Tent Camp: Deer Hunters Find Comfort Under the Pines

Tent Camp: Deer Hunters Find Comfort Under the Pines

TOGO, Minn. (MCT) - Dusk settles over the deer camp deep in Minnesota's north woods. A couple of does hang from the meat pole. Woodsmoke rises from the stovepipe that angles from a white canvas tent.

This is how the men of the Dufner family have been hunting deer since the mid-1950s. Joe Dufner and his boys would drive north from the little town of St. Rosa, Minn., near St. Cloud, to this patch of Itasca County forest. They would pitch their tent under the sweeping branches of Norway pines, sleeping on straw they spread on the ground. And in the mornings, they would hunt deer.

But now Joe is gone, and the Dufner "boys" who hunt here are well into their 70s. They've decided this will be their final season in the tent.

They have gathered in the tent on this first Sunday of Minnesota's firearms deer season, still wearing their blaze orange from the day's hunt, waiting for the baby back ribs to come off the grill outside. There's "Duffy" Dufner, 77, from Grand Rapids, Minn.; Dennis Dufner, 76, of St. Joseph, Minn.; and Charlie Dufner, 73, of Hendersonville, N.C.


"I'll tell you one thing. It's going to be sad leaving," Duffy said.


He knows what he'll miss.

"First of all, you're right in the Norway pines and you can hear the wind going through the pines. I'll miss the environment," he said. "And we're close to all our deer stands."

Charlie flies up from North Carolina each fall to be with his brothers.

"We have so much fun up here," he said. "You can't buy it. I don't like to give it up, but I'll be 74 soon."


"What I'll miss is the roughing it," Dennis said. "To me, this is deer hunting - not out of a cabin."

This is the way their dad taught them to hunt, and when they're here, a part of the old man comes with them.

"Our dad was in his glory up here," Charlie said.


Tent-camping, Dufner-style, is not as rough as you might think. The brothers have refined the art of the tent camp. Their current tent is a spacious 24 feet long and 16 feet wide. It was preceded by a 24-by-12 and a 16-by-16. There's plenty of room in this one for three cots, a kitchen counter, cupboards, a barrel stove and a long table down the center. A steel frame supports the tent from the inside. It's tight and square.

The tent always goes up on the Thursday before opening weekend, with the assistance of sons Mark and Jim.

"And after we pitch the tent, we have a big venison fry," Charlie said.

Inside, the place is bright and cozy. Three gas lights throw their soft glow from near the ridgeline of the tent. The hunters' clothes hang along the walls. Straw long ago gave way to carpeting on the ground.

"But it's used carpeting," Duffy said, fearing that someone might think the appointments too plush.

Water is hauled to the camp in three 10-gallon cream cans left from Joe Dufner's days as a creamery manager. Meals are cooked on a three-burner gas range inside.

The tent came down this past Tuesday. But that doesn't mean it won't be pitched again in years to come. The next two generations of Dufner boys, Mark and Jim and Brian Dufner and their boys, will take over the tent, pitching it in the same plot beneath the pines. Mark, 49, is from Grand Rapids. Jim, 42, is from Zimmerman, Minn. Brian, 38, is from Hopkins, Minn. Between them, they have four sons and a stepson.

"We want them to carry on the tradition," Duffy said.

Jim Dufner said his generation is ready to do that.

"This has been a part of us, growing up," he said. "Now we'll be right here."

But he knows it'll be a difficult transition for his dad, Dennis, and his uncles. They'll hunt from Duffy Dufner's modern cabin several miles away.

"Next y ear, that first year at the cabin, they'll be sad," Jim said. "They'll be out here a lot."

The back ribs are ready now. Brian Dufner, the chef for the evening, brings them in and sets a small mountain of them on the table. Charlie Dufner pours a little white wine into plastic cups. The hunters dig in. It's a safe bet no one loses weight during deer season at the Dufner tent camp.

After dinner, the three brothers do dishes and tidy up the tent. All are retired barbers and former military men. They like a tight ship.

They are all in reasonably good shape, still able to climb in and out of their permanent stands despite a collective five knee replacements and two heart-vessel stents. Charlie shot one of the two does opening day.

After dinner, they lie back on their cots and tell five decades worth of stories. About long tracking walks to retrieve downed deer. About the way mice used to scurry in and out of the straw all night. About the time Duffy and Dennis put a fully-dressed mannequin with a toy rifle in brother Roger Dufner's stand.

There are lots of memories, from both inside and outside the canvas. In the lulls between the stories, the tent grows quiet, each man alone with his thoughts. In one corner, the woodstove purrs with its belly full of birch. Outside, the north wind sings softly in the pines.

In the morning, the old boys will hunt the whitetail again.

© 2008, Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

MLF Pro Tips: Go-To Baits for the Spawn

MLF Pro Tips: Go-To Baits for the Spawn

Major League Fishing pros talk about the first lure they choose when targeting spawning bass.

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

13 Fishing Pathfinder Weedless Walking Bait

Fresh off catching the biggest bass in ICAST Cup history, 13 Fishing pro Jessie Mizell shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead the new Big Squirm soft plastic worm and the company's unique Pathfinder topwater walking bait that is totally weedless in design.

Berkley

Berkley's New Terminal Tackle

OSG's Lynn Burkhead and Chad LaChance, host of World Fishing Network's Fishful Thinker television show, talk about Berkley's new innovative terminal tackle being introduced at ICAST 2019.

Abu Garcia Virtual Rod with Bluetooth

Abu Garcia Virtual Rod with Bluetooth

Pure Fishing's Andrew Wheeler tells Outdoor Sportsman Group writer Lynn Burkhead all about the brand new Abu Garcia Virtual rod that integrates Bluetooth technology through a free ANGLR smartphone app.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near anything that fits in their mouths. Catfish

5 Ways To Catch Catfish on Lures

Keith Sutton - September 16, 2015

As most catfish anglers know, blue cats, channel cats and flatheads will eat darn near...

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing. Bass

4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

The best jig fisherman are those that are always aware of what their jig is doing.

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some great bass pond fishing. Bass

Bass Pond Fishing: Catch Lunkers at Small Lakes Near You

Dan Anderson

If you haven't looked at the smaller urban lakes in your area, you are missing out on some...

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies. Panfish

Find and Fish Bluegill Beds Efficiently

Terry Madewell - May 22, 2019

You can catch bluegill faster with these strategies.

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

Midwestern turkey hunters and others are hitting the woods. So are a variety of harmful tick species. Conservation & Politics

Tick Talk: What You Need to Know Pre-Hunt

Patrick Durkin - May 14, 2020

Midwestern turkey hunters and others are hitting the woods. So are a variety of harmful tick...

This wildlife-rescue story has a cool ending. Conservation & Politics

Game Warden Stories: Duck Day Afternoon for N.Y. Officer

Game & Fish Staff - June 15, 2020

This wildlife-rescue story has a cool ending.

 Missouri hunter Tim Phillips is all smiles after using his late grandfather's worn Marlin 30.30 Stories

Grandpa's Gun Tags Giant Buck, Ends Multi-Year Quest

Lynn Burkhead - November 21, 2017

Missouri hunter Tim Phillips is all smiles after using his late grandfather's worn Marlin...

A rimfire, old standard and new import top our list of favorite rifles for coyote hunting 

All Stories

3 Coyote Guns

Brad Fitzpatrick - September 28, 2017

A rimfire, old standard and new import top our list of favorite rifles for coyote hunting All

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now