A deer camp, whether located in the hill country of central Texas or the pineywoods of east Texas, ought not to be an annex of whatever you had to leave to get there. It should not be equipped with a bell that any person in the world with a similar device can ring at any time of the day or night.
A telephone in a deer camp is a torment that interrupts important thoughts and demands that you cater to its persistent jangle. It reminds you of what you have to do tomorrow and what you were doing yesterday. It has no place in a deer camp.
Not that a deer camp should be a place totally devoid of conveniences. I've hunted from a variety of camps, ranging from a two-man tent pitched on sloping, rocky ground to a sprawling house complete with tasteful appointments selected by a top-notch interior decorator. The latter "camp" was much better than the house in which I live.
I prefer something in between: a permanent building that's sealed well enough to take some of the chill off a subfreezing night, in country where the air is clear and you can get some idea of your insignificance by simply walking outside and looking up at the stars.
A deer camp ought to be less than plush and more than Spartan, a place where a guy can go for a few days without taking a bath if he chooses, but with a bathtub for those times when he can't stand himself (or his partners) any longer.
A deer camp ought to be at the end of a road. It shouldn't be a paved road, either. It ought to be of dirt or rock -- the sort that discourages ordinary traffic. I don't like to see cars at a deer camp. Pickup trucks and beat-up four-wheel drives belong, but passenger cars are out of place.
A deer camp ought to be close to a running stream. Not too close, for that would tempt floods, but close enough so you can easily stroll down to the stream on a sunny winter afternoon, stretch out like a turtle on a flat rock, and be lulled to sleep by the rushing and gurgle of clear water.
Let's face it: everything that exists must start at some instant in time, but a deer camp has no business being new. Newness lacks tradition, and tradition is important. Aside from the hunt itself, the pleasure of a deer camp comes from the stories told around the fire at day's end. Each day you hear new yarns from the day's hunt. Most will be forgotten by the end of the season, but the best stories -- the classics -- will be incorporated into camp lore, recalled by older hunters year after year as they are told and retold.
Who can forget the night old Melvin fell out of bed? How eagerly we await the often-repeated punch line of Mr. J's first buck -- how he shot and shot at the confused deer with no apparent effect. How he finally, in exasperation, turned to his companion, handed him the rifle, and said, "Here, Jim. You shoot awhile."
Last season I talked with a hunter who was hunting a property for the first time. He told me about a companion in Stand No. 3 seeing a good buck. I just shook my head. What a sad lack of tradition to have deer stands numbered instead of named.
Deer stands ought to be named according to tradition. They deserve meaningful names like the Cold Oak. You have to weather a hard norther in that stand, with nothing between you and the wind but a barbwire fence, to appreciate the name. Such names as the Shooting Gallery or the Hospital Stand can't be developed overnight. It takes years to properly name a full complement of deer stands. That's another reason why deer camps have no business being new.
Food nourishes stomachs and traditions. Who can go deer hunting on a bitter morning without first stoking the internal fires with a monstrous breakfast of bacon and eggs and hot biscuits? But the real feast should be reserved for the evening meal. That's when hungry hunters have time to gather around the table and swap yarns while they devour fried venison backstrap smothered with cream gravy or sumptuous venison stew accompanied by cornbread.
After the last morsel is devoured, it's time to play the historic deer-camp games. The classic game occurs while sitting around the devastated table, waiting for a sucker to wash the dishes. The game is called Where You Gonna Hunt Tomorrow? That's always the opening gambit -- "Where you gonna hunt tomorrow?" The classic response goes like this- " I dunno. Where you gonna hunt?" The loser is the first person to admit where he intends to hunt.
I guess maybe the most important thing that a deer camp ought to have is plenty of deer close by. After all, isn't killing a deer the reason for going to a deer camp in the first place? Well, it's certainly one of the reasons, but there may be others just as important.
"There's just no better medicine," reflected a veteran deer hunter of my acquaintance after a quiet morning in a stand on a tall hill. How right he was.