November means two big things are happening: Thanksgiving and gun season.
It’s almost time for deer season. He only comes once a year and for those who are deer hunters it’s Christmas, July 4th, your birthday and the last day of school. Bow season has been on for a while, I know, but it’s Big Show, gun season, what deer hunters have been waiting for all year. You can tell it’s not as important as it used to be, but it’s deer season and there’s nothing else like it.
Older hunters – your dad, uncles, maybe a grandfather, or the guy who took the time to show you how to do this many years ago – can take you to their camp. Deer camp – for deer hunters these words are magic and something that sticks in your head all year round. You might not know you think about it in July when you mow the grass and hit the beach, but it is.
Deer Camp – that almost mythical place where you thought you’d never be old enough to go, the years wouldn’t pass fast enough for you to get in the truck on the Friday night before it opened and ‘head for the mountains with dad, grandpa, and a few beefy uncles who always seemed to be teasing you about something. But you didn’t care; you were going to deer camp.
It could have been a two-room slum built on questionable squatter right land next to the national forest. It could be a large wall tent that came out every year for this event, or a cabin that your dad and his brothers built that summer they were on strike. Many deer camps consist of a large yellow school bus, converted inside with a kitchen, several bunks for sleeping, and a wood-burning stove for heating. No matter how big or fancy the structure, it’s a deer camp.
Those of you who have a long history with deer camp know that a big part of that experience is the food. Some camps have an assigned cook who has held this position for many years; they are in charge of everything related to meals and woe betide the camp newbie who ventures into the kitchen and tries to tell them something about cooking. They usually end up doing the dishes.
The food itself is usually very tasty, very filling, and probably doesn’t meet anyone’s dietary restrictions on carbs or fat. It’s a deer camp; you eat what the crowd eats and you wish you could eat that way all year round.
There will be plenty of fried potatoes, sausages, bacon, gravy and biscuits for breakfast, as well as gallons of hot coffee so strong that “a horseshoe can stand in it”. Don’t ask for a double mocha latte at stag camp, you’ll probably end up in the kitchen with the guy washing greasy pots and pans.
For those who come to the cabin for lunch, there will be a big pot of firehouse chili with cornbread (of course), saltine crackers, a big chunk of rat cheese, and other fixins. Either that or a huge pot of beef stew with grilled cheese sammiches (that’s a word, look it up). After all that for lunch, some return to their deer stalls, others may head out for the day.
The main event at the deer camp is of course the evening meal. I am told that there is sometimes a period just before supper when some members may partake in attitude adjustment libations and as a result the discussion may become somewhat heated over such things as which is better deer gun (this has been argued since Lewis and Clark returned from their little expedition), why you see so many coyotes now or (shudder) talk about local politics. Regardless of how lively it gets, at the pre-determined time the cook stops the proceedings, a member is asked to say grace, and every cap is removed and every head bows.
I am also told, but I have no direct knowledge, that after supper sometimes games of chance are played with a deck of cards, and I have also heard that these sessions can become very noisy and last until late at night. I do not really know; maybe some of you can answer me if you have seen this happen.
If you think the hunting aspect can sometimes take precedence over other things at the deer camp, you might be right, but the hunting does happen. Some deer camp members are more serious than others and get on their stand at dawn and will stay all day. Others have a more leisurely pace. When someone brings in a dollar, all hands come together and inspect the prize. If it’s anything less than an old moss-horned monster, the successful hunter can prepare for a round of criticism from his buddies over the ethics of taking immature deer. The best scenes appear when a young hunter proudly arrives at camp with his first buck and is congratulated by all the members, even the grumpy old cook. It is a memory that they will keep all their life.
The deer camp goes back to the same ridge you used to hunt with your dad every year and wishes he was here. The deer camp laughs until your sides hurt as your buddy recounts how he missed a monster, twice in the same day. It’s huge meals and firelight as everyone shares lives, and perhaps the oldest member shares a secret spot on the mountain with the youngest. The deer camp is where you can keep the best memories of your life.
Be safe there, wear your blazing orange and have a great deer camp this year.