- Memories, SPECIAL Times and Mice
- Practical Jokes, Sunrise, Sunset, Nature and DEER
- Great Food, Great Stories, Great People, FUN
By Larry Whiteley
Every deer camp has its cast of camp characters. Individuals with their own special uniqueness, but when blended together like spices and seasonings in a recipe, make deer camp so special.
My deer camp has Dean. He is a bundle of energy and wise cracks that hunts deer and moose and elk, but is afraid of a little mouse. His mouse-phobia has brought great joy to all the rest of us camp characters. We’ve never seen anyone get out of a sleeping bag as fast as when a stuffed mouse “accidentally” got in the sleeping bag with him. I will also never forget how high he climbed and the look of horror on his face when he thought the noise in the old wood stove was a rat instead of the bird it turned out to be.
You could call Dean our “camp coordinator.” He makes sure the camp cabin is properly stocked and clean, collects the dues, buys groceries, and helps hang stands. His most notable contribution is the annual Saturday night “boil”, a grand feast of shrimp, kielbasa, mushrooms, broccoli, potatoes and corn on the cob boiled together in a big pot and dumped on the table for hungry hunters. He always cooks too much, but taking home a bag full of “boil” is part of deer camp.
Dean is constant movement, washing dishes, emptying trash, picking up the cabin, bringing firewood in for the night, setting the alarm clock, and asking everyone where they will hunt the next day. His energy is endless and he is always the last one in bed. The rest of us wouldn’t want him to know it, but we don’t know what we would do without him.
He may put up a front for being a fun-loving tough guy, but I know the real Dean. He’s the guy who takes his young son Conrad on a youth turkey hunt and cries when he gets his first gobbler. He’s the guy who helped my son when he first came to camp and took time to guide him on a successful turkey hunt one spring. He is also the guy who caused the lump in my throat when he showed up unexpected at my mother’s funeral.
Conrad is the youngest of our deer camp characters and like his dad, he’s a bundle of energy and constant movement. I love his imagination. Computers, television and video games keep a lot of kids from developing an imagination in today’s world. What a shame! When I was a kid, my imagination took me to the mountains where I trapped beaver and muskrats and fought wild Indians and grizzly bears. I don’t know where Conrad’s imagination takes him, but it will help shape his life, along with mom and dad (and maybe some deer camp characters), into the man he will be.
Our deer camp characters even include a celebrity, although I don’t think he really considers himself one. Jerry co-hosts an outdoor TV show, is a member of a pro hunting team, and has hunted and fished around the world with country music stars, NASCAR legends and even generals. I’m sure if you asked him, he would say “I’m just an old country boy who has been lucky enough to get to do some things I never dreamed would be possible.” I think he would tell you being in deer camp with the rest of us deer camp characters and his son Flint or daughter Chase is one of his favorite places to be.
Then there’s John or “J.B.” as we call him. Deer camp wouldn’t be the same without J.B., his Wisconsin accent and holey underwear.
Through his wise cracks and jokes, he doesn’t fool me. He has a heart of gold. There’s nothing fake about J.B. He is who he is. He’ll never change and I’m glad because I wouldn’t want him any other way.
Ed is a business executive, who is under a lot of pressure and stress so he looks forward to deer camp with the rest of us characters. He enjoys his time in the woods not caring whether he gets a deer or not. Ed was with Dean when Conrad got his first turkey and he too shed a tear. He delights in the hunting success of Daron and Flint and Chase. I will never forget my son’s face when Ed passed on to him, one of his still very good and very expensive bows. Like some of the rest of the characters, Ed’s an old softy too!
Mike adds his own uniqueness to the mix. He’s the consummate outdoorsman, serious about his hunting with the knowledge to back it up. Slow to smile, he was the object of probably one of deer camp’s best practical jokes. Mike had taken a nice buck and brought it into camp with the adhesive tag around its antlers. Where he is from that’s the way they tagged them, but in our state they must be tagged around the leg. Dean told him the rule and that he better switch the tag to the leg or it could be illegal. Of course, this was next to impossible without tearing up the tag. Dean and I left to check our deer at the local fire station and set up a mock arrest of Mike for “mis-tagging” a deer. Although Dean and I weren’t there, those that were said the firemen played it perfectly. They even took a picture of a very serious looking Mike posed with his illegal deer thinking he was about to lose his hunting license, rifle and deer because he tagged his deer wrong. I’m sure Mike will find a way to get even.
The last member of our camp characters is a very special young man, my son Daron. I am so thankful that Jerry got me in as a member of deer camp many years ago. If he hadn’t, I’m not sure Daron would ever have gotten to take as many deer as he’s harvested over the years and especially wouldn’t have had the chance to take some of the quality bucks that now hang on his wall. Unlike most of us, he doesn’t drink, chew, smoke or cuss, but he sure enjoys being around all the deer camp characters and they all think the world of him. Deer camp has brought us closer together as father and son, and created memories that will last a lifetime.
I forgot to mention one camp character and that’s me. I’m the “old man” of deer camp, the one who cooks the annual opening morning breakfast and helps Dean with his “boil”. I’m the one who is content to harvest doe’s to help fill our quota. Most years I tag out as early as possible so I can use my ATV to help others get their deer out of the woods or help with deer drives. I look forward to deer camp every year. It is important to me to be with the rest of the deer camp characters. It’s more special for me because there are fewer deer camps left for me than the others.
Deer camps are not just about filling your deer tags. They’re about wood ducks whistling through the trees or the ka-honk of a goose high overhead. They’re about a wild turkey, a coyote or a bobcat happening by your secret hiding place. They’re about two fawns playing chase underneath your tree stand, squirrels rustling in the leaves, birds flittering through the tree tops, sunrises and sunsets. They’re about sitting around the campfire or the old wood stove and telling stories and jokes.
Most of all deer camp is about sharing these special moments in time with your fellow deer camp characters. That’s when we wish we all had more time.
This story is a chapter in a book called “Seasons” Larry Whiteley has been working on for 20 years. Some day he swears he’s going to finish that book.