Deer Camp: Land, Legacy and Good Eats
Wisconsin family cooks up winning recipe for ‘Deer Camp'
One of my favorite things about “Deer Camp” is that it means something. For every group of hunters, from metropolitan castaways moteling it in style to traditional backwoods cabin groups 75 years in the making, it means something to the individuals who participate.
For some it’s the camaraderie, or the tranquility of time spent unplugged from society. For others it’s the twitch of an ear or the flash of white bounding through the woods as they anticipate the harvest.
My camp is about family, good food and a piece of property. These three descriptors were listed in that order for good reason. Mainly to accentuate the closeness of our group and the gluttonous way by which we award our time spent in the woods; but also to show that these factors are built upon the foundation of our place.
To hunt, you need a place.
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The Maglios are close-knit, Italian-Irish family that grew up in a restaurant and to this day all live within a 10-mile circle. That pretty much covers the family and food aspect of the Maglio camp. What we didn’t have for many years was a place.
That’s not to say we didn’t hunt. Ted Maglio, my grandfather, and his four alliteratively named sons, Ted, Tom, Tim, and Tony, have always been hunters. They have chased deer across the state of Wisconsin with various groups since the 1970s. But it wasn’t until 2003 that we found our place.
Our place is important to this story. It has a name, Buckridge Trails.
It is 150 acres of paradise located in southwestern Wisconsin, among the prime hunting areas in the country for white-tailed deer hunting. With the perfect ratio of woods to fields in incredible “Driftless Area” terrain, there are enough deer that not filling a tag happens by choice, not from lack of opportunity.
This amazing piece of land, this place where we meet, feast, hunt and unwind, is the result of one man who doesn’t even share our last name, John Terry.
John married Dianne Maglio, the eldest daughter of the Maglio seven and has been equal parts brother, father, uncle and mentor to pretty much every one in the expansive clan.
For years I heard my father (Tom), uncles, aunts and cousins talk about what it would be like to have our own property. John and Dianne made that a reality, and from day one Buckridge became a gathering place like no other, and our deer camp began in earnest.
In 2010, John Terry unexpectedly passed away at the age of 57. It was a shock to our family, changed the entire family dynamic, and turned Buckridge into more than just our deer camp. It’s now his legacy.
Throughout the year, but especially during deer season, we keep John in our thoughts. We keep his treestand up and maintained, pass a bottle around occasionally in his honor, and do the thing he would have wanted most: eat, drink and hunt on his property.
What discussion of deer camp would be complete without at least a passing mention of the food? Some camps have designated cooks, some have planned meals, and some won’t eat until they have venison hanging from the pole.
We’re a little different. My grandparents owned and operated Lombardinos, an Italian restaurant in Madison, Wis., for 23 years. My father, uncles and aunts all grew up in that restaurant. Several of them met spouses there, and years prior to Buckridge, that was our place.
You get enough former cooks in one room and the discussions can become heated. One of the long-standing arguments in the family is whether or not a bay leaf belongs in spaghetti sauce (for the record, I’m a bay leafer). No matter what, though, the food is great.
Although I hunt with a different group of friends on the opening weekend of gun season, I head to Buckridge the following week, and I can always count on Tony’s prime rib, Tom’s venison nuggets, Ted’s meat sauce and Tim’s stuffed mushrooms.
When we eat at Buckridge, we eat. It’s almost enough to keep me out of the woods and at the dinner table. But then again, there’s that hunting thing, too.
Buckridge actually hunts a lot bigger than its 150 acres would suggest. The property is split by two sharp ridges, creating a number of draws and three primary fields. Because of this, it takes quite a few hunters to cover all the potential deer travel routes through the property.
Steep ridges and hardwoods make travel an adventure, or misadventure. The vertical obstacles have resulted in the choice naming of some of the trails, like Spleen Splitter, The Hogback and The Dugway, to name a few.
We take our hunt pretty seriously, and we still hold to John’s rule that anything inside the ears or under eight points walks, but that doesn’t stop us from dropping a number of tasty does every year to fill our larder.
At 85, my grandfather is in the twilight of his hunting years, and although my father and uncles have quite a few years left to enjoy the hunt, it’s up to my generation to ensure that deer camp at Buckridge continues as a strong tradition.
It’s looking good; my high-school-aged cousins, Ben, Samantha, Joe and Ashley, have all harvested deer in the last several seasons.
John would be proud.
And if they learn the cooking chops of the family, expect the Maglios to meet, eat and hunt together for many more generations.