A Porch of My Own

A Porch of My Own

Friday, October 31, 2014

Deer Camp

All over West Texas the whiskey sippin' has begun, as the hunters arrive at the ranches. Opening day is tomorrow and they'll be ready, and they'll be sober, but tonight they greet friends and family they haven't seen in a while, maybe not since this time last year.

Sometimes they own a small place they hunt on, sometimes they go in with other hunters and lease a place. Some hunt where they live; some hunt on the old home place. Some have leased the same place for years, as did the fellas I talked to at the gas station in town last year. They said they were headed toward Rocksprings to a lease they've had for 30 years.

Those that hunt where they don't live have been coming out since September getting things ready. They put feeders out and clean the blinds. Some haul a camper out if there isn't a house to stay in; some make sure they have motel reservations. Feed store owners are smiling over deer corn sales and lease payments have paid the taxes on many a family ranch that can't make a living on livestock any more. 

Some come with guns handed down from dads and grandpas, tried and found to shoot true. Some come with a new rifle, anxious to try it out and see if it will get the muy grande that has been elusive the last couple of years. Some use a friend or uncle's gun, often borrowed once they get together at the camp.

Some are looking for a big buck complete with bragging rights, some just come to get away from the big city, all want some meat for the freezer. 

They've stocked up on food and take turns as camp cook. If anyone has been successful hunting, someone is hustling the backstrap to the kitchen. Fried backstrap takes precedent over any other planned meal. There's sure to be ribeyes and baked potatoes one night. A pot of pinto beans goes nonstop during the weekend and if there are Cajuns present, you'll find some gumbo on the stove. Breakfast is huge, cooked and consumed after the morning hunt. Homemade biscuits, bacon, sausage, eggs, leftover beans and backstrap. 

They sit around the campfire at night after the evening hunt and supper is over and sip whiskey. This is the time for stories. Tales of what they got today, what they saw that got away, what blind or draw they're going to try tomorrow. Someone will tell a story on one of the hunters from a year past, sometimes favorable to the hunter, sometimes not. If the hunters are family or long time friends, there will surely be tales of dads and grandpas. For sure there will be some laughter and it's possible someone might be seen wiping a tear away.

An area has been set up for processing the deer and the young ones learn from the older ones what needs to be done before you take the deer to the processor. In times past, the deer might have been totally processed and Rick and I have even made our own sausage and cut all the steaks and roasts out. Nowadays, the deer is gutted, skinned, and quartered and taken to the processor to be turned into steaks and sausage, adding some pork. Some people will just field dress a deer and take to the processor that way. But as Sarah says, if her dad is teaching anyone to hunt, they're gonna know how to skin and clean a deer.

It's dark now and the last hunter has come in. The old fellas are watching over the young ones as they clean their first deer. They've got new knives, a gift from a grandparent usually, and they help each other, the ones that have done this before holding the deer as the new hunter skins it, the way their dad did for them. Lights have been set up so they can see and once they finish several of the guys will go down the hill to put out the part of the deer that is offered to the scavengers.

Time slows down and shadows creep in. Stars come out and there's a quiet most of these hunters don't know the rest of the year. The kitchen is cleaned, the deer's been iced down for the trip to town tomorrow, the old fellas are starting to fade and the young ones are talking among themselves. Soon it's lights out with the alarm set for an hour before daylight. 

The young ones will be dreaming about tomorrow's hunt and the old ones will dream of hunts past.

(Note: In the first photo my brother Andy is holding a 30-30 rifle that has been used for 4 generations. Our grandfather, Pop, bought it used for $7 when our dad, Perry, was 12 years old. It's a Winchester model 1894 made in 1898. Perry has 27 notches on it for the deer he killed with it, Andy has 4 (including his first deer), and his son has 1. Andy killed the deer in the photo with it. My boys John and Larry are in the photo with Perry and Andy and our older brother David, who passed away this year. Below is Pop with his hunting and fishing gear.)


  1. After reading this and reminiscing my times of yore, the one wiping a tear would be me.