THE HOPE of every deer hunter who takes that opening morning walk in darkness, heading for a blind or tree stand, is that somehow the moon and planets will align and send a whitetail buck in his or her direction.

It’s that hope that gets us out of bed so early, eating breakfast, packing gear, making sandwiches and brewing in the anticipation of another opportunity to chase deer with a rifle.

The scribbler had plenty of time to finalize a hunt plan on the more than a mile walk deep into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. I was packing some doe-in-heat scent strips and their placement, upwind from cover but far enough away from my blind, is always crucial.

I found the perfect small tree about 60 yards from my stand, a place where the southwest winds of opening morning would take that tantalizing scent into heavy aspen, spruce and thickets to the north of the little hardwoods I was watching.

Daylight arrived around 6:30 and there was no sign of life until shortly after 8, when a lone doe passed my stand while sneaking toward that daytime bedding area to the north.

And then shortly before 9 o’clock, a deer snorted in alarm from the west side of the hardwoods, the reason for which was totally confusing. I wasn’t even close to being upwind of that deer, so it shouldn’t have scented me. All I saw was a brief glimpse of a white tail crashing into the brush.

I was more than a little bummed that what I guessed was a doe had busted me and told the whole woods that something was amiss. Deer snorting in alarm, also called blowing, usually puts a damper on the hunt for hours.

But suddenly and surprisingly, hardly five minutes passed before I heard crunching steps in the leaves from that same direction. A deer appeared from behind a wind-felled tree, walking straight into the wind toward my scent strips. And it had antlers between its ears.

This deer showed up like 90 degrees to my right, the worst place for a right-handed aim. So I threw up the 30.06 left handed, got the buck in my sights and squeezed off a shot. Buck down.

It’s quite the feeling of elation to have a buck on the ground, for history shows that only about 17 percent of deer hunters shoot a buck during the nine-day gun deer season each November.

Deer camp is a blast for many reasons, but there’s just something special about bringing a buck back to camp for all to see. I can’t tell you just how many times we’ve stood around a meat pole drinking beer and telling tall tales, old and new, from the deer woods.

We wouldn’t starve without harvesting a deer but doing so brings validation to the tradition, which includes putting venison in the freezer. Summer sausage, hot dogs and other venison-based products are some of the best eating of the year.

Once again our deer camp was on the shores of Sevenmile Lake east of Three Lakes where my only brother, Mark “Lardo” Krueger of Appleton, has a large and fully furnished “cabin” in the heart of the national forest.

Nobody starves in deer camp. We ate a walleye/crappie fish fry on Friday night and a feast of creamed pheasant with wild rice on Saturday night. The plan for Sunday night was fresh venison tenderloin and a big batch of venison chili.

We visit other camps from time to time and this year was no exception. Friday evening we spent a couple of hours near Stevens Lake at some big camps owned by the Knitt brothers of St. Germain fame. They had quite the crew. Deer stories were flying and numerous photos were shared from smart phones and trail cams, all building the suspense for opening morning.

On Saturday night we hit the Yadro Camp on Anvil Lake and the Ridderbusch “Dirty Shame” Camp on Sundstein Road. Neither camp had a deer hanging from opening day, but some bucks were seen.

The deer hunting tradition is so great because it brings family and friends together. It’s a place where young hunters are welcome to take it all in, catching the same hunting fever that’s kept the sport going for more than 100 years.

We do it every year here in the national forest despite the fact that today, Wisconsin’s most productive deer hunting is found in the farm country units of central and southern Wisconsin. Pictures of monster bucks from those counties were already hitting our phones, via text and email, on Saturday night.

Some of our oldest camps were founded in the 1950s and 1960s when the best place in Wisconsin to shoot a big buck was the North Woods. A lack of logging and too many predators has changed that considerably, but there’s still a rich deer camp tradition to pass through the generations here.

There’s still a lot of hunting opportunity for gun deer hunters, as the nine-day rifle season that ends this Sunday will be followed by a 10-day muzzleloader hunt. Anyone with a leftover buck or doe authorization can take advantage of the muzzy season.

The heart of the deer hunting experience is the chase and all the strategy that goes into trying to outsmart a buck. But deer camp reigns supreme regardless of whether we actually harvest something, and nobody can take that fun away.

And the legacy of the deer hunt continues.