I drank ‘shine … and more

The firearms deer season opened this weekend, a time-honored tradition on the Iron Range that I’d never participated in … until now. On Saturday I joined the festivities at my family’s hunting shack in the woods that separate the Iron Range from Canada. My grandfather, dad and uncles have spent a lot of time putting together a pretty nice hunting setup with dozens of acres of hunting land, a nice shack with copious bunk space and a campus of amenities including a sauna, fire pit, outhouse and skid steer for impulse landscaping.

I didn’t bring or shoot a gun. In fact, I didn’t even buy a license. My mission was simply to observe and join the fun. My family’s tradition includes a very casual attitude about hunting. A couple people try hard and the rest make brief patrols along the trails hoping that a depressed deer wanders into their line of sight and asks for a quick death. My brother-in-law shot a deer but when I left Sunday that was the only success the group could cite.

But that’s not really the point. Hunting season has been a longstanding male tradition in my family, one that puts revelry and conversation ahead of actual hunting. I expected to drink some beer when I got up there, but sometime before midnight my grandpa asked a dubious question: “Want to try some of the ‘shine?” He had a clear bottle that read “MOON” in permanent marker letters. That’s right: moonshine. The stuff of Roger Miller’s “Chug-a-Lug” and George Jones’ “White Lightning.” There used to be quite a vital moonshine industry on the Iron Range, but the craft is starting to disappear. Nevertheless, there I was on Saturday drinking ‘shine while wearing an orange hunting jacket.

Moonshine is partly what you’d expect … a very potent alcohol that goes straight to your head. In truth I thought I handled it just fine. In combination with a glass of whiskey and, well, “more than one” beer I had a little headache the next day but nothing terrible. But then I started noticing something. I got home and changed one of the boys’ diapers. “Hey, baby pee smells like moonshine,” I thought. Then I noticed that hot dogs also smelled like moonshine. And so did toothpaste. And most of my clothes. And then I realized that these things did not smell like moonshine but that I had in fact suffered some kind of nerve damage. I think I’m OK now, but I just might categorize moonshine as something I’ve tried but won’t seek out again.

I don’t mean to suggest that drinking was the only activity at deer camp. The men of my family can and do drink at other times. And my dad has given up drinking entirely. But we are a hard working family and these weeks in the fall are a chance to cut loose and catch up. I heard plenty of stories and came a little closer to figuring out how it is that I ended up here. My hunting season is done for the year but most serious hunters have plenty of time left. Stay safe in the woods and enjoy your time at the shack, everyone.


  1. I almost spit out my soda reading the paragraph about moonshine. Brilliant. I’m crashing your family hunting weekend next year.

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