Hunting camp brings friends together and celebrates traditions of the hunt. Each season is a new opportunity and adventure. We only have so many opening days in our lives. It is important to enjoy and participate in as many as we can. In Montana, big game season is nearly over but in Maryland, rifle season for deer opens traditionally the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Our first hunting camps were pretty rustic, maybe a pup tent or the back seat of a car. Food was Spartan at best as we feasted on pork and beans or Thanksgiving leftovers.
My first deer seasons were a time to learn from the camp mentors and flex my independence as a young man. Hunting camp can be a risqué place where foul language, dirty jokes, booze, and stories are the norm.
Everyone has a job. The rookies are the “Camp Bitches”. That means they gather wood, clean up, and earn their place into the Brotherhood. “Cookie” has a knack of feeding us quickly and with traditional meals. The “Marksman” helps everyone sight in their rifles and gives advice. The “Huntmaster” organizes stand locations and the fairest way to assign our hunting spots and organizes drives. There is also the camp member that manages to tag out most years. We can call him the “Hunter”. They teach others how to hunt, practice traditions, and teach skills of the hunt.
The “Young Bucks” are learning to feel their way in a crowd of men. One day, they will take over the roles of the fallen. What happens at hunt camp stays at hunt camp. Some things Mom just doesn’t need to know unless she is a hunter too. Every camp has these characters and I am sure a few more. Some guys just keep the fire going and enjoy the peace and spirit of the camp.
At our hunting camp in Western Maryland, we gather from faraway places to carry on our hunting rituals. Our fallen brother and patriarch, Harlon, is celebrated with a whiskey toast on the eve of Deer season. He was a lifelong hunter and brother to all of us from several camps along the mountain. His sons, friends, and hunting family gather for a heartfelt moment and celebration of his legacy and our bond.
Special gifts and lucky trinkets or necklaces are given out during fun ceremonies. The “Story Teller” gives out the special power and symbols that can lead to success. The trailhead can be seen, but the hunters must walk the path with an open mind and hunter’s heart to harvest the great Buck.
The “Camp” stories are legendary and keep the spirit of all past hunters alive. This is how hunters have lived and remembered for centuries. Our evening meal is a traditional dish, “Deer Chesapeake”, made with deer meat from the previous season. Deer Chesapeake somehow feeds our bellies and our hearts with the strength to hunt another season.
The alarm goes off early as we all get ready to hunt another day. Walking into the forest in the dark to our stands is an adventure in itself. Keeping our toes and fingers warm is always a challenge as we wait for the sunrise. Our senses are turned up to maximum as we listen, look, smell, and wait for the deer to arrive. When we see the antler, somehow the cold, hunger, discomforts disappear, as we raise our guns and take careful aim. There he is, our Big Buck and moment of truth has arrived…aim, breathe, squeeze the trigger slowly…
The stories will be told when we arrive back to camp. Some will be about a missed shot, a perfect shot, or how many squirrels were around the stand. No matter what happens, the traditions and legacy of the “camp” are renewed. There is always next season!
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