Ron Weber made his first drive as a teenager with his brothers. His brothers have since passed away but Weber is still driving deer.
I first made the drive at 17 with my older brothers Gary and Jim. We’d seen few deer and were in danger of going home with no venison.
The drive required Jim and I to push through a half mile of alder and cedar creek bottom towards Gary on the edge of the hardwoods. I’d never been in these woods, but I felt safe knowing Jim was beside me and Gary was waiting on the other side.
Moving through the woods I started to doubt myself. Just as panic was setting in, a shot rang out in front of me. Further ahead I saw orange off to my right. Jim said it must’ve been Gary who shot.
As we gathered around the deer, I was happy that after an exhausting season of dawn to dusk hunting we had at least this deer to show for it. It was a small success, but a success.
Over the next 30 years we continued to make the creek drive. As deer numbers grew, this drive became one of our favorites.
Arriving at camp in 2011, I wasn’t greeted by Jim sitting with the others at the table. I hadn’t seen Jim since summer. As we talked on the phone through the fall he said he had a stubborn virus. One coughing spell from the couch told me it was no virus. Instantly I knew the bill had come due on 40 years of smoking.
Jim didn’t make it out the entire week. On Saturday I knew I had to get him out one more time. As I finished the drive and came up on Jim he struggled to stand. Walking behind him, it broke my heart to realize the hard charging hunting hero I’d known all my life was gone. He passed away just after Christmas 2012.
In 2013 a tornado reduced the creek area to a twisted mass of downed trees. Nature was reminding me that change is inevitable and death is a very necessary part of life. I figured I’d never make the creek drive again. I was wrong.
That fall I got news that Gary, also a smoker, had been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor on a major artery in his lung. Gary came to deer camp as always, but had to go back on Monday for a treatment.
He wasn’t able to hunt opening day and Sunday was his last day. I came back to camp around noon and talked Gary into going with me to make a drive. I had to.
We went to the creek. Gary stood in the same spot Jim had 2 years earlier. I made my way through the twisted trees. Nothing looked the same. There were times I wasn’t sure where I was going but I felt Jim by my side.
It would be nice to say Gary got his buck but he didn’t. Fairy tale endings don’t happen very often. Two weeks later his artery ruptured. My other hunting hero had left me too soon.
With the heart and soul gone, others stopped coming for the annual pilgrimage to the cabin on Lake Namakagon. I hunt the big woods by myself now but I’m never alone. There is too much history, too many memories for that to be.
I’ve never smoked and enjoy good health so God willing I’ve many more hunts left. I still have the drive to finish. Like that long ago November day I’m sometimes scared and not sure where I’m headed but I feel safe knowing that Jim is always beside me and Gary is waiting on the other side.