in the Great Lakes, Drummond Island, Michigan is a part of the United States only because of a wrong turn taken by a U.S. and British survey ship after the War of 1812. But it's no accident that I headed to Drummond in mid-November to check out one of the Upper Peninsula's most historic-and intriguing-deer camps. You can read the story of the camp's history and heritage in an upcoming issue of Field & Stream. But the hunting was unforgettable, as well.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
First, a quick preview of where I was headed: Stevens Recreational Camp, deep in the woods and with roots back in the FDR days. This is as far from the sidewalk as you can get in the big north woods-7 miles down a rough logging road, and then the driving really gets tough. I was there for the November 15 opener of rifle season for deer. A full crew of 10 hunters showed up, most of them with years of employment in various divisions of GM. The patriarch of Stevens is Ham Peltier, a Michigan native who remembers when his dad joined the camp in 1953.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
Cramped and cluttered, Stevens is a quintessential deer camp. Two rooms, each 16 feet by 20 feet. Bunks shoved elbow-to-elbow close. Walls covered with maps, racks, photos, racks, tools, racks, hats, racks, and in between, a bunch of racks. The traditional Opening Day Eve meal here is a full Thanksgiving banquet-turkey cooked on a grill for hours, dressing, gravy, potatoes, the works. Then yarn-spinning and poker. Strategy sessions for the next day. And the most godawful snoring I have ever experienced. Gotta love it.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
The rut was on when I made landfall in Yooperville. Logging roads scored the Hiawatha National Forest, and they were dotted with fresh scrapes. At Stevens Camp, each hunter has their favorite blinds, some of which are decades old, but more and more hunters are going for pop-ups. My host, Steve Peltier, put me up in a sweet stacked-log blind in a cedar-choked ravine. My opening day hunt ended pretty quickly when I heard the crack of a rifle on an adjacent ridge. Five minutes later a hellacious round of whooping and high-fiving broke out. I thought I recognized the voices. I took a walk to see what all the fuss was about. Doug Stoner had hunted Drummond Island for eight years, and never killed a deer. Introduced to Stevens Camp by his father-in-law, Chuck Decker, Stoner was enthralled with the deer camp, with the camaraderie, with the big woods. But even he admits he was tired of going buck-less. Those days ended on Opening Day, 2008.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
When I found Stoner and his brother, Bill, standing over this big-bodied 5-pointer, they were ecstatic. The buck had come up through the cedar swamp, possibly lured by a pair of scent wicks Stoner had positioned about 70 yards from his pop-up blind. One shot at 8:06 a.m., and Stoner had joined a club larger than Stevens Camp.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
A first deer is something to be commemorated. I had Bill blood his brother's forehead, a ritual they'll remember always. And then came the next memorable moment. Stoner pulled out a knife. "Show me what to do," he said, "but do as little as you can yourself. This is something I want to do." Now, that's a hunter. "Lift up the tail and get to work," I replied. "After the first cut, it's all downhill."T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
Two brothers, two hands, two horns, and a hard haul to the nearest road-ain't that America?T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
As any deer camp hunter knows, a triumphal entry back to HQ is another ritual to be savored. Stoner's was the first buck on the pole, and it meant camp meat and a fine start to the season.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
First, a fine appetizer of first-buck heart, fried over an ancient propane stove and served on some of the finest toothpicks 69 cents can buy. Next up, the bestowing of the crown-both the cardboard fast-food variety, and the bottled variety. As the new King of Drummond Island, Doug Stoner is a part of the Stevens Camp's paganistic ritual of having each first-buck hunter tie a cherry stem into a knot. Alas, the significance of this has been lost to the mists of time...T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
One of the cool things about this camp was the historic deer blinds members have built over the years. Some of these crazy blinds are 50 years old or older. Lots of stories. Take a look at a few. The Dumpster comes by its name honestly. This one featured a trick roof that was hinged on the back and could be raised or lowered via a large pole that ran to a tree with various nails at different positions.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
Joe Peltier manned The Boardroom one morning. The 4-foot by 4-foot box is famously cramped¿kinda looks like a submarine turret coming up through the forest floor-but it has great views of both a deep, dark conifer glade, and open hardwoods.T. Edward Nickens
Some of the blinds were stacks of logs overlooking deer runs, or perched atop ridges. Hunting out of a big woods ground blind can put you nose-to-nostril with a rutting Michigan buck-as I would discover.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
This is Ham's Perch, where Ham Peltier has watched the sun come up-and go down-on more than 40 Drummond Island deer seasons. Ham's first deer in camp came in the 1960s, when he was a young man and told to collect a nice young doe for camp meat. The gray-muzzled mama he wound up shooting, he says, "was so old even the gravy was tough!"T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
Here's my favorite of the Drummond Island blinds. No neat name. No oddball carpentry. Just a stack of logs overlooking one of the gnarliest, darkest, buck-lookingest cedar swamps you can imagine. For 70 straight years-"except a couple of years when Mama was sick"-Don Franklin's dad spent days on end in this blind. It's now fallen down, the logs rotten and mossy. But just walking past, I could tell this was hallowed ground. Seventy years of sunrises and antlers. This is the marrow of deer camp. A few years back, Don painted the red cross on the tree, to honor his dad.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
And hey, deer camp isn't just about deer. The Stevens Camp boys are rightfully proud of their commodious commode, dubbed the Styrofoam Palace. Three layers of cushy foam keep the chill at bay when nature calls on a 10-below-0 morning. And beveled edges on the seats-nice touch!T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
But, of course! How dare you ask? Hey, wait a minute. That's not my deer.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
I was told to walk a few hundred yards past The Ironing Board to find my afternoon blind. It's a famous landmark for the camp. "Can"t miss it!" the Stevens boys said. Pretty cool, huh?T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
Hmm...looks like something's up.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
Getting warmer...T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
Big, fat, and tasty. When I first saw this big-bodied 5-pointer, he was huffing up a steep bluff, downwind of my ground blind, all the way behind me and 20 yards away. As he passed behind the tree I leaned against, twisted to the right as far as I could and froze. When the deer hit my scent plume, he went bananas. Spread-eagled nearly to the ground, and gave a funky half-snort half-alarm grunt that clearly carried the message: "Things are bad and I mean real bad." He 180ed in mid-air, took three big leaps, and then stopped to figure out just what that horrible stench was. Not a good move.T. Edward Nickens
Drummond Island Deer
But the deer's bad judgment meant that two kings had to be crowned this trip. It was an honor to became royalty at Steven's.T. Edward Nickens