Hunting Camp 52: Tales from a North Woods Deer Camp

By John Marvin Hanson

Paperback: $18.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-773-0

176 pages, 44 b&w photos and illus., 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 E-book edition available


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The outhouse is always cold, the porcupines are always a problem, and the vehicles are always getting stuck in the mud, but there's nowhere else these men would rather be. Meet the Jolly Boys -- five men from northern Wisconsin who built a deer hunting shack on county forest lands in 1955 and established a tradition that has now lasted more than six decades.

Hunting Camp 52, affectionately known as "Blue Heaven," is a place where every trail, rock and ravine has its own nickname; every kill is recorded by hand on a window shade; every hunter happily croons along during evening songfests; and the poker games last late into the night. In this hunting buddy memoir from Wisconsin Historical Society Press, author John Marvin Hanson -- the son of one of the original Jolly Boys-- recounts the humorous antics, the memorable hunts, and the profound camaraderie that has developed over almost sixty seasons at Blue Heaven.

Hanson also includes more than twenty recipes for gourmet comfort foods prepared each year at camp, from pickled venison hearts and Kathy's pate' to Norwegian meatballs and the treasured recipe for Reali Spaghetti.

Discover more hunting history in Blaze Orange: Whitetail Deer Hunting in Wisconsin and Robert Willging's On the Hunt: The History of Deer Hunting in Wisconsin.

John Marvin Hanson was born and raised in Hayward, Wisconsin. After spending a career in the insurance industry, he and his wife Kathryn are semi-retired and spend the majority of their time at their lake home near Hayward.

Interview with John Marvin Hanson

Wisconsin Historical Society Press: Why did you decide to write 'Hunting Camp 52?'

It was simply an act of love. I had always admired my father and the four other men that appropriately called themselves 'The Jolly Boys,' and I wanted to honor their memory and legacy by telling their story on how one should properly run a deer hunting camp to keep it perpetuating throughout the generations. I felt theirs was a story that should be shared with others that have the same "love of the hunt."

WHS Press: Was there one story in particular that speaks to you and/or captures the Jolly Boys story?

I tried to make every segment in the book capture the spirit of the Jolly Boys legacy and what this hunting camp meant to them and those of us that are now following their rules and traditions.

WHS Press: What do you want your readers to understand about Wisconsinís hunting traditions from reading this book?

The hunting tradition is much more than tramping through the woods in search of that trophy buck (which is only a small portion of what the Wisconsin deer hunt is all about). I think that most hunters would agree that the hunting tradition is also about camaraderie, fellowship, memories, and the common bond that develops between the hunters along with the simple joy of getting away from the normal routine of life and spending some quality time enjoying the experience of re-connecting with nature. Bagging a deer is primary, but itís probably a secondary for most of us that hunt.

WHS Press: What do you find most fascinating, endearing and/or interesting about the Jolly Boys (together and/or individually)? 

That these five men from different walks of life could come together as a group with a common purpose and form a common bond to experience the successful ownership of their own hunting camp.

WHS Press: How can this book serve as a guide to Wisconsin history, hunting history? 

The book begins with a description of what it was like to live in northern Wisconsin in the mid-1950s and the importance of the annual fall deer hunting season for the majority of the residents in the area. The book also contains facts on the number of deer hunters from that era and the difficulties that the deer hunters were experiencing harvesting deer due to a limited deer herd.

WHS Press: What are the ways in which this book is a uniquely Wisconsin story? In what ways does it tell a Midwestern or national story?

Wisconsin is noted for their tradition of Whitetail Deer hunting each fall. However, in researching information for the book, I was surprised to learn that Wisconsin does not necessarily have the exclusive bragging rights on this great tradition. Texas, Pennsylvania and many other states have a similar love on this sport and based on statistics the sport indeed is an annual national happening in almost every state.

WHS Press: How was writing this book a personal experience? 

As I read through all the entries in the three hunting camp logs that had been kept by "The Jolly Boys" over 50 years, I came to realize just how enduring this hunting camp was to me and all of those that have been connected with "Blue Heaven" since its inception in 1955. I realized just how important all those memories were to me and the others. The hunting camp is a big part of who I am and why I have such an appreciation of this great Wisconsin tradition.

WHS Press: What is your experience from writing the book? 

Write about a subject that you know and love. Write the book that youíd like to buy and read. Donít give up your paying job thinking that youíre going to make a living as an author!

WHS Press: What is the most memorable feed-back or comment youíve received from someone that has reviewed your book?

My best memory comes from Mary Rogers who was one of the very talented people that was involved in editing my book. She had purchased several copies to give to friends and said to me, "Just think John. You have now sold more books than just about anyone else on this planet." Her comment was somewhat confusing to me and that comment didn't hit home until the next day when I realized what she had said. She was telling me that there's only a very small number of people on this planet that have written a book and I had the honor of being in that elite group!

WHS Press: How did you accomplish the research for your book?

As noted, I had access to three camp logs that chronologically detailed the events at "Blue Heaven" since the inception of the camp by the "Jolly Boys" in 1955. These journals provided me with the information I needed to write my story. I had also read numerous other books on deer hunting and knew that my book was going to detail life in a deer hunting camp rather than just relating stories of bagging big bucks. As the book was being formulated, I interviewed numerous old-timers in the Hayward area concerning their memories of the camp and used them to help me identify many of the people appearing in the photos. I also relied on internet research to help verify statistics to make the book as accurate as possible.