I Go To Deer Camp...
Some friends were going up north deer hunting this year at pal Mike Woodruff's family's vintage lodge and asked me to come along. I'm in the middle of several deadlines so I hesitated. Also, I haven't hunted lately and like to be in the outdoors groove when I do. Martha didn't make it any easier. The guys said "Do you think Jeff would come up?" She paused then said "Probably not, he doesn't do things with guys much." (Sheesh! A winsome gal!) One guy responded "We're not guys, we're aliens!" So he had a good, unstoppable attitude.
It's a little bit true, though, I suppose. If I'm already doing something, I'm happy to merge my plans with the rest of the guys', but otherwise I don't do much socializing.
Tommy, the guy Martha couldn't scare away, owns a worldclass wine'n'cheese store. He told me "Just come on up. We're bringing Rodger the chef. He'll keep us happy. You don't even have to hunt. Just eat and hang out. You don't have to bring a thing." Well, holy smokes: a hunting camp at Mike's with tasty vittles courtesy of Tommy and cookin' thanks to Rodger the worldclass cook! So I decided I'd get a big piece of work done in the few weeks til Opening Day, then take a few days off. I said Yes.
I got the new OYB website launched on the night before I left.
It's one of the few hunting trips I've gone on. I usually just go out
the door and down the street to get my critters.
Well, we had a great time, I must say. Rodger cooked up a storm. And
he showed us how to professionally butcher a deer. Our fivesome got 3 deer by the time I left. I shot a teenage doe and came home with meat wrapped in white butcher-paper in a tidy box, just the way Martha and the kids like it.
It was a great experience, learning how to properly handle the meat.
Our group was Mike, camp boss; Tommy, shopkeep; Sean, shop manager and wine'n'cheese expert; Rodger, supercook; and me...volunteer knifesharpener.
Everyone else had cool skills to contribute so I thought I'd get all
the knives sharp in the place. The grinding stone sound was probably annoying at times, but I tried to give everyone a memorable edge on their knives.
Tommy and Sean both had Laguiole knives in gorgeous
belt sheaths. Darn, only the French could make a sheath that's as sexy as their knife. I bet we had the only deer camp with three Laguioles in the whole USA! (I brought mine, too.)
I enjoyed using several of my blades during the various parts of the
I used my DH Russell Belt Knife---the classic Canadian design---to field dress and butcher my deer.
I used my tiny Granfors-Bruks Mini-hatchet to do all heavy chopping and bonework on three deer.
I used my old Herter's Green River skinner to skin my deer.
I left all my blades stuck in the buck pole for everyone to use on their deer, but Tommy and Sean loyally used their Laguioles to do most of their work.
The whole thing got me interested in deer rifles again. A good camp deserves hunters with rifles that fit the camp. My rifle is OK, but it's not the right one. It's a 1970's Winchester .30-30. Quite nice looking. But it's too short, the sights are coarse, it's not my style. At least the barrel is clean and it shoots straight enough. But I'd really like a vintage Savage 99 in .300 Savage, I think, with a long barrel and fine, fine sights. I like to draw a fine bead. I also like to take a good stand for good old stuff---I want to put the guys with the plastic stocks and stainless barrels and scopes in their place. The 99 is worth standing up for. It's a classy lever-gun that takes an accurate cartridge. Even with our short, brushy shots I want to be "on" within an inch. My brother tells me to just use my M1, but that might be overkill. Maybe I could clean up the stock, or bring it hunting without the last two wood pieces on it, to give it a less military look. But of course whatever one is most accurate with is what one should use.
We had interesting multicultural dynamics at the Camp. Several local guys also hunt on Mike's property. They joined us for dinners. We had pork'n'beans one night: wild boar that had roasted for 5 hours in a low oven, plus fancy French beans that had soaked all day beforehand, with plenty of back-fat bacon, with shallots. And a spicy greens dish of 3 kinds of kale. Soul food! Everyone was stunned by what Rodger whipped up: so tasty! Sean put out just the right wines, in the right order as we worked our way thru appetizers up to the meal. ("Dang, this old cheddar tastes just like Mrs. So-and-So's root cellar. Smell that? That's coz that's where I bought it from, right from her cellar over in England.") I noticed our local pals with their Bud Lites at the table. Later on I overhead them say "We're outta beer. Somebody better make a run." And a guy drove off. I checked the frig, and sure enough we had plenty of Munich lager, Belgian tripel-bock and even
some local IPA. But I guess we didn't have beer!
Despite such differences between downstate hippies and local lads we had fine teamwork and mutual respect in our common quest.
I'd hesitated at first about hunting from blinds---from what amounted to ice-fishing shanties. I thought I'd get claustrophobic. I usually like to get the lay of the land myself then climb a tree (it's legal in Michigan now) and hang out, changing limbs if I get achy. The blinds turned out to be fine. They offered views of a wide variety of wildlife (turkeys, coons, birds...and deer) on all sides and were cozy. The one time I left my blind I had heard a deer assaulting the shrubbery, out of sight, so I climbed out and took a couple steps to get a view when a big deer leaped away much closer than I had thought. Served me right.
I did get in some good reading in the blind. And I even memorized one of Shakespeare's sonnets so that I'd feel like I really came away with something from the time spent sitting. ("Love is not love / which alters when it alteration finds...")
As the hunt went along I realized better what was happening with the blinds, and the whole thing, and what my role was. This was Deer Camp and I was a participant. We're all just passing thru, but Deer Camp stays the same---if we live up to our calling. I'm not the important thing. It's not "my" hunt. I'm doing my best to shoot a deer "for the camp." What I get the chance to do reflects on what the Camp is. What I do with that chance affects what the Camp becomes. One of the local guys had been taking care of the blinds all summer into fall. Just like Mike's uncle taught him to. Mike's uncle and older brother and grampa and now Mike have all had their turns as Camp Boss. They learn over the years where the deer travel and what and when they like to eat. The blinds evolve over decades to be where they are and to be maintained as they are. They all have names. It's my honor and privilege to be able to participate. Every morning and afternoon
Camp Boss evaluates the situation: who has got a deer and who hasn't and who's after a buck and who's after a tender young thing, then, based on reports of what the deer have been doing, he assigns the blinds to the hunters. You then do your best to live up to your blind. If the blinds are run properly then all the deer that move on the property during those hours should travel past a blind and the camp should get deer. So, first it's the land and what it brings forth that season; next it's how the land has been cultivated leading up to Deer Camp; then it's how the camp is run. Then it's whether each hunter does his job. The hunter is important but last. A successful hunter might offer the backstraps of his deer for camp dinner one night, or maybe he takes his deer home, but it's more like the camp's deer. The deer hang together on the buck pole til the last day of camp. It's a social situation with years of heritage. I was happy to be a part of it.