The 1998 season was a good one at Dick and Don Deer Camp, judging by the meat pole. Pictured (left to right) are Jim Glowacki, Patrick O’Melia, Michael Rinaldi, Tony Rinaldi, Peter Glowacki, Brennan Regner and Tim Bowen.
Some nice bucks hang from the wall at Dick and Don Deer Camp near the old crank-phone that has fooled many a guest or newcomer.
11/3/2012 7:30:00 AM Dick and Don Deer Camp has long history Deer season tradition stands the test of time
There's no place like deer camp. It's a place of retreat from regular life and a place to lay your weary head after a hard, or not-so-hard, day of hunting. It's also a place where traditions are forged.
One Northwoods deer camp, founded by the late A.J. O'Melia, has been housing hunters and their traditions since the 1920s.
Rhinelander attorney John O'Melia said the camp was named after his uncles, twin brothers Dick and Don. Thus, it is known simply as Dick and Don Deer Camp.
John O'Melia, grandson to A.J. O'Melia, is now "camp boss" at the historic hunting camp.
"You get that title basically by seniority, as it moves down the chain," he explained. He is the fifth to have the honor.
"A.J. was the first camp boss, and he was from '25 until his death in '64. And they my father, John O'Melia Sr., was from '64 until '96. And then my Uncle Dick from '96 to '04, then my Uncle Bud from '04 until '07 and I've been ever since," he said.
O'Melia's deer camp sits on over 1,800 acres in the Oneida County towns of Three Lakes and Sugar Camp. O'Melia gives credit to his grandfather.
"He's the one who started the cabin, started buying the land back in the '20s for a dollar an acre," he said.
The Dick and Don Deer Camp
The camp sleeps 17 inside and is lit with propane lights. A large fireplace heats the structure, though the wood heat is now augmented with gas.
The camp's massive gas cook stove came from the Al-Gen Supper Club back in the 1960s. It features six burners, two ovens, a broiler and a griddle.
There's even an old crank telephone hanging on one of the cabin's chinked log walls. The antique communication device has been used to dupe newcomers and visitors over the years.
"It doesn't work, of course, there's no wires, but you can fool people [into] thinking that it works," O'Melia said. "You have them ring it a few times, pull out the receiver, and ... tell them to ask for Alice in Three Lakes. And you'd be surprised how intelligent people get fooled on that."
Technology has made the ruse harder to pull off, though.
"It was more prevalent before we had cell phones, you know," O'Melia said. "But it actually rings still."
An old poker table has been a fixture in the camp for many years.
"Of course, we all enjoy playing cards," O'Melia said.
A noted politician even enjoyed some hands at Dick and Don Camp.
"Joe McCarthy, the old senator from Wisconsin back in the '50s - communism Joe McCarthy - he used to play poker there," O'Melia said.
McCarthy might have been a guest at the deer camp, but his pursuits there did not include attempting to harvest a whitetail.
"He was not a hunter," O'Melia said. "He just came to visit - and drink."
And, perhaps, to fall victim to the camp's running deception.
"Apparently, they fooled him on that telephone," O'Melia said. "He kept saying, 'I gotta reach Washington,' and they kept saying, 'Well Joe, just use the phone there.'"
The camp's walls are constructed of hemlock that was harvested nearby all those years ago. The cabin retains its decades-old rustic charm.
"It's pretty much the same on the outside as it was when my grandpa first built it," O'Melia said.
He noted that there have been a few improvements to the exterior, such as a Michigan roof and a new place to relax while overlooking the water.
"We built a new screen porch on the back side towards the lake," he said.
The 40-acre lake the building sits on now bears the same name as the historic camp.
"We're on what's now officially called Dick and Don Lake, after my two uncles ... it's a hard process but we got it changed to Dick and Don," O'Melia said.
Two other small lakes on the property have also been renamed and are now officially known as O'Melia Lake and John and Bud Lake.
And yes, good fishing can be had, according to O'Melia. But the camp is mostly about deer season.
"We have hunters from all over coming in," O'Melia said.
Prospective crew members are reminded in advance of the season about camp policies and obligations that need to be met before the season gets under way.
See Camp, Page 13B
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"We send out an official letter every year. Today, they get emailed," O'Melia said.
Some travel great distances to experience deer season in the warm embrace of those hemlock walls. A relative living in Australia even made it back for deer season in the past, O'Melia said. He expects a large crew this year. Both from near and far.
"We've got a lot of guys in town, a lot of relatives. We have about 20 that'll be up on the property the first weekend. Seventeen in the cabin and others may just drive up from Rhinelander for the day and come up and hunt," he said.
Of course, it's nice to have someone to man the restaurant-sized cook stove for the large and hungry hunting crew. Such a luxury is certainly worth the price of a plane ticket.
"My cousin Brian is our camp cook," O'Melia said. "We fly him up from South Carolina. He's a chef down there, so we have our own camp cook."
When outside of the cozy confines of camp, many of those hunting sit in the cozy confines of well-constructed and heated deer stands.
"We make nice deer stands," O'Melia said. He thinks, perhaps, the deer might move around more if the hunters would.
"We kind of created our own problem. We all have fancy deer stands and nobody really walks around as much as they should," he said.
O'Melia said the 2011 season resulted in one mature buck killed. He noted that they no longer hunt over bait, a move that he hopes will generate more daytime deer activity on the property.
The large property is routinely logged in an effort to stimulate new growth and have timber of varying ages.
A few archers try their luck on the property.
"We get some, but the main focus is the rifle season. The deer hunt," O'Melia said.
If one calculates based on John O'Melia Sr.'s "Dick & Don Lake 1985 Deer Camp" booklet that he prepared for those expected to participate in the yearly deer season ritual, the 2012 season will be the camp's 88th.
It's a place rife with history.
One might search the property of the Dick and Don Camp and still find remnants of an old root cellar where someone once settled, or what remains of an old logging camp. Perhaps even evidence of a Prohibition-era moonshiner's hidden stock in a spring near Dick and Don Lake.
O'Melia spoke of another interesting find from not quite so long ago - a huge, but not totally intact, buck.
"It was wounded and the coyotes got it one night - this was back in the late '70s," he said. "We gave it to the DNR to get tested and measured and it disappeared - stolen. It's probably on somebody's deer head now with their own story."
The massive buck's rack had 28 countable points. O'Melia keeps a picture of the buck's head, along with pictures of other memories, under glass atop the desk in his office.
Of course, O'Melia's focus now is on the present. A camp boss has responsibilities, you know.
"I'm the one that organizes everything," he said. "I get the book out, I get the camp started."
And time grows short.
"We open up camp early - we open up usually almost the week before. Some people like to come up the week before and just relax, scout," he said.
The old hemlock cabin and 1,800-plus acres of Northwoods timber and lakes seem like an ideal setting to do just that.
Craig Turk may be reached at email@example.com
Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012
Article comment by:
I would like it noted for the benefit of the reader and record: Sam Weis - newcomer at the O'Melia Camp - did fall for the telephone trick this year. Watching him say, "Hello? Hello? Hello?" into the phone after John O'Melia told him that his dad was on the line was priceless.
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