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Voyageur's Best Sports of 2003

Cabin in the woods

Switzer deer camp, a family tradition
Harlan Switzer owns 'Buck Dusters'
by John Grones  |  November 25, 2003

The Switzer family deer camp goes back a long way. Like many deer camps, the Switzer family deer camp or ‘Buck Dusters’ is rich in stories and traditions. The 120-acre property Harlan Switzer (grandpa) purchased in 1958 has been the site where sons, grandsons, and cousins have all gathered the second week in Nov. to go deer hunting...and talk about football.

The Bethany Lutheran Hunters Supper has always been part of the tradition for the Switzers. I met up with Harlan at the supper on Nov. 7, the same night Cromwell hosted Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in the State Football Quarterfinals. He said just about everyone goes and at one time they used to follow up dinner with a trip down to the Cromwell Municipal for the Cromwell Fire Department gun raffle. “That goes back as long as I can remember, but they cut it out,” said Harlan. “It was a big deal and they sold a lot of tickets.” This year, the meal was followed by a trip down to the high school football field to watch the game. Harlan had three grandsons playing: Russell Johnson, Gabe Goranson and Grant Odegaard. Unfortunately, the Cardinals lost to Hillcrest Lutheran Academy 21-12 and their season ended.

After the game, it was time to head to the cabin and prepare for the deer hunting opener. Harlan wasn’t able to make it out that night, but he would catch up with us in the morning. Before we departed, he filled me in on the original gang. Harlan recalls the original gang and everyone who I can expect to meet at the camp. “It started out with myself and my six boys, Robby, Keith, Bill, Dan, Mark and Joe,” he said. “And then there was my cousin John and his boys, Kent, Mark, Erik and Kirk.”

“Since then, my grandkids have joined us. Robert’s boys, Brian, Mike, Tommy, and Peter. Keith’s boy, Carl, Dan’s boy, Andrew, and more recently, Mark’s boy, Russell.”

When I arrived at the cabin, several of the guys were gathered around the table talking about last year’s hunt. Dan, Mike, Mark, Brian and Carl recalled the big one that was shot by (“southern”) Mark. They call cousin Mark “southern Mark” in reference to his residence in Apple Valley, because there are two Mark Switzers. The story was best told by reading the cabin log. Carl read from the passage dated 11-23-02.

People in the shack sleeping when they awoke to one gun shot. We look around and see that cousin Mark is gone. He arrives back to camp around 8:15 and said he shot a monster. 15 points. It was thought to be the biggest buck shot at the cabin. He shot it out of Harlan’s stand. It was walking across the field. Later on, Mike shot a fork horn. Mark and Joe pulled on the deer’s ears.

The pulling of the ears was a description used by Andrew Switzer, who was six or seven at the time. He was describing how they pulled the deer out of the woods. The guys aren’t absolutely sure, but they think that the buck shot by “southern Mark” was the biggest. It was 15 points and it was pictured in the Voyageur Press, Dec. 3, 2002.

So what about the smallest deer? I finally got a response from Mike, the quiet one. “I have nothing to say and you can quote me on that,” he said.

The conversation then turned to the boss – Harlan. Harlan was a firearm safety instructor for 33 years and the camp has had zero accidents and zero near accidents. The reason...we would get chewed if we did anything that wasn’t safe,” said Mark. “He’s always pointing out to be careful.”

“He has lectured us several times,” added Brian.

According to the guys there were a few things that would get Harlan frustrated. Number one, was not staying in the deer stand until the drive was done. Or, finding a neighbor in his stand. “He’d just ask the neighbor to climb on down. That was his stand,” added Dan.

The bottom line is that Harlan is the boss and there are standards and ethics to be followed at the camp...and everyone follows them. The boss even has his own parking spot. A sign reads “Reserved for Harlan” on the corner of the cabin. Which reminded me of my next question. Harlan wasn’t going to be out until the morning and I wondered, “Did I see that someone is parked in his spot?”

Everyone turned and looked at Mike and he spoke again. “I have nothing to say and you can quote me on that.”

Harlan purchased the property with hopes of spending quality time with his boys and, eventually, grandchildren. He’s doing that now. In fact, Dan’s boy, Andrew, shot his first deer last year and this year Robert’s boy, Tommy, shot his first one.

On Sat. morning I caught up with the hunting party for breakfast at 8:30. Carl was cooking when I walked through the door. “Ah, just what I wanted to know. Who is the official camp cook?” I said as I stepped inside and closed the door.

“That’s about all he does,” Harlan quickly replied before I could sit down. “Don’t listen to a word he says.” Wise advice, but I already knew this because I received a picture of Carl and the big buck that was shot last year. He was trying to claim cousin Mark’s deer, but the truth is, Carl was sleeping when the real hunter was out claiming his trophy.

Conversation then turned to the morning kill. It turned out that Robert had the early luck and shot a nice 7-point, 184-pound buck. Robert was with his nine-year-old son, Peter, who described the moment. “A deer jumped out on the trail and my dad shot. One shot through the head.”

As the wonderful smell of scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and bacon filled the cabin, Harlan caught everyone’s attention when he began to tell ‘the one that got away’ story. “We came out after work and Keith had spotted several deer that day. He had shot, but didn’t know if he hit one,” Harlan recalled. Harlan then explained another Switzer rule. “If you shoot, we track it down,” he said. It was dark now, so they all headed out with a flashlight and left their guns behind. It wouldn’t take long before they heard a noise that resembled a pig.

“So we conferenced,” Harlan continued. “It was Rob, Keith and Bill and we made up our mind that our neighbor lost his pig and it was in the woods.” The next thing Harlan remembers is handing the flashlight to one of the boys and there stood one of the biggest bucks he had ever seen just three feet away. “It was in the attack mode, but he didn’t hold that pose very long and took off.”
“That pig got away,” said Carl.

Harlan also recalled some memorable seasons when the crew filled 11 of 13 tags and he also remembers the day when they found a fresh set of tracks and that was the deer they hunted. This year the camp enjoyed moderate success. In addition to Robert’s buck, Tommy got his first deer and Andrew shot his second doe. Harlan’s brother, Roger, shot a buck and Brian shot a doe.

Before I left, I followed Harlan and his grandson Peter out to his stand. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was shining. Peter had already witnessed his first kill earlier that morning, and now he was spending time with grandpa, preparing for his first hunt that is just three short years away.

Apparently, as I was leaving, I kicked up a couple of deer that Peter immediately spotted for grandpa to shoot. He passed them up, but later Peter would spot another one. “Hey grandpa, there’s one behind you,” he whispered. Sure enough, Harlan saw the doe, shot it and Peter was there for two kills in one morning on the opener of deer season.

Grandpa was glad he had Peter along, as he is convinced he would have never spotted the doe. The Switzer camp, a family tradition, carries on.

This article first appeared in the November 25, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.