PADNWS-11-20-21 DEER CAMP - PHOTO

Regardless of the size of a deer camp, the communal campfire is usually the social center.

Deer camp is not where adult bucks and does send their fawns to stay occupied and learn new skills during summer break.

Well, they might do that secretly, but the deer camp of which I speak is something quite different. This time of year, it is a thing that occurs with hunters and in some cases with family and friends during deer hunting seasons.

Hunters and some of their special other people gather in small to moderate numbers where the whitetail seekers mobilize at a base of operations, typically scattering from there for morning and evening hunting excursions to their chosen or assigned hunting habitats. The camps that form could exist as a single cabin or back-woodsy house. It could be a mobile home, bedraggled or otherwise, located on a farm or in a prime forested area.

Getting closer to the real definition of camp, this rendezvous could be just a collection of tents and/or camping trailers. It could be in a commercial or public campground. Then again, it could be at the end of a gravel lane or just off the side of the road somewhere.

Whatever the lodging, deer camp is just where those expectant folks rally during the fall when it is time to pursue venison and antlers still on the hoof. It is happening right now with the recent opening and continuation of Kentucky’s modern firearms season and those in other states as well.

Deer camps flourish with the modern gun season because it is the biggest outpouring of hunters for the entire year. But they also crop up during muzzleloader seasons and archery hunting at times during that long season as well.

It could be just a solo venture, but much of the allure of deer camp is the social nature of it, sharing the experiences with family and friends who have whitetail interests in common. Triumphs are more golden when they can be embellished to someone else, and the pain of hunting failures can be muted somewhat when there are others with which to commiserate.

Some of those social deer camps are just two friends or family members, but others can grow to be small temporary communities out in the sticks. Some of these larger gatherings become a tradition, forming out there in deer country every year — little redneck reunions. Having been among those, I can use that terminology without guilt, having represented that remark. (Some, however, may be more cosmopolitan, but I have not bivouacked in any of those camps.)

No question, one of the greatest things about deer camp is the campfire, which serves as the community gathering point, parlor, lounge and forum for these rustic rendezvous. When hunters return from morning hunts, they typically feed ravenously, then drift to a fire ring where others are accumulating.

There, reports of action or the lack of it are shared. Notes are compared and hunters ponder their strategies for the evening hunts and thereafter.

And about that time, perhaps someone who is still lagging from the morning hunt shows up with a whitetail in the back of the truck. That spurs a round of activity that, according to the circumstances, may involve hanging the freshly taken game on a gambrel and hoist from a sturdy oak limb.

A full accounting of the taking of the deer is, of course, required. The listeners want to hear, but the taker needs to tell. Considerable backslapping and accolades and/or berating may follow in celebration.

If it is a young hunter that has scored, he or she is likely to be praised highly. If an older, more accomplished hunter has prevailed, he may be told that his deer is so small that he is lucky it did not blow out of the bed of the truck during the drive back to camp.

Camp life slows during mid-day hours. The early, pre-dawn wakeup for morning hunts takes its toll and naps are not uncommon. But early afternoon stirs the pot again as hunters make plans and preparations for their evening stands.

Darkness falls with most of the camp population scattered out there in tree stands, ground blinds and/or shooting houses. Some while after that, how long depending on the range of hunter dispersal, the camouflage and orange-clad flock begins returning to the roost.

Some camps follow the day’s action with a feast of grill-cooked fare and other gastronomical delights. Others may minimize the rigamarole of food preparation, concentrating on the hunting alone, by filling their stomachs with the canned chili, hash, stew and other gut bombs.

Whatever it takes to nourish the troops, post-dinner hours are when the communal fire really comes into its own. It is there and then that a circle of folding chairs around a stack of combusting wood becomes a cohesive unit, a hunters’ union, a fraternal order, a family, a deer camp.

Reports of the day’s hunts mix with accounts and experiences of the past. Invariably, tales of various elevations (some of them quite tall) flood the fireside forum. As compelling as the hunting may be, the discourse around the flickering flame and glowing embers may be the best of it all.

But the rise and fall of exclamations and laughter soon lead to excuses and bow-outs, participants one by one slipping away toward waiting sleeping bags. A 4 a.m. wakeup followed by a frosty morning stand comes soon.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.

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