Being at deer camp is about so much more than just hunting. It is about seeing friends and family members we might only see once a year. It is about reminiscing of past hunts and experiences. It is about fellowship. It is about traditions that are shared and passed down from generation to generation.
Here is a list of 5 traditions that we believe are worth starting at your deer camp.
- NAME YOUR CAMP
Giving your deer camp an identity of its own is a great way to elevate your camp. Everyone likes to be a part of something special and unique. We like to be on teams, associate with sports franchises, and be in clubs. We like the bond that forms when you have a group of people we enjoy spending time with.
It does not have to be elaborate or witty. It just has to represent you and your group. Maybe your hunting area is located on a road with a name like ‘Buck Run Road’. You could call your camp ‘Camp Buck Run’. Perhaps you have a unique feature on the property like pine trees on a ridge. Your name could be ‘Pine Ridge Hunt Club’. Maybe it is family property that your great grandfather farmed with mules. You could use your last name and pay homage to your great grandfather. And if you didn’t like your great grandfather, you could name it after the mules!
Then sit back and watch when you introduce the name to the group. It will catch on quickly and instead of hearing, “See you at deer season”; you will be hearing, “See you at Old Mule Camp”!
- KEEP A JOURNAL
Keep a journal of your deer camp exploits. We always start camp out for the year with who is in attendance. Keep track of the important attendance events likes someone’s first time there or a hunter’s first year hunting. Record who harvested a deer and where they too. We write a summary of the season’s events and catch up with each other’s lives. Events like marriage, kids, and grandkids since last year’s hunt always find a way into the journal. This year, we had a young man hunting by himself for the first time. His older brother was just around the hill from him. He had a young buck walk right in front of his blind. He steadied himself, took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger. It was a storybook first deer……if only he had taken the safety off his gun. This story is in the journal to be enjoyed for the next 20 years many deer seasons from now, we will all spend the Friday night before opening morning reminiscing and laughing about it. The hunter will be able to retell the story in years to come with the same excitement and animation as he did the first time sitting around the campfire.
When I talk about initiations, I am not talking about initiations from your college days or varsity sports teams. When we have a new member to deer camp that we want to return, we always indoctrinate them into the group. This is not meant to be something that would be considered hazing or anything of that nature. It is just the opposite. We want them to know that they are now a part of our group. This is especially important for the young hunters. It is easy for a young person to feel out of place while listening to the campfire conversations of adults and feeling like they have nothing to contribute. We want to make sure they feel welcome and a part of our traditions.
The first thing we do is give the newcomer an ‘official’ uniform. We all have orange hats embroidered with our camp name. The first night before opening day, we welcome them into our hunting party and give them an embroidered hat. We then share with them what we know; not about hunting, but about deer camp and what it means to each of us. We tell them it is the only time of the year that we get to see some of our friends and share stories about our first deer hunts. We let them know what is important to us in the hope they too will cherish the same things and help pass them on.
- PERSONALIZED MUGS
A few years ago, we found ourselves with a camp problem; coffee mugs everywhere around camp. Disposable cups were all over with no one remembering which cup was theirs. We didn’t start out trying to begin a new tradition. We were just trying to solve garbage and dish washing problem. We came across an outdoor-themed store that was going out of business. They had a hug collection of coffee mugs on clearance. Each mug had a different animal on it. This was perfect! Each person could have a mug and know which one was theirs. We bought them all. It quickly became a tradition! The animal selection process itself was fun. One guy got the black bear because he was the only one there that had a black bear climb up his tree stand while hunting. He was given that mug and then the re-telling of the story ensued. Another member who’d been salmon fishing in Alaska had been in the river with a hungry grizzly bear. The only person at camp with this distinction. Needless to say, he got the salmon mug! It was a fun night that led to a lot of funny stories and memories. Everyone used those mugs for everything that weekend. Only once was a wolf mistaken for a whitetail deer, but that led to a funny exchange and a new story to be retold.
It doesn’t have to be animal coffee mugs or even mugs for that matter. It just needs to be something to give everyone an identity. It could be t-shirts with the camp name on the front and nicknames on the back like a sports team. Or maybe slippers with animal heads on them to keep boots out of the tent or cabin. Use your imagination and if it solves a problem like ours did, even better!
- THE BIG MEAL
The excitement level the Friday night before opening morning is almost palpable at our camp. It is not just excitement for the hunt but also for the joy of being together at deer camp. Everyone is catching up and settling into camp. It has a feel of a big holiday from the friends and family you haven’t seen in a year, to the new ‘toys’ people have brought, to the big holiday meal. Every year the Friday night meal seems to get more and more elaborate as everyone tries to out-do each other. The meats get more exotic, the recipes get more sophisticated. For instance, boxed mashed potatoes have been replaced by grandma’s special recipe. It is always delicious and everyone says they are ‘stuffed’. However, as good as the food has gotten, the point of the big Friday night meal remains the same; thanksgiving and fellowship. It truly has become my third holiday meal of the season. We all work together preparing the meal while we tell stories as we work on our masterpiece! We then say grace and enjoy it together as a deer camp family. This Friday night tradition sets the tone for a wonderful year, deer or not.
Try it at your next camp gathering. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, but put away the canned beef stew and cook something on the campfire. It can be burgers or steaks and wrap potatoes in foil and throw them in the coals to cook. The goal is to make the meal a special event and to sit at the ‘damn’ table to enjoy the food and fellowship. It will be worth all the extra effort.