Annual Deer Camp repost...
By John Penzotti
Going hunting… Just that phrase conjures up many different thoughts and memories. Hours in a quiet woods stalking the elusive whitetail. Sitting in a tree stand marveling at the industrious grey squirrel who is working to fill his pantry before the harsh winter sets in. Slowly following a fresh set of tracks and seeing a monster 12 point buck browsing ahead of you. These are the things memories are made of…..for some people ! I however, have “matured” to a different idea of going hunting. Now let’s not get all righteous on me just yet. Hear me out…
Now I certainly appreciate watching the sun come up over the hill from a tree stand, being there as the woods wake up and come to life; the beauty of the sun glistening through a melting icicle as the sun warms your face. But my problem with that whole scene is that I hate winter, and hunting season just happens to fall in the beginning of winter, the time that coincidently begins my slow, spiraling spin of weather related depression!
However, I love going hunting ! I love the excitement that brews for months before opening week. Family and friends lamenting over who’s got vacation time for opening week, who’s coming down what days and who’s son will be initiated into the ritual of the sacred and exclusive “opening week” at deer camp. It brings folks together that haven’t spoken since the end of deer season last year, and their dialog continues as if it was opening day a year ago. However, let’s not forget, I hate winter and cold and that’s the climate we’re heading into.
Going hunting involves so much more than the actual act of pulling the trigger or releasing the bow and harvesting a deer. It involves planning. There’re menus to be made, and shopping to be done. There’s planning to make sure any and all gear that will be needed for the week is packed and in good working order. For some, this will mean sighting in their gun, perhaps buying new optics or splurging on a new pair of boots. For me, its making sure I have my big frying pans, sharp knifes, plenty of DVDs and that the satellite dish is in good working order.
But I love going hunting.. I love the scene in camp first thing in the morning on opening day. The excitement that a 4:30am alarm clock brings. The discussion over who’s hunting where, who’s got doe permits and the seriousness of those intent on getting their gear just right. I also enjoy planning and executing a big breakfast for them. I’m intent on making sure that every egg that’s flipped over easy has an intact yolk. That the coffee pot stays full and hot and that there’s plenty of bacon and sausage. I love to listen to the tales of hunts from years gone by that build excitement as the mighty warriors prepare to embark on their quest for venison. I share the nervousness and anticipation of the young first time hunter. I feel his sweat as he sits wearing every piece of clothing he has brought waiting for his mentor to finish his coffee so they can head off into the crisp air and be hunters. And I feel the young hunters’ pain when that mentor fills his coffee again and tells yet another tale about a hunt of yesteryear. I think what I really like the most about opening morning, aside from being amidst all this excitement, is that as the last hunter leaves the cabin, and all the excitement and rushing around has ended, I can go back to bed ! That’s right, I said it, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hit the mattress as the last departing hunter swings the door shut. Any experienced hunter knows that type of haste would be followed by disastrous results. As a seasoned hunter, my experience teaches me to make sure the wood stove is fully loaded. Waking up to a cold camp would certainly be a sign of a rookie and inexperienced hunter.
As 11:00am rolls around, the hunters in the woods are beginning to get stiff and maybe a bit cold. They climb down from their tree stand or stretch from their ground blind. They begin to wander around, refreshing both their circulation and clearing their mind. I, not unlike the hunter, also stir around eleven. I climb down out of the bunk and wander around the cabin, making a stop at the water closet and then over to the couch to see what’s on the television. My mind starts to wake up and sharpen, knowing that soon I’ll need to begin to prepare for the evening meal. I look out the window and watch the wind whip the blowing snow into a small cyclone. I pause for a moment in wonder as the sun creates a small rainbow in the ice hanging from the gutter. Wait a minute, could it be ? I laugh out loud as I watch a small doe creep along the edge of the woods where it meets the lawn. No doubt she is making a wide circle around a hunter who thinks he is being quiet traipsing through the woods. Then, like the crack of a branch in the woods alerts a drowsy hunter, I am snapped back to reality. Its freakin’ cold in here and I’m hungry. I load the wood stove once again and head to the kitchen to hunt for the leftovers from dinner last night.
After filling my belly, and realizing it’s noon, I pour myself a glass of wine and start to make our traditional opening day dinner; Al’s vegetable soup. Al was my dad and one of the founders of our sacred deer camp. His soup is a not only a tradition for dinner on opening day but a source of leftovers for the whole week. It will be a bowl of warmth for the cold hunters for days to come and the flavor of the broth will flood their minds with memories of the hunts and hunters from days gone by.
Tomorrow night’s dinner will be Al’s macaroni sauce with rigatonis. The cooking of the sauce will begin early in the day and the cooking process calls for the cook to consume wine as the pot cooks down. Being the second day of hunting, even the most hardcore camp member will wander in and out of camp for food and fellowship. Fresh crusty bread will be dipped in the sauce pot by the incoming hunters and some will steal a meatball. The cooking sauce fills the cabin with a familiar and welcoming scent. Some hunters will succumb to the atmosphere and the wine and their afternoon hunt will be no more than a good intention.
And so it goes. As the week progresses, I find myself with more company in camp during the daylight hours. The “hunters” ride me hard all week about not going in the woods, and it becomes a constant source of entertainment for them. We laugh about it together and I think another camp tradition has been made. I’ve cut out a niche for those that want to “go hunting” but not actually go in the woods or kill an animal.
As I sit and reflect on the years gone by, I remember my dad being the hardcore hunter. Dad and his brothers would hunt hard and constantly be rewarded with a good harvest. In his last few years, he would “sacrifice” his hunting time to make sure that the sauce was cooked, or that the soup would be ready for dinner. He’d make sure that the camp was always warm when the guys came in and that there was plenty to eat. As the hunters came and went throughout the day he’d listen intently to their stories of poor timing and missed shots. He’d offer them a cocktail and often join them to make them feel at home in his camp. And by his example, I continue to do the same. I guess the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.
"I love my country, I love my guns, I love my family, I love the way it is now. And anybody that tries to change it, has to come through me. That should be all of our attitudes.
Cause this is America and a country boy is good enough for me, son."
- Charlie Daniels