Some traditions of deer camp live on
ESCANABA — The firearm deer hunting season is finally here. Traditions of camp life are once again rekindled as friends gather, past stories are retold and new memories created.
This is my 51st season as a licensed deer hunter in Michigan. I shot my first buck on my 23rd birthday, It was a 148 pound forkhorn taken with a single shotgun using 12 gauge buckshot. It took better than two hours to drag to where I could get a truck close by. The temperature was around 40 degrees and I was sweating heavily by the time the deer was set on the tailgate. It didn’t matter how hard I worked as the thought of getting my first deer was the best birthday present a guy could ask for.
Now half a century later, there have been a lot of deer hauled out the woods and the excitement of going to deer camp is still a pre-occupying thought throughout the year. Some of the traditions are gone and the original core group that stuck together for many years are also gone. We’ve transitioned but the fundamentals of camp etiquette remain.
Most camps are owned by private individuals. A good number have evolved into a family-owned place and partnerships among siblings and their children. These are often the longest lasting as memories are logged and carried forward. If there is anything that is regimented in the routine of camp life, it is in these instances that traditions are carried forward. It is a list of things, like card games and interpreted rules of hoyle that assure consistency and entertainment versus argument, a major detractor. Recipes going back to the eldest cook are on the dining list throughout season. Some modifications are added considering the need determined by the current standing chef. In many cases, each member of camp is expected to participate and be responsible for their turn at providing a meal or two. That’s the easy part. It is the clean-up after that causes conflict unless you’re ingenious enough to utilize paper plates, plastic utensils and the standard large iron skillet that never seems to cool off. So why clean it? It seems to help to meld flavors better.
A golden rule is to never criticize the meal, especially the chili. How it’s spiced and the contents within always appear to be a challenge as to how tough your guts are. Claiming the batch of the day has no teeth will certainly find the next round amended to make you sit up (if not stay up all night in the outhouse) and take notice that you’ve met your match. The standard breakfast is eggs, potatoes (onions optional) and thick cut bacon. Grease is not an issue but it is advised to eat after returning from the morning hunt so as not to interrupt your time in the blind. That leads to another consideration.
The air in camp is derived from several sources. The base aroma comes from a variety of sources. It could be based on construction (wood), remnants of food and drink (bacon, onions, beer and cigars or cigarettes) or personal hygiene. Now that’s a touchy subject.
Years ago and still today, many camps used well water brought in by a hand pump, or “jugged” (brought up by container) neither which left enough to heat and wash. The gauge used to determine whether or not is was time to head home for a day and shower was called “hat hair”. By about the third day, the hunter would reach on both sides of their head and slide them up over the scalp until they met in the center. If your hair stayed straight up, you needed a shower. Clothing was also an issue. Rotation of fresh only lasted a couple days. If you’re going to visit another camp and so as not to offend, always wear your cleanest pair of dirty jeans and any shirt that wasn’t in the woods yet. There’s no evidence that these practices were effective but it’s the best theory we’ve ever come up with without considering our sense of smell was permanently damaged from the years of exposure.
Drinks are always up to the individual. Beer is certainly a staple at most camps and there’s always a case set aside for visitors. It is highly recommended to purchase cans versus bottles because nocking over a case of empty cans is a lot easier to clean up than a pile of broken bottles. Booze is another possibility for the individual taste, however the reality now as we age is that discussion at the table is not on the latest choice of drink, it is more on what each other’s newest medicine prescription is for and what can or cannot be done while taking it. The adult beverages are more suited to the younger hunters who have for years listened to embellished stories of camp antics and now seek to take top honors in outdoing the old guys. It is more fun now to be the observer than the contestant. Keep in mind that the golden rule of when this behavior is appropriate stays in place. You celebrate after the hunt, period.
Most hunters today utilize a fixed blind to take a deer. What many don’t realize is that for many, a blind is a place to catch up on sleep. Anybody that says they don’t take a nap while in the woods is delusional. It’s okay to admit it.
Lastly, one tradition that will never change is gun safety. Never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot and never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Don’t use the scope to identify game and upon returning from the hunt, guns in camp should always be empty and put away.
Have a great season and may your traditions continue.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday