By: Craig Hollingsworth
The deer camp sets back on a two track almost a mile. It isn't much to look at, one big room with two sets of three tier bunk beds along one wall, a big kitchen table, an old Franklin style wood stove in one corner. The "kitchen" is just an old counter top propped up on 4x4 legs. The refrigerator is a pile of coolers hauled in by each member of camp as they arrive. Everyone contributes to the weeks groceries, bringing whatever they are told by the designated camp cook. Cooking is done on the wood stove in heavy cast iron skillets, dishes done in an old wash tub with water pumped by hand outside. Out back is the "two holer " for the necessities of life. I'm not sure why there are two holes, I have never seen two members of camp even attempt to occupy it at the same time. During the off season it doubles as the wood shed, at least the first days wood is ready each year.
As members of camp start to trickle in they are given their bunk assignments, and chore list, by the oldest member of camp. He doesn't hunt much any more, opening day is about all his old bones will take, being in camp with the guys is his enjoyment. There is wood to be split and piled by the door, dusty floors to be swept, and gear to be squared away.
After the work is done some of the members take a walk to their stands for maintenance. It's been a years worth of squirrel and weather damage. The members that prefer to hunt from the comfort of a shack repair roofs, rehang doors etc. The younger members fix up their brush blinds, piling up logs that have fallen or adding just the right amount of pine boughs to make the blind disappear. Some of the brush blinds are nearly works of architecture, it's almost a competition, complete with ribbing about the faults of everyone else's blind but their own.
The blind building is interrupted by the smell of potatoes and venison coming from the stove pipe wafting through the woods. No one wants to be last in line for the first meal of camp. Everyone starts to filter back for the best meal of the year.
After dinner and the rookie members of camp clean up the table and take care of the "womens work" someone finds the worn deck of cards and it's time for the Pokerfest to begin. Five card draw and seven card stud with all the possible variations mixed in are the mainstay of the evening. The pots are not all that large, but an outsider would think each hand was worth thousands judging by the howls. The smell of Hoppes No. 9 and wood smoke fill the air as the members that don't take part in the card games clean their guns. Talk turns to where the rookie members should spend their first opening morning. One member recommends the " Big Ridge Blind", another says the "Buckstand " is the best. Members tell of the deer taken from each spot, and remember the two that are now passed on leaving their spots open for a rookie.
By now the beer has taken it's toll and the first occupant of the "two holer" announces it's starting to snow when he returns. A huge sigh of relief is heard from all members, almost had to hunt with no tracking snow. Some how a few inches of new snow on the ground on opening day is almost magic.
After gear is readied and all members have announced their intended locations for the opener, members start drifting off to hit their rack. The glow of the wood stove keeps the room fairly well lit, but it's the snoring of one member that keeps some from drifting off, not the lack of darkness. Finally the offending member turns the right way to stifle the sound of the buzz saw and everyone can rest.
The smell of bacon frying, and coffee brewing is the first signal to hit the floor and get ready. The camp cook is up early and makes sure no one leaves the camp hungry. It's a long cold sit and a growling stomach only makes it longer. By the time everybody is up and at it, breakfast is on the table, and sandwiches are laid out on the counter to be taken to the woods.
One of the rookies awakens to find his boots full of bear grease, after the laughter subsides and he has taken it in stride, everyone knows he is now a member.
The younger members head out first, their spots are the farthest to walk. No flashlight is needed this opening morning, the hunter's moon leads the way. One by one the hunters fill their their thermos and head out , each one hearing " good luck " as he closes the door.
The morning dawns bright and sunny, with the kind of cold that makes your nostrils seem to burn just a little, perfect hunting weather. A few shots ring out through the morning, and at by 10:00 the older hunters start to make their way back to camp. A few of the younger guys stay out all day but for some, cold settles into the bones faster than it used to. One of the rookies is already back with the first buck on the pole, a nice spike horn, though you'd think it was a twelve point by the smile on the young hunters face. The big hunt story complete with all the details is relived with each member that returns to camp. The lucky hunter never tires of telling it, and the hunters that have already heard never tire of listening one more time.
By night fall one of the older members still has not returned so a few of the guys go to his shack to check on him. He is found sitting in the silence smoking a cigar. When asked why he's still out here he reports " the biggest buck in the woods lays right over there and I couldn't budge him, so I just waited on a little help." The buck is a heavy horned ten point, huge body and swollen neck, truly the Monarch of the Woods. A trophy truly befitting a hunter that has not missed an opening day in over fifty years. The drag out is not terribly difficult with several young bucks to help with the task, each taking a turn at pulling out the prize.
Once everyone is present and accounted for dinner is set out, and everyone is poured a congratulatory shot from a bottle that has been on a shelf for a very long time. The lucky rookie that brought in the first buck is given his money, a dollar a man is thrown into the kiddy for the first one on the pole. And finally the newest member of the "Trophy Club" raises his glass and proposes a simple toast "To the perfect Opening Day."
Whether you be the Camp Cook, the Rookie, part of the "Trophy Club", or just another Member, Good luck to all of you and may you have " The perfect Opening Day."