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Round Lake Deer Camp is all about family, friendship, tradition

Round lake deer camp hunters Tom Fritz, Ron Kershner, Ron Sprafka and John Emery tell stories around the bar at the camp following Saturday’s deer opener. Brian Basham/DL NEWSPAPERS

If a picture is worth a thousand words, and if walls could talk, the Round Lake Deer Camp would speak millions of words every fall when about 20 hunters open the camp for the annual deer hunt.

Nearly every square inch of wall space in the hunting shack is covered with years of history, names, pictures, articles, mounts and other various trinkets and memorabilia.

Oh the stories it tells — and oh the stories that are told there!

Tom Fritz bought the property and cabin on the southeast corner of Round Lake in 1968, making this year the 46th annual deer hunt.

“We started hunting with three guys the first few years,” Tom said. “We went from three guys to probably about five guys, and then we started bringing the kids in about 1979. And then our kids got married and had their own kids.”

The small original cabin has had several additions since 1968 to accommodate the growing generations of hunters using the shack.

Former Detroit Lakes mayor Larry Buboltz, one of the first hunters back in 1968, said a lot has changed over the years.

“Now my sons are coming and my grandsons are coming,” he said. “It’s a good deal.”

Three generations from several different families hunt out of the cabin now.

Mike Hutchinson and Tom’s sons, Mark and Mike Fritz, have been coming to the camp for 40 years, Hutchinson said.

“It’s a good camp,” Hutchinson said. “When you start coming when you’re 9 and now I’m going to be 50 in a few weeks. That’s 40 years here. You have the 70 year olds, the 40 and 50 somethings, then you’ve got the 20s. It’s good.”

Stories, moments and memories are passed down to the next generation just by reading the walls of the camp. Hundreds — thousands — of pictures and memories tell the stories of the years at the camp.

Every deer taken from every hunt is recorded and a plaque for each year is hung on the wall with the names of the hunters who bagged one that year, apparently to keep the tall tales to a minimum.

“You gotta keep track ‘cause they keep giving me a lot of crap around here. ‘Oh, I’ve shot 75 deer’ or something. It’s right there on the wall. There’s no denying it,” Tom said.

Tom had his grandson, Ian Fritz, count the wall of deer and give a report during Saturday night’s dinner. In 45 years, 282 deer have been taken by Round Lake Deer Camp hunters, Ian said. And that number is up at least three this season.

“How many tags did we not fill over the years?” someone asked. “Three thousand, four hundred and eight,” another member said as laughter erupted in the dining room.

The early hunters started a brotherhood — The Benevolent Brotherhood of the Bent Barrels — and a member was inducted when he screwed up or did something stupid during the hunt. Tom said about the only thing to get you out of the Brotherhood was to shoot a buck the following year.

“And it got to be that everyone had screwed up so many times, that everyone is now in,” he said.

And so the meeting commenced with stories of the two deer taken Saturday.

Mike, who serves as Becker County attorney, was the first, as his deer was shot early Saturday morning.

“Was it legal?” his father joked, with laughs all around.

Mike’s 10-pointer was the sixth deer he saw that morning. He said he saw some does and fawns go through and about 15 minutes later the buck came by with his nose to the ground. Mike was able to take a shot, but the buck just moved off quicker, he said. He lined up another shot and took it, but the deer just moved away.

“I texted Mark and said ‘I think I just missed a big buck,’” he said. “I walked down there and found the blood, and 20 yards from where I had it spotted, it was laying.”

Tim Bergien’s tale was next.

“It was 10:15 and it was kind of like getting the last hun of a covey you flushed,” he started. “I looked around this tree and all hell broke loose, and the last one was the buck.”

Several does quickly moved past his stand and the eight-pointer was following them, and Bergien made his shot on the run with his brand new rifle.

“It’s not a virgin anymore,” he said.

Guests were introduced, including a gift of Roman salt and pepper shakers from the Daggett “haphazard hunting camp,” Mike Fritz said.

Then came the pledge for the Benevolent Brotherhood of the Bent Barrel, which was long, funny, and not at all fit for a family newspaper.

“No other new business, except supper tomorrow night will be at 6:45,” Tom said, ending the meeting, and the family of Round Lake Deer Camp hunters went back to their stories.

“I’m convinced that someday, somebody is going to write a Ph.D. thesis on the close family relations that are brought up through deer camps in northern Minnesota,” Tom said. “This is just great. I got a text opening morning last year from my 13-year-old granddaughter. She’s in the stand with Mark, and she says, ‘I got a big buck, Grandpa.’ And a half hour later, I got one. That’s when you really get beaming.”