Although there wasn't any deer hanging from the trees Saturday evening at the Shell River Hunting Camp, Mike Guetter couldn't be happier.
"This is what it's all about," he said referring to the large group of friends and relatives that gathered in his cabin south of Osage.
The group of 23 included three of Guetter's brothers, his son and daughter, many nephews, grand nephews and several family friends. The yearly tradition of deer hunting opener Saturday evening dinner rotates between four deer camps in the area and is sometimes the only time the relatives see each other all year long.
"If we don't get together here and there are no weddings or funerals, we don't get to see a lot of them. It's a fun deal just to get together," Guetter said.
Guetter's good friend, Dave Rupp, really looks forward to deer hunting at the Shell River camp.
"This is a good group of guys coming over," he said. "I'm envious of how they still get together."
But family wouldn't be family without some ribbing and trash talking going on between the camps.
"Have you even shot a buck yet?" someone asked. "Where did you buy the one you have on the wall?" was another question posed. "That buck wasn't that big, Mike," somebody said after Guetter told the story of his first deer.
The first group to arrive for dinner was Guetter's brother Nick, his son Bob and his two sons, who shot four deer early Saturday morning, filling all their tags. They all questioned where all the deer at the Shell River camp were, and told the Guetter group they could come over and hunt at their stands -- since they weren't using them anymore.
After catching heat for most of the night, Rupp had enough.
"We'll shoot deer by the time the week's over," he said. "I'm not worried."
The Shell River
The new Shell River cabin was built in 2000 and includes a kitchen, two bedrooms, bathroom with shower and a large living area. It's a big improvement over the old shack, which has since been burned down.
"All the conveniences of home," Guetter said. "I made it too damn nice. Now it's so nice sitting here, everybody stays in the cabin. Nobody wants to go out and hunt."
Guetter's oldest brother bought 80 acres south of Emmaville in Hubbard County and started hunting there in the 1960s.
"So he kind of established a camp there and all of us guys came up and started hunting from that shack. And that's how we kind of got acclimated around here," Guetter said.
Another brother bought land south of Dorset, while two twin brothers each bought land west of Lake Belle Taine and on the Becker-Hubbard County line.
Guetter bought his 270 acres of land south of Osage in 1972 and began to hunt on it that year.
Rupp's son, Tyler, has been hunting at Shell River for 17 years and puts the deer hunt on top of his priority list every year. His wife was at a wedding in Denver this year, while he sent a few text messages to her from his stand Saturday afternoon.
"A wedding is about a one on my priority list," he said. "Waterfowl is a 10 and deer hunting is about nine-and-a-half."
Tyler has been hunting this land since he was 13 and estimates he's shot 10 deer during that time.
"I'm pretty fortunate to hunt this area and at this camp," he said. "It's really a fun time."
Although Tyler has a good time, he still takes a ribbing for having the reputation of not being able to sit in his stand for a long time.
Guetter recalled the first year Tyler was hunting with the group and said the young hunter couldn't sit still.
"We'd put him in a stand and I'd go get in my stand and a half hour later I'd see him walking back to the cabin," Guetter said laughing. "A half hour later he'd crawl back up in the stand. He did that for a couple of years. Back and forth. Back and forth."
Defending himself, Tyler said it was colder back then and the gear today has greatly improved, letting him sit in his stand longer now.
Tom Augustin of Detroit Lakes has occupied a stand at Shell River for more than 25 years and has enjoyed every year of deer hunting there.
"Mike is as about as close to family as it gets," he said. "His daughter and son both hunt here, too. We need more women in deer hunting."
Augustin paused to listen as a chipmunk near his stand was walking through the forest leaves.
"The littlest thing in the world sounds like a deer walking through the woods," he said. "Then, of course, you don't hear the deer when they come."
Although there had been a lot of shooting around the area, the Shell River hunters only saw three deer between the seven of them on opening day -- a rare occurrence. Spirits were still high after dinner and a few drinks that night.
"I'm happy I'm at deer camp," Guetter said. "I could be here for nine days and not get a deer and still be happy."
By noon Monday, the crew had seen more deer. More importantly, there were now two does hanging from the tree at the Shell River Hunting Camp.