Sunday, February 15, 2009
Why a Deer Camp?
Before we talk hunting, let's talk about deer camps...what is the allure, and how do you join or start one?
It is time to address the question from a hunter last fall – “how do you get a deer camp started and what do you need to do it?” Good question, and the answer is totally fluid. You get a deer camp started with friend (s), and you need little to do it. I was a big city kid, and my first ‘deer camp’ was a huge colonial home in Marlow. We were there all summer, but returned to the city in the fall. In those days, deer season began about December 1st, so after Thanksgiving, Dad took us out of school, and up there where we started fires and furnaces, and lugged water, and made the place comfortable. In the evenings we would clean rifles, check gear, and get reviews on how to use a compass, start fires and things of that nature. By opening day, hunter friends of Dad’s would arrive and settle in a back room near an open fire and plan their hunts. We boys would listen, and learn.
By the time I was in college, the old place in Marlow was sold, and the only ‘deer camp’ I had ever known ended. My next deer camp, years later, was an invitation to hunt in Southern NH, where camp was the lower level of a split-level ranch, where the garage door looked out over a swamp. We all slept in the garage in sleeping bags, got up at 4 AM to grill breakfast, and then piled in trucks to our hunting destination. The night before the hunt was as always..planning, discussions on where and how, friendly arguments about methods, calibers, skills, and recipes. Bragging about families. Deer war stories. The past years’ work, the best truck, beer, rifle, and politics. Wasn’t fancy, wasn’t deeply rural, wasn’t even on land we could hunt – but was full of close friends, on the same quest, and we hunted hard.
Our present deer camp is deep in the Connecticut Valley on our farm. Over a dozen years ago, a hunting pal and I camped in the Eastern half of the old dairy barn, ready to hunt opening day. We had no water, and just a simple Coleman gas cooker to make coffee on. We slept in sleeping bags on the floor and used gas lanterns for light. We scouted the land and placed stands, and over the next several years, other hunters joined us, and the barn gradually transpired into almost luxurious standards. At the beginning the only heat we had was a hundred pound propane tank with a double-faced heater on it. It didn’t matter. We ate out of cans and made a stone fireplace outside. We got deer, some real trophies. Eventually, the place got tightened up, a wall gas heater was donated, and at twenty below outdoors, will bring the camp to a respectable 55 degrees. Another hunter donated a refrigerator. A portable toilet was rented. A real gas stove with an oven appeared one year. Big soft easy chairs were acquired, one by one. A bulletin board, a radio, electric coffee maker. Grill. Trophies from NH, Vermont, Colorado, Quebec, began to cover the walls. Deer hides, and antlers, Elk, Caribou, Coyotes, Fisher, Beaver, Moose, you name it. Bunks for eight, a four by ten foot dining table. Gourmet cooks among us, and wild game suppers have become an every camp expectation. The parking lot had to grow to accommodate up to a dozen big pick-ups and ATV’s. Game pole and hoists, huge woodpiles, and an early fall ‘deer camp letter’ to all hunters pretty much rounds out the scene. We have three long weekend camps during the regular firearms season, about all we can pull off. Some of the hunters hunt out West each fall, and bring elk or mule deer meat to camp. Others are busy hunting in other parts of the state, and have tagged their deer by the time camp is scheduled. They come anyway, and cook, and talk, and share their stories.
And that is my point. To have a deer camp, all you need is a friend who loves to hunt, and a place to share a coffee, a story and a good meal. A tent in a field, a garage floor, a real camp, a barn, a living room floor covered with sleeping bags. A love for the hunt. A place to introduce someone to the thrill of camp, of the hunt. Maybe a fireplace or an outside fire pit. If you start it, and invite a friend, it will grow. It will get better. Maybe you have to drive ten miles from ‘camp’ to hunt. So what? The sheer joy of planning, of strategy, of equipment and of luck is the same. Not all of us can afford a twenty thousand dollar guided grizzly hunt in Alaska. But any New Hampshire deer hunter can invite a friend, and share an evening fire. Deer camps can bring a wildly diverse group together and forge lifelong treasured friendships. Our regulars are as different as it gets – cops, and accountants, troopers and company owners, corrections and electricians, rich and the broke, old and the young. All with the same deep feeling of excitement each fall season brings, the opportunity to arrive at camp and see who’s there and to link up with friends perhaps not seen for the entire year. To check the logbook to see who is already out in the woods, and where. To find out who has tagged during archery or muzzleloader season. To hear the tales of those freshly back from Western hunts and to check out any new additions to the rifle rack. To enjoy the bustle of vehicles being unloaded and ATVs parked, and the clank of tree climbers on the porch.
To be a hunter, and to never have experienced any of this would be a tragedy. A deer camp is the perfect opportunity to introduce a non-hunter to the quest. There are those that hunt only because of deer camp ambiance. Think about that, and if you don’t already join your pals at a camp, make the big move this firearms season. Get together with a friend, or a dozen, and start your own deer camp. Stick with it a few years, and your camp will develop it’s own personality, it’s own culture. You will never regret it, and your lifelong hunting experience will be much richer in warmth and memories than without it. I guarantee it.