Casper Family Hunting Tradition
5/3/2004 Folklore 530 - Final Paper
Remembering back to when I was just five years old, the one week out of the year that my dad was gone hunting was always a week to remember. Not only did it mean quality bonding time with mom and ample shopping, it also meant my dad would come home with lots of great stories to share. This project has helped me explore the many traditions that have been a part of my family's deer hunting experience. After interviewing both my father and my brother, I now have a much better sense of what hunting in the Casper family really means. I will discuss the family history involved in these traditions, the complexity of daily events while hunting, the uniqueness of their location and lodging and finally the fun and games that are evident throughout the entire week of deer hunting.
First, the family history involved in deer hunting is the defining characteristic that makes it so special. The tradition began three generations ago and has been going strong for over fifty years. The age difference between the men that all hunt together is rather fascinating as it brings many generations together and teaches them about one another's life experiences. My grandfather used to go deer hunting with a bunch of his friends and cousins when he was a young boy and he kept the tradition alive with his three sons, one of which is my father. My father and his two brothers have both done the same with their sons beginning at a very young age. According to my brother, Benjamin, the first time he experienced the real life of a deer hunter he was only ten years old but this only included walking in the woods with my father. It was not until he was twelve years old, the legal age you have to be in order to shoot a gun that he was allowed to hunt. While this was a very young age to begin such a sport, he was prepared with a hunter's safety course, which he took prior to his first actual shooting experience. As for my father, he used to walk by his father's side when he was only nine years old and got to actually hunt when he was twelve. At that time, however, there were no laws requiring hunter's safety courses so everything he knew about the sport, he had learned from his own father. One memory that is forever engrained in my mind is that of my dad's change jar. Ever since I can remember, he had a green change jar that was specifically and only for his hunting week. He put change in this jar all year long and when it came time for the big hunt, he cashes the change in and uses it as spending money for food and other things they may need throughout the week. He has continued to keep this tradition alive and said, "it is a great way to have some extra cash that time of year when it comes time for the big hunt!"
Another very important aspect of deer hunting history is the father-son bonding that so readily takes place. Starting early on, it is a time for fathers and their sons to learn more about one another in a relaxed atmosphere. According to my father, there is no stress during the week of deer hunting as it is a time to relax and enjoy the peacefulness of the Northern woods. Going along with the father-son bonding experience, the success and excitement of getting his first buck was also a well-documented occurrence for my brother. These events occur in stages, as the first deer, first deer with antlers and then first significantly sized buck are all recorded and viewed as big deal. From Benjamin's first years of hunting until now, he has made it through all those stages by finally shooting a big buck this past year. It is difficult to imagine that all the guys who hunt do not get deer every year but this is definitely the case. Although several hours are spent every day in blinds waiting for a good shot, a good buck with a great set of antlers only comes along once in a great while. For my father, that grand experience occurred back in 1990 and he said it was, "the greatest accomplishment a sportsman could ever have." It turned out he shot the biggest buck in the state of Wisconsin that year and was honored with a picture of he and his buck on the cover of the hunting magazine Wisconsin Whitetail. He also won $500, which was another pleasant surprise for him!
Overall, the family history of deer hunting as well as the father-son bonding are large contributors to the tradition and will continue to be in the future. I imagine some day my sons will go deer hunting with their grandpa and uncles just as the rest of the boys in the family have. Deer hunting is a sport but more importantly it is a time for camaraderie and togetherness for a group of men that otherwise may not take the time to get together. It is a highly anticipated excursion every year and the approaching of the date leaves grown men as excited as a young boy who is going to Disneyland!
The second important aspect of the Casper family's hunting tradition is the complexity of the daily events that occur while in the Northern woods. Every morning they rise before five o'clock am in order to get to their stands and have everything ready for the day's hunt. The Casper family hunting group is unique in that they prepare for an entire day in the woods by bringing food into the woods as well as any other items they may need throughout the day (with an exception of toilet paper and I won't go there)! This group hauls propane tanks and portable stove/burners in order to cook their lunch and to have hot food and drink. This happens to be my father's favorite specific hunting tradition. He enjoys the fact that they remain in the woods all day long without having to return to the cabin for anything. This is what defines the experience for him and he would have it no other way. In the woods they eat a breakfast and lunch (brunch) type meals that include bacon, eggs, and pancakes. This meal is the same every day while the dinner meal is what differs each night. It is at this gathering, which is midway through the day that they all come together in order to check in with one another and to compare `notes.' They discuss if they saw any deer and if so, whether or not they were males or females as well as the locations of the sightings. Similarly, in Fred Lund's article, he discussed in great detail the importance of meals and how there are specific meals for certain nights and circumstances. He devoted a large part of his article to food consumption and its relevance to the hunting life. I also found it interesting that the Casper family hunting group has traditions that date back to much earlier years that Lund assumes are no longer in practice. While Lund was talking about how the deer are hung after they are shot he said, "they were always hung up and in those days, they were always hung by the hind legs" (Lund, p. I64). This hunting group hangs their deer the same way and has done so for over ten years. Lund also said, " the territory of a hunting party was observed so carefully that it was possible to tell who was doing the shooting" (Lund, p. I63). This holds true for this particular group of hunters. They are all extremely familiar with one another's positioning in the woods and are often able to tell who is doing the shooting.
Another complex task is the planning that occurs before the men leave for the hunting trip. They get together at least two times before the big event in order to coordinate things such as who is driving up, who is riding in what car, how many trailers to haul, how much food and meat to bring, and who is to bring what food. This is a thorough process as it is very detailed and draws on every single night specifically which is what I found in Lund's piece. They plan far in advance what they will eat at every meal as they eat like kings while on their hunting excursion. Some of the meats they eat include, steak, pork, ribs, hamburgers, brats, and of course, venison. As for complexities in the woods, the game itself is both complex and difficult. According to Mert Cowley's article, "to improve yourself as a hunter, learn all you can about your quarry, read-read-read" (Cowley, p. 98). This quote is ironic because while speaking with my father, he expressed how important it is for the hunter to learn as much as they can about the sport as well as nature. He also said, "you have to know and understand the game you are hunting." By this I believe he meant it is crucial to study up and learn the strengths and weaknesses of deer as well as their surroundings. My dad also said, "that's why it's called hunting and not shooting." He truly believes it is a sport and demands the respect of other sportsmen. While we were discussing the sport and its difficulty, my dad also mentioned how he does not use bait while hunting. Many hunters are using bait now a days but he feels it is unfair and somewhat of a copout. It is currently a controversial issue among avid hunters and my father is opposed to baiting and all that it entails. Becoming one with nature is also an important part of hunting as it is often difficult to do and requires years and years of learning and knowing the Northern woods. My dad has been sitting in the same blind for over ten years now and knows his end of the woods like the back of his hand. As a child, I remember going up north in the summer and having my dad show us his blind in the woods. It really amazed me as to how well he knew where he was in the middle of no where and how he knew exactly how to get around in the woods. It is evident he is passionate about his hunting experience and the sport as a whole. My brother on the other hand, has not been hunting as long as my dad has but is also very passionate about the sport and its challenges. He is also very familiar with the Northern woods and has learned many of his ways from my father. According to Benjamin, "dad has taught me everything I need to know about hunting, he does all the reading and I just listen." This made me laugh because it is very typical of my brother. He is usually lazy but when it comes to hunting he simply absorbs all the knowledge he can from our father. The entire Casper family hunting experience is both complex and calculated. There is a ton of time and thought that goes into the planning of the details as well as the overall hunting extravaganza.
The third important aspect of this hunting tradition is the uniqueness of the male bonding as well as their living arrangements for this special week in the year. The Casper hunting gang originated with only five men who teamed up for the annual adventure. It has since grown into a group of twelve. The funny thing about this situation is the fact that although their group has more than doubled in size, they have chosen to stay in the same cabin for the past twenty-three years. According to my dad, "it's convenient and the price is right" talking about the cabin they stay in. Their cabin does have running water, a shower, and plumbing however, thirty years ago, they had to use an outhouse! After speaking with both my dad and my brother, I learned that the biggest reason why they continue to stay where they do is because of the male bonding that goes on during that hunting week. The close proximity forces them to interact and enjoy one another's company more so than usual. According to Mert Cowley, "In order to be a good campmate, you must learn to share. In camp the motto is `all for one and one for all` (Cowley, p. 98). This quote is very appropriate, as they all have to help out around the cabin in order for them to keep their sanity and to have a good time.
Taking a deeper look into the male bonding that goes on during this week of hunting, it was interesting to learn that this hunting group does something very similar to Mert Cowley's documentation of every day while hunting. One guy in the group puts out a story every year after their hunting excursion is concluded. It includes a day-by-day recap of the events that occurred starting from the morning and ending with the late night activities. This is both a story as well as a humorous document. All of the hunters in this group have grown to really appreciate this document, as it will forever remind them about their wonderful memories that are created in that short week in November. They refer to this document as the `trilogy' as the real title changes yearly based on the specific happenings of that particular year. It often features stories about funny incidents that occur or about who ever shot the big buck that year. I noticed Cowley's article also included some funny stories and was even a bit sarcastic. I think this is a good indication of what the atmosphere is like while the men are hunting as well as their attitudes about the time spent together.
The final important aspect of my family's hunting tradition is the nightlife, which includes the fun and games. According to my brother, "the best part of hunting is the beer and gambling." One may view that mentality as problematic as most men are there for the love of the hunt, but I feel it is more about the bonding that pleases Benjamin opposed to the long days out in the cold. It may also be because he is much younger than most of the men who have been hunting for over thirty years and have a greater respect for the sport itself. I learned that their nightlife is where most of the bonding and interacting actually takes place. It was at this time they would reminisce about previous years and things that had happened. They also share information with one another about the day they just had in the woods as well as any new guns they may have bought that year. This is very similar to Lund's idea of what went on at night after a day's hunt, "...every evening was spent talking about the day's hunting and of events that occurred in the past" (Lund, p.161). Lund seemed to think this is no longer the case for most hunters but it is a tradition that is definitely alive among my family so I guess some things never do change. While all of this is going on, they are grilling dinner and drinking beer. When Benjamin was young, it seemed my dad threw out any rules when they were up North for the hunting week. Anything was fair game including the smoking of cigars, which would never have been allowed at home. According to Benjamin, "the bonding we do when where hunting is what taught me about what it means to be a man." Although exposed earlier, he feels he was more grown up and mature after coming home from these crazy hunting weeks, which really surprised me, as I would have thought just the opposite. One interesting side note about how all the men smoke cigars during the hunting week is that not one of them is a real smoker nor do they smoke cigars on a regular basis. The cigar smoking is almost a 'treat' for them during this relaxing yet challenging week. This hunting group also enjoys playing cards and doing some harmless gambling at night while sharing their stories. I found it quite interesting in Fred Lund's article that some hunting camps did not allow booze, card games, rough language or gambling. I think this would have been highly problematic for this group of hunters as that is a large part of their experience. I learned they like to tell distasteful jokes which is ultimately expected when you put a bunch of men in a two bedroom cabin! My dad defined the nightlife as just sitting around talking about the day amidst drinking and eating. He had a really interesting comment about this as I was interviewing him. He said how although it is a week of bonding it is also a week of individualism. When they go to their blinds (stations) in the woods, they are alone for the duration of the day. He continued to point out how every guy has a very different experience with nature and what he sees throughout the day. It is a very personal thing for each of the guys and they are able to learn and understand one another better by listening to their different accounts. In one of the diary entries in Mert Cowley's piece, a man mentioned how he had seen a rare blue dove during his day in the woods and that is a perfect example of how everyone has a very unique experience while in the woods.
This project was both intriguing and informative as it was interesting learning about a family tradition that I have been around my entire life. I was able to focus on four areas of importance, the family history involved in the hunting traditions, the complexity of daily events, the uniqueness of their lodging and finally the fun and games that are incorporated at nighttime. All of these characteristics are what shape the hunting experience for this group of guys. It is a highly anticipated week in the year and I will continue to hear stories for the rest of my life. I find it quite incredible how they are able to connect and bond on this great level while participating in a sport they truly love. I think my dad put it best when he said, "it is a very challenging sport and that is why it is called hunting and not shooting." It is evident with how much thought and effort that goes into the planning of this week how truly important it is to everyone in the group.
Cowley, M. (1993). In camps of orange: poetic tales of deer hunting from the pearly swamp camp. Camp Foolishness, 97-125.
Lund, F. (1996). A hundred hunts ago: seasons of the past. Setting up Camp, 160-172.
1. Dean Casper (father)
2. Benjamin Casper (brother)
|After the hunting week is over, the deer are thrown into the trailer and then dropped off at the butchers.||These are their portable stoves that enter the woods with them every day...allows for warm cider and good food.|
|This is the tiny cabin that all 12 grown men stay in for the hunting week!||Another good example of the bonding that takes place at night between the men...often involving food and drink.|
|Both of these pictures are prime examples of what nightlife is like with this hunting groups. Notice the beer, cards, and money!|
|This was 1980 and notice they had hung the deer by the heads...It wasn't until a few years later they went back to the more traditional way of hanging them by their hind legs.||This is a picture of the guys meeting mid-day for a brunch type meal.|
|This is a picture of my dad and my brother just this past November (2003) when Ben shot his first buck! It was a very exciting day fot the father-son duo.|
|These last two pictures dispaly the generations that take part in this hunting tradition. My Grandpa (far left in right photo) takes great pride in the fact that he began it and has continued to be a part of it. He also enjoys growing a beard that one special week in the year!|