Camp Life

Brittany Shaw, her dad Chris, Jim Acker and Scott Shaw celebrate a great first morning of buck season. Though constantly changing laws have destroyed much of traditional camp life, the author looks back at what deer camp meant to his family in the 70s.

I tossed another chunk of ash in the stove watching the bright red and yellow flames licking eagerly at the wood. The heat felt good, nothing beats a wood fire for warming your bones.

As I stretched out in the chair beside the glowing stove, it was hard to believe the first day of deer season was upon us. It seemed tragic the first day of rifle season was now on Saturday, years of tradition and, to my mind, wisdom, washed away by modern-day bureaucrats who seem to have no comprehension of what the great majority of hunters want and feel. I’m left to wonder how these things happen, minority seems to be the deciding vote nowadays.

I always loved the weekend before the Monday deer season opener. It made sense in so many ways. First, you could work right up to Friday and then had 2 whole days to travel or settle into camp. I remember packing things throughout the week preparing to bolt out the door Friday night when school was finished. Grandad would pick my brother Gary and I up around 3 p.m. and we’d be filled with excitement and anticipation to the bursting point. After a 30-minute drive we’d arrive at Pine Run and then the work began, but it really didn’t seem like work.

Camp would be freezing inside, we’d grab whatever gear or food came to hand first and dash inside and dropping whatever was in our arms beeline for the woodstove. We’d crumple up newspapers, place kindling on top, pile on some larger chunks of wood and set a big wooden match to it. With the draft and damper wide open the newspaper burned fast and hot, igniting the kindling.

With the fire started, we’d dash back out to the car to help Gramps unload. By the time the car was emptied the wood stove was heating up fast. We’d practically hug it attempting to warm up. Pop stood beside us, hands held out to the stove, smiling that we’d unloaded and built the fire without any orders. At camp he insisted you pull your own weight, maintaining doing so kept everyone in good spirits and believed contributing ensured a happy, united atmosphere for all concerned.

It didn’t take long for the sheet metal stove to blaze wildly, roaring madly away, practically hopping on its short legs. At maximum burn the metal draft would actually rattle from the stoves vibrations and the sides begin to glow. We’d ease back the damper and draft then and sit in the chairs closest to the stove. It wasn’t long before we shed our jackets.

Being teenagers, Gary and I had a keen interest in what was for dinner. Pop didn’t skimp — it was usually steak, pork chops or thick, juicy hamburgers. Occasionally, Mom roasted a chicken, gravy and biscuits for us. We never suffered from malnutrition.

Usually, Pop, my brother and I, and maybe an uncle were the only Friday night arrivals. The others showed up around noon on Saturday. Uncle Chuck always flew in from New York on Saturday, and we’d pick him up at the airport. He’d be wound up like a spring, big city life being tedious and stressful. He would greet us with a loud roar, practically crush your hand with an enthusiastic handshake. He looked desperately forward to camp life, much like a drowning man searching for a life preserver.

I noticed his baggage clinked a bit and once at camp wasn’t surprised to find some libation inside, commonly expensive bourbon which would be opened immediately upon arrival.

Drink in hand, in safe haven at last, you could watch him slowly unwind. He always had some interesting stories from the Big Apple and was an avid history buff. Conversation never lagged.

By Saturday evening the camp was full. The noise level had steadily risen as people arrived and by dinner there was a loud buzz of conversation taking place — two or three discussions in the front room, more in the kitchen. As kids, we did more listening than talking, but if we contributed, we were included and never ignored. It was a wonderful time for us.

Sunday, once everyone had risen, some a little hungover, we had a grand breakfast. When that was finished and everything cleaned up a trip to the rifle range was mandated. Everyone seemed to have a different caliber. Pop’s .244, Uncle Leo’s 30-40 Krag, Chucks had a .270 and Uncle Phil a .257 Roberts. My brother and I usually used an extra 30-40 Krag or a neighbor’s .244.

We ran targets out to the 100-yard range being the youngest. Since most scopes were fixed four power models and bullet holes difficult to see, we made many trips back and forth reporting where shots hit and changing the targets themselves. Once everyone was zeroed in it was time for lunch.

Sunday night, clothes were laid out, stands picked, rides arranged. Gary and I listened, open-mouthed to stories of big bucks past, present and future, trying to drink in everything we needed to know to be successful. It was a magical time to be young, so alive and part of the traditional deer camp.

Those long-established weekends are gone now, truly, I feel like weeping. But, at least I have cherished memories never to be forgotten. I cannot be robbed of them.