Some of the Best Deer Camp Traditions
Russ Chastain 11.18.19
For most hunters — perhaps all — hunting is a deeply personal experience. We enjoy the solitude of just sitting or stalking in natural surroundings, alone with our thoughts and nature. But there’s a lot to be said for the camaraderie and fellowship among hunters in deer camp.
Tradition can be a wonderful thing, and for many hunters the deer camp traditions are part of the experience. Here are some of the best deer camp traditions.
Gathering around a crackling campfire after the guns and bows are safely stored and everyone has a full belly and perhaps a nip or two of ol’ gut-rattler makes for some of the most enjoyable hunting experiences ever. The conversations are perhaps the best part of campfire time, giving you a chance to tell your hunting stories and listen to others, learning from one another and generally having a good time. Some hunters get kidded about missing, others receive congrats and hearty slaps on the back for making a clean kill.
The primitive connection between man and fire cannot be denied, and the flames can be a bit hypnotic at times, and they sure do feel nice on a chilly night or frosty morning.
This is also the time when younger hunters can sit back and listen, stoking the flames as need be and just soaking up the experience. Chances are real good that I became a writer as a direct result of such times, listening to the menfolks discussing hunting tactics and telling their old stories over an evening beer. Are there better times than that? Yes, but not many.
In many hunt clubs, large meals are a great time to visit and kid around while filling one’s belly. Getting together for an evening meal can be a fine way to unwind after a long hard day of staring at the landscape or hiking the hills in search of a big buck. Gathering to eat at breakfast time can also be nice, though dragging yourself out of bed extra-early to cook up a hot meal ain’t for everyone (looks in mirror and nods).
Years ago, oysters were our thing on the last weekend of deer season. One of us would pick up a bushel or so of fresh oysters packed on ice, and that pretty much made up our meals for the weekend. We almost never cooked them. Get hungry? Slip on a glove, grab a shucking knife and go to work. Suck ’em down salty or splash with some cocktail sauce on a saltine. Mmmm mmmm good!
Sadly, one year we got hold of a bad batch and the resulting, er, “intestinal distress” took us out of service for a few days. That was a tradition we weren’t too sad to end.
“Blooding” After a First Kill
Some might not see this as a “best” tradition, but the blooding of a hunter who makes his first big kill is old and time-honored, and certainly helps cement the memories in one’s head. I can still clearly recall my father’s buddy Art grabbing a handful of blood out of my first deer and smearing it on my face… my grinning, no-way-you-could-tick-me-off-today face. I was blooded, and that was big.
I’ve heard about some who go to extremes, such as cramming a newly-non-virgin hunter’s entire head into a ruptured deer’s paunch. Suffice it to say I personally can’t appreciate that approach, but a little blood never hurt anyone.
In my hunting group, we have a gathering spot at the barn. We have a map of the property with a sheet of steel behind it, and use magnets to mark where each hunter will be. Hunters gather before dawn to pick their spots, drink some coffee, and compare notes as they get ready for the day’s hunt.
It’s a great time to talk about what we have all been seeing, whether the bucks are chasing the does yet — the adults, not the yearling bucks who will chase anything on 4 legs — and what the day’s weather might bring.
The Skinning Rack
Gathering at the skinning rack (or hanging pole, or whatever you call your deer-shucking station) makes for some of the best times, admiring a big buck or helping someone take care of his or her freshly-harvested deer. Victorious hunters can tell their stories, onlookers can listen and perhaps kid a little if they sense a bit of “exaggeration,” and a good time is usually had by all.
Playing cards is a deer camp tradition for some folks. Many hunters enjoy playing poker, but our group usually played rummy back when this was a thing. We still have many memories of sitting around the table dealing cards until the wee hours (and sometimes beyond).
There was this one time we pulled an all-nighter at the card table, switching from beer to coffee around 3 or 4 A.M. That was not the best decision we ever made…
What are Yours?
Chances are good that you have traditions I haven’t mentioned here. What are they? Let us know in the comments below.