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VanOrsdel's hunting shack is one special spot

Photo provided The VanOrsdel deer hunting party gathered in front of their shack in Leaf River Township northeast of Wadena. The group will be in the field this weekend for the beginning of the nine-day 2008 Minnesota firearms deer hunting season in Permit Area 243.

When was the last time someone stuffed you in an old chicken coop with 13 other people and expected you to enjoy it?

Keith Van Orsdel has done it and he is looking forward to doing it again.

The VanOrsdel party will be among the tens of thousands of hunters going after deer Saturday. The nine-day season in Permit Area 243 is one of the highlights of the year for the Wadena family and their friends.

The VanOrsdels built their deer hunting shack on Vernon and Edna VanOrsdel's farm northeast of Wadena in Leaf River Township. It may not be Heaven but some would say you can see it from there.

The "shack" sits in an open field near a huge swamp. Their hunting territory encompasses roughly 600 acres of swamp, woods and flat fields. The surrounding area is flooded with hunters and deer, so safety is a great concern and shots longer than 200 yards are rare.

"We used to be able to see 200 a night," Trey VanOrsdel said. Keith's 18-year-old son has taken 25-30 deer with bow, rifle and muzzleloader since starting to deer hunt at the age of 12.

Trey credits his dad with getting his brothers, Evan and Nathan, and himself started on whitetails. The boys started developing an interest in the sport very, very young.

"He was bringing us out to the deer stand when we were still in diapers," Trey remarked matter-of-factly.

In addition to Keith, his wife Sonja, and their three sons, the VanOrsdel party includes Keith's parents, Vernon and Edna; his sister and brother-in-law, Jill and Dan Hahn, their daughters Becky and Stephanie and their son, Christopher (a future hunter); Keith's older sister, Debbie Uselman, and her three boys, Dale, Aaron and Justin; his brother, Kevin, who comes up from Alexandria with his wife Tammy and their two sons, Zach and Nicholas; and a friend of Kevin VanOrsdel's, Doug Houska from Fergus Falls. Doug's daughter Maddie will be hunting for the first time. His son, Luke, will also be in camp. Not everyone in the group will be hunting but they all have a rooting interest in how the hunt goes.

The hunting shack started out as an old chicken coop that belonged to Vernon Van Orsdel's mother, Ruth, who homesteaded the property with her husband Kenneth back around 1908. The VanOrsdels have added on to their paradise until it now measures roughly 28x34 feet. They have next to nothing invested in the cabin if you don't count labor. The place has no plumbing and no electricity but it has heat, a kitchen, bunk beds, a stove and it keeps the rain off their heads.

What the shack is to the VanOrsdels is a warm and wonderful place -- full of fun, stories, memories and kidding.

Edna has decided to put her gun away this year and do more of the cooking. She has bagged plenty of whitetails and she is at a point where just being a part of the group is enough. She rates deer hunting right up there with Christmas.

"I love it," Edna said. "It's family time."

The families take their turns with the cooking. Everyone gets a chance to help. Two meals are served each day in the shack. The morning meal goes on the table around 10 and the evening meal is served for about two hours after darkness falls. In between the morning and evening trips to their stands, the older members of the group might try for some sack time. The problem that sometimes arises is that the younger ones want to "walk the willows" and drive some deer out.

"Us older guys say 'no' -- we don't beat the brush that much any more," Keith said.

Filling a tag is not a big trick for the VanOrsdel Gang. Permit Area 243 hunters will be allowed up to two deer apiece. There have been years when a single hunter in the permit area could have five deer.

"My dad and my grandpa always said that this had to be the primest deer spot in Minnesota," Keith said.