As I threw another log on the fire, my mind wandered over the past 40 years of deer camp here. When I first joined, the “old” men mostly stayed in camp and didn’t hunt much. For several years “Captain” was the old man in charge of the fire. Now it is my “old man” job and I don’t leave camp much.
After spending almost half my life in the club, memories are plentiful. Hundreds of nights sitting around the fire, eating parched or boiled peanuts and sharing stores, some of them mostly true, revive past experiences. And the same ones are told over and over, drawing amazed reactions from young members and smiles from us older ones.
And we celebrate and morn lost members. Many of the young members fathers I watched grow up and become men over the years. They pass on their traditions to their children, just as their fathers passed them on to them. The never-ending cycle of outdoor and hunting life.
Many of the stories are funny and draw laughs every year. Tales of cut shirt tails, stories of first blood, memories of members walking to their stand in a circle in the dark and ending back up at camp, all bring chuckles.
One of mine is finding the perfect place for my climbing stand, easing up the tree in the dark then staring another club member in the eyes in a tree only 30 feet away. Or the time I helped build a permanent stand with a friend, only to have him not be able to hunt it opening day. He doesn’t laugh much when I mention the big nine point I killed from that stand on opening day, but everybody else does.
Four wheelers stuck in the creek are both funny and scary. Turning a four-wheeler upside down on top of you in a creek is not funny until after you are safe. It is funny now to remember the work of the six of us laboring for hours to get it out, but at the time it was only exhausting.
Some of the scariest stories are the one or two about stands breaking and tumbling members to the ground. Fortunately, none ended up with serious injuries, just injured pride.
Many of my memories revolve around a stand I have hunted for more than 30 years. It is a simple stand, 2x4s nailed between two sweetgum trees about 24 inches apart 20 feet off the ground with a 16-inch piece of plywood nailed on top of them. Spikes driven into the trees 30 years ago are sticking out barely enough for a boot hold now.
The stand has been sweetened over the years. A small shelf is placed in the perfect position to hold my coffee cup. Sticks cross the area above my head, placed just right for a black plastic bag to stretch over and protect me from rain. And a nail holds my hanging rifle in position to raise it without excess movement.
I found the place for the stand by accident. I found a creek hillside that seemed to be perfect for a stand, near the very end of one of our roads. I loaded materials to build it in the truck then headed to the end of the road.
Before toting everything through the woods, I remembered hunting too close to the other club member so I walked around a little. Sure enough, there was another stand, hidden in an oak tree, looking over the same hillside.
I went back to the truck disappointed and started driving slowly back out, watching the ground on either side of the road carefully. When I spotted a trail crossing it, I stopped and followed the trail though some pines to where they stopped at the edge of hardwoods. There was a slight opening along the edge from an old logging road.
Careful inspection proved there were no other stands for at least 200 yards in any direction. I built the stand with help from a fellow club member. The first morning I hunted it I was shocked how close it was to Highway 18. The bends in the road fooled me. I could glimpse 18 wheelers traveling along the road, and their tire noise often make it hard to hear.
Even with the noise problem I have killed more than 40 deer from that stand.
Some of those kills I was very proud of, some not so much. One day I glimpsed a deer facing me about 50 yards away at the very end of the old logging road. Young pines hid part of it but I could clearly see its head and chest since it was facing me. I shot it with my 30-30 in the chest and it dropped.
When I got to it, I was shocked how small it was. Although it was doe day and I was hunting meat, I wanted a bigger deer since the limit was two a year back then. I was able to pick up the 40-pound yearling by its back legs and carry it over my shoulder, not drag it out.
I quickly gutted and skinned it and took it home, since I did not want to take it back to camp and get kidded about its size. I quartered that deer, cut its backbone in half and froze it. Each piece fit in a big crockpot! But it was some of the most tender venison I have ever eaten!
I was very proud of a big ten point I shot from that stand, but I really didn’t put any effort into finding it, it just happened to wander by me. It fell near the camp road and I drove to it. As I drug it to the truck and started loading it, another member stopped on his way out of the woods and helped load it.
He gave me a sour look and said “I have been hunting that deer all week!”
Don’t miss a chance to make memories in a deer camp.