Even the meanest of meals taste good when they are served at camp.
Cellophane-wrapped noodles that come in a brick with a packet of salt, canned broth poured over rice, half cooked, meat on a stick charred black but cold inside are delicacies after a long day in the woods.
What hunters can’t stand is track soup, or worse, tag soup, the stuff made with the vapors of desire and seasoned with privation.
It’s what luckless hunters serve up after an unsuccessful season hunting deer or elk.
It’s what Lance Henriksen, of Post Falls, thought he was going to choke down on the last day of his general season deer hunt.
Instead, as the light waned, and Henriksen and a friend were starting to drive home on a logging road near St. Maries contemplating next autumn’s season, hoping it would be more fruitful, something that appeared to be lightning struck.
It shot across the road in front of the pickup truck.
“My buddy yelled, ‘Deer!’” Henriksen said. “All I saw was a big swollen neck and a rack as it jumped the road.”
There may have been 10 minutes left of legal hunting light, and the snow helped illuminate the clearcut that the buck bounded through.
Henriksen grabbed his 30-06 and gave chase.
The 5-by-5 buck headed for the forest and Henriksen shot and missed.
He could taste the tag soup in his gullet. He aimed again.
“When he hopped a log, I saw how big his rack was,” Henriksen said.
The deer turned to skirt a small group of trees and for a moment offered Henriksen a bigger target. He touched off another round.
“I saw the flick of his tail and he was gone,” he remembered.
He and his pal walked to where the deer was last seen and found it lying dead in blood-spattered snow.
“I made a running shot at 150 yards,” he said. “I had never shot a running deer before in my life.”
With the fatal shot, and the finding of the downed deer, Henriksen joined the club of hunters whose seemingly ill fortunes took a turn for the better.
A couple units away near the Silver Valley, Heath Marek, of Kellogg, joined the club too.
Marek, who had hunted every weekend of the general season in Panhandle Unit 3, had seen his share of deer, many bucks, but hadn’t pulled the trigger.
“I was holding off,” Marek said.
He wanted to kill a mature buck, but on the last day of the season early this month his fastidiousness had faded to an acute form of desperation.
“I was going to shoot any deer,” he said. “I just wanted to get some meat.”
He had traveled high to the snowy elevations and was on foot climbing a ridge where earlier in the season he had seen a bull moose and a bull elk, when he crossed paths with a 3-by-4 whitetail with the broken antler tine.
The deer bolted away, but Marek called it back.
“I wheezed at it,” he said. “Basically, I called him to fight.”
The deer disappeared, and it appeared to Marek that an opportunity had been lost. Then the buck boomeranged back.
“He popped up at 20 yards away,” he said. “He came back in to fight, I guess.”
Marek, who had hunted from the valley floor to the high country all season in an effort to fill his tag, did so on the last day of the season.
His elation prompted him to shoot a selfie as well.
Sandpoint hunter John Mace, who, like Marek and Henriksen, grew up hunting Panhandle whitetails, mulled a disappointing deer hunting season as he locked and loaded his trusty Browning .243, and headed into the brush in Unit 1 on the last day of the season.
“It was a pretty rough year for me,” Mace said. “I didn’t see many deer.”
On the final day, however, using tactics fueled by discouragement and a desire to change his luck, he started hunting more aggressively, he said.
“I put out scent lines, I did some rattling and grunting,” Mace said.
Around 3:30 p.m. a mature 5-by-6 whitetail came for a look.
“I shot the first one that showed up,” Mace said.
The deer was 30 yards out and he estimated its age at 4 1/2 years.
“I shot it with two hours left of shooting light on the last day of the general season,” he said.
Like many hunters, Henriksen had been in similar desperate situations while chasing big game.
“It seems I always end up getting something on the last few days of the season,” Henriksen said. “Right when I start losing hope, something happens.”
Henriksen, who works for a landscaping company, said from the time he first saw the 5-by-5 leap across the road to the moment he shot, it seemed like an entire hunting season had passed.
“It seemed like an eternity,” he said. “It happened in about 30 seconds.”
And no tag soup.