I CRAWLED into a tree stand at 6:15 a.m. last Saturday on the first hard-frost morning of the fall season, hopeful that deer would have fed heavily and might be filtering through the hardwoods after daylight with a late return to their favorite bedding area.

As many northern hunters do these days, the scribbler had trekked to central Wisconsin farm country where deer numbers are high and antlerless deer tags are easy to get. In fact, you can get three free tags in each of Waupaca and Shawano counties.

The invite came from an old high school friend, Doug Malueg, who has turned an 80-acre ridge south of Marion into a deer and turkey hunting mecca. Aggressive forest management, hobby farming and the placement of watering holes provides a partial list of the habitat he’s created for wildlife.

The offer came with deluxe accommodations as well, for the Schabin Cabin on the end of Quarterline Road is one of the most comfortable deer camps in Wisconsin. And it’s filled with the mounts of deer, elk, bobcat and other game, the kind of atmosphere we hunters enjoy.

Acorns were falling constantly around my stand, pretty much the most natural feeding system you can find for bringing deer in your direction. Doug mentioned this stand was a natural funnel between feeding and bedding, proven time and time again over the years.

It was shortly after sunrise that the squirrels and turkeys came alive in a hardwoods that includes at least 13 different species of trees. I know that because the tongue-and-groove hardwood ceiling in camp was designed with a mixture of wood from his property.

What really counts is not the hardwood canopy, but what’s beneath it. He’s done enough cutting to provide breaks that put sunlight on the forest floor and that’s why there were thickets and tangles of raspberry and other brush scattered throughout. The U.S. Forest Service can only wish their hardwoods had this kind of habitat for wildlife.

I sat in that stand for more than 90 minutes without seeing even a deer in the distance. But suddenly, about 8 o’clock, it was like someone turned a switch.

They seemed to come in bunches of three. The first group included a spike-horned buck that was probably a sibling to one of the adult does. They were slightly out of range for the crossbow.

The next group walked through single file at 30 yards. Three adult does with no fawns, and I could only imagine that the fawns were more interested in eating corn than returning to the cutover bedding area to the north. At least that’s a better thought than what the wolves and bears might have done to them.

The third doe in the second group was in my sights as she crossed a small opening. The bolt found its mark and she was on the ground in less than 10 seconds.

As I sat there for a moment, thanking God for great friends and this state’s incredible natural resources, more deer walked past at 30 yards on the other side of the stand. 

No doubt they had fed heavily, and longer than usual, on the first frosty night of the fall. They say timing is everything. Well, so is location.

Besides taking home a nice farm country doe, I?would leave with the memories of a great morning hunt. I saw turkeys. There were squirrels of every color — red. gray, black and fox. We don’t have them in the North Woods, but I’ll tell you now that there’s no squirrel bigger than fox squirrels of central Wisconsin. 

Sunrise on a crisp fall morning includes the music of low-flying geese, the haunting screeches of a red-tailed hawk and the archaic calls of the sandhill crane echoing in the distance.

The trip also rekindled some great memories from my childhood, which was spent in the woods and ponds and streams around Marion. My dad used to take me squirrel hunting on a nearby farm, and there were times we stopped on the way back, on what later became Doug Malueg’s 80 acres, to pick butternuts from trees on that ridge.

The first venison of the season will provide fresh backstraps, roasts, tenderloins and homemade burger — some of the leanest and tastiest burger you’ll ever find. Some of that scrap will be saved for a batch of summer sausage, brats or hot dogs.

How fortunate that I could sneak this little trip in before October, which is pretty much my month to chase grouse and pheasants in the splendor of fall color.

But I’m vowing to return to farm country yet this season, because there’s something special about seeing nine adult deer in a two-hour period. Hunting the rut with that kind of a deer herd would be fantastically entertaining.

We are just three days into the most glorious month of the year, the month we hunters and anglers and trappers would rank as the best of the best.

The leaves are changing. The ducks are flying. Bucks are starting to mark territories and spar with the competition. The pheasant fields are calling. 

It’s time to hunt!