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[custom_font font_size=”50″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”italic” text_align=”left” font_weight=”500″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]The Soul of Deer Camp[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”18″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”500″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]By: Mitch Martin[/custom_font]
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every deer camp needs at least one colorful character as a part of the core group.  We actually have more than one, but there is one member that is really the soul of our group, Mr. Carver.  In 1990, I invited a family friend whom we had met at church to join us on our annual pilgrimage to the deep woods to pursue deer.  Our group was still a bit fluid and had not really jelled into the cohesive group that it would later become.  Mr. Carver, at the time, was in his mid 50’s, he had never hunted, but loved to camp.  He enjoyed the stories of our outings and eagerly jumped at the opportunity to spend a 3 day weekend camping in the woods.  He didn’t own a gun but was able to borrow one.  Mr. Carver is a lifelong educator, a beloved faculty member of our local vocational school where he counseled, encouraged and helped place the students in jobs with much greater salaries and opportunities for financial gain than his own chosen career offered.  For him, it was a labor of love, a true calling to help prepare future generations for life and community leadership.  He was also an elder of my church, but certainly not judgmental or pretentious in his convictions.  He was easy to be around and I felt he would benefit from the opportunity to commune with nature and we would all benefit from his company.  A few of our group knew him but most did not.  Some of the more colorful characters of our group were perhaps a little rough around the edges, but some of the best men I have ever known.  I brought my 10 year old son along, not to hunt, but to start learning how it was done.  He was big enough to sit with me and was eager to be around these men.

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[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Mr. Carver showed up late driving his daughter’s old topless jeep.  It was equipped with oversized tires and looked like it had spent a little too much time off road.  It was piled high with all kinds of boxes and bags.  I have never seen one man bring that much stuff to a weekend camping event.  Little did we know this was the precursor of things to come!

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[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Bags and boxes started to fly as the unloading process commenced. In a couple of hours an old faded blue canvas wall tent was erected.  It was the old style with an external aluminum frame.  Soon there was a soft glow coming from the tent and we all had to go take a look.  Standing inside was a very proud Mr. Carver. He was standing on wall to wall plush carpeting laid over a tarp to keep the moisture out.  His bed was made and topped with a colorful blanket, that’s right I said bed. It was a folding bedframe with springs and a real mattress.  It was piled high with several layers of cushy bedding.  There was a night stand sitting by the bed with an old Coleman lamp providing a warm glow. His boxes and bags were stacked neatly on one side and there were more showing from underneath the bed.  There was an old catalytic heater in the middle of the suit to provide luxurious warmth.  There was a pair of house slippers handy by the bed as well as a couple of pairs of boots.  There were coats on hangers and a complete hunter orange suit hanging at the ready.  In one corner of the tent stood a broom and dust pan.  I couldn’t believe it; in all my years of hunting I had never beheld such opulence.  My 10 year old son summed it up quickly; “Dad, can I stay with Mr. Carver”.  Deer camp would never be the same and we all knew it.

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[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Our camp kitchen that year was a fire pit ringed with rocks and couple of card tables set up under a tarp stretched over a pole frame. It always rained sometime during opening weekend.  I owned a small 2-burner propane stove that was set up on one folding card table and the other table was devoted to cooking utensils and a couple of 5 gallon jerry cans of water.  I don’t remember what the meal was that first evening but it was something that we had brought pre made; (beef stew or perhaps ham and beans).  It was always good and filling but nothing elaborate at this point.  What I distinctly remember was what happened after supper.  After we washed our paper plates in in the campfire, we gathered around to enjoy the company and catch up on everyone’s happenings of the past year.  We usually enjoyed a warming libation after dinner and a couple of the guys enjoyed cigars as well.  After a few minutes,  Mr.  Carver got up and said he had brought along something that he thought we would all enjoy around the campfire and headed for his tent.  I expected that he had brought a special bottle of brandy or perhaps a dessert.  After a few minutes he came back to the campfire and started handing out a packet of copies of old hymns.  He had one for everybody.  You have never heard such silence as descended on this group of men.  We all set there stunned as Mr. Carver led off with a rousing rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross”.  One by one we all joined in, nobody wanted to hurt his feelings.  We sang every hymn in the packet.

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[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Hopefully the deer enjoyed singing as well as we had made quite a ruckus. We all went off to bed after that experience.  Nobody laughed or ridiculed Mr. Carve.  In fact, truth be told, it was good for all of us and it certainly made a positive impression on my 10 year old son. As far as he was concerned, this was the way deer camp was supposed to be.  This was the start of a wonderful deer camp relationship that  continued for 25 years.

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[blockquote text=”We all set there stunned as Mr. Carver led off with a rousing rendition of “The Old Rugged Cross”. ” show_quote_icon=”yes” text_color=”#66c13c” quote_icon_color=”#5eba39″]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]It quickly became clear that it was going to take some work to make a deer hunter of Mr. C.  He had not grown up hunting and didn’t possess the natural instincts and abilities that those of us that were born to it took for granted.  That first year, as most years since, I put him in the prime location hoping to give him the opportunity to see a deer.  Earlier in the fall while scouting I had found a place that the deer regularly used for bedding.  It was a brushy draw that had several trails intersecting and I had jumped deer there several times during the fall scouting trips.  I had built a small rudimentary platform stand in some small white oak trees that had grown up together.  It was only about 10 feet off the ground but afforded a good view of the draw and the low saddle to either side of the draw.  It was also close to camp.  I marked the trail well and sent Mr. C off well before daylight.  He was dressed in so many layers of clothes I worried that he would have trouble climbing the rudimentary ladder.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]It was a nice little perch, trimmed up to make as useful as possible.  I left several small branch stubs in place to use as hangers and that created an unforeseen problem.  Along about 10:00, the several cups of coffee that he had consumed started to cause his bladder to complain.  There was nothing to do except climb down and seek relief.  His hunter orange coverall and several layers of pants and long underwear presented a logistics problem.  He hung his rifle on one of the handy stubs, which already held an assortment of other paraphernalia; backpack, thermos, seat cushions, and extra clothes.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]He climbed carefully down out of the tree, as he recounted later, and proceeded to remove clothing and rearrange clothing in order to accomplish the needed task.  At about the time he got things well in hand, so to speak, here came a curious buck deer to see what was happening.  The deer strolled up to within 30 feet and casually watched the proceedings.  The deer waited until everything was finished and then proceeded to casually head for parts unknown while a chagrinned Mr. C climbed back into his stand. No more deer showed up at his location after that.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]We were only able to camp on that private Franklin County property for a couple of years as our group quickly outgrew the area.  We continued to look for the ideal place and at first we moved on to Missouri Department of Conservation owned areas.  We camped for a couple of years at the Daniel Boone Conservation Area, Little Lost Creek and others along the way.  Mr. Carver was the first to buy a pop-up camper. It was an old but serviceable StarCraft of which he was very proud. I soon followed with a smaller version and it was off to the races.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]One November it started to snow about the time I got to the camping area on the Thursday before opening day.  By the time Mr. Carver rolled in well after dark, there was four inches of snow on the ground and it was snowing hard.  There were four of us that got there early on that Thursday to secure our camping spot and the others would arrive on Friday.  Since it would have been futile to try and set up his camper in a blizzard we decided to pile into my small one for the night.  The forecast was for a warming trend starting the next day as so often happens in Missouri. “If you don’t like the weather today wait until tomorrow, it will be different,” is a common statement Missouri.  We snuggled in cozily in our sleeping bags.  It was very quiet.  The only sounds were the soft plop of big wet snow flakes hitting the canvas and I was amazed; there were the sounds of cricket’s chirping!  After listening to this incongruity for a while just before everyone was asleep I mentioned this to the other guy’s in amazement.  “Has anyone ever heard crickets during a snow storm”, I asked?  No one said anything for a bit and finally Mr. Carver said politely, “Mitchell, what are you talking about?”  I explained that I was hearing crickets; perhaps my hearing was better than the rest of the folks there.  Mr. Carver listened for a bit and then explained that there were no crickets that it had to be in my head.  Everyone got a good chuckle at my expense. Darned, if he wasn’t right! I plugged up my ears and continued to hear crickets.     It’s a good thing I enjoy hearing crickets as I have heard them constantly ever since![/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]We didn’t kill many deer during those years, but we had a great time.  Someone usually got at least one and that was enough to keep us going.  Those public hunting areas were crowded with hunters and deer were scarce.  The ground was steep and brushy so sightings were fleeting and shots were difficult if even possible. My cousin, Gary Dixon, did shoot a nice buck at the top of one of those steep ridges and it literally fell all the way to the bottom of a very steep hollow.  He and his son-in-law pulled it almost straight up holding on to trees and moving it one length at a time.  No one else showed up to help as we didn’t know who shot or if anything was hit. At least that’s what we told Gary![/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Mr. Carver is an excellent cook and he made the mistake of making venison Swiss steak for our group one year.  No one will let him quit!  He accumulated a large collection of cast Iron cookware; several sizes of Dutch Ovens, skillets, pots and kettles.  It weighed so much it is a wonder he didn’t break an axel on his camper.  Of course there was lots of other camping gear as well.  He accumulated a complete Coleman camp kitchen, a couple of propane stoves, assorted propane lights and catalytic heaters.  Plastic tubs contained every type of kitchen tool you could imagine as well as a complete assortment of spices, canned goods and tarps as well as bedding.  One evening I complained about having dry cracked hands after exposure to too much cold and wetness.  I lamented the fact that I had no lotion for my hands.  Mr. Carver got up and rummaged around in one of his tubs and brought me three kinds to choose from. Camping with Mr. C is like bringing your own hardware store, grocery store and pharmacy![/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Always in search of better deer hunting, we expanded our comfort zone and found a conservation area in North Missouri that seemed promising.  There was very little hunting pressure the first couple of years and we saw lots of deer and killed a fair amount. We were still in tents that first year. My cousin Gary owned an old military squad tent and I owned an 8 man nylon tent. The weather was warm and windy that Friday as we set up camp.  We barely got things secured when the rain started.  At first it was a warm rain then the temperature started dropping.  By dark we had gale force wind and sideways rain.  It was a miserable night. As the ground became saturated tent pegs started pulling loose.  We were running outside getting soaked trying to keep the tents from blowing away.  Along about midnight we started to get a modicum of relief.  It got so cold that the tent pegs froze in the ground.  However there was so much moisture inside the tents that it froze on the ceiling of the tent and the rippling of the material by the wind caused this to break loose and come down inside the tent. In effect it was snowing inside the tent.  The rain turned to sleet and then to snow as we hunkered down and tried to stay warm; dry wasn’t an option.  Daylight came and there wasn’t much enthusiasm for hunting. We finally started out about 7:30, well after daylight.  The wind had finally laid and we stepped out into about 4 inches of winter wonderland snow.   I killed a huge bodied deer that morning and my friend Jim got one as well. It turned out to be one of our best seasons and everyone saw deer except Mr. Carver.  We were wet, tired and muddy but it was to that point the most successful deer hunt yet.  While we prepared one of the back straps from my deer along with all of the fixings the other guys were attempting to dry out and warm up.  Mr. Carver’s son-in-law set his soaked boots to close to the fire and forgot them until they caught on fire. Burning boots really smell bad!  We ended up getting a couple of more deer that year, a total of four, as I recall.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]By the next day, the weather had warmed up and hunting conditions were greatly improved, at least the weather was more comfortable for the hunters.  As it got dark the rest of our group came straggling in for supper; everyone that is except for Mr. Carver.  We finished dinner and were starting to get a little worried.  It was at least an hour past dark and he still wasn’t there.  We rounded up lights and compared notes on where anyone had last seen the missing Mr. C.  It was a large area making up about 8,000 acres, or about 12 square miles!  The proverbial needle in the hay stack was coming to mind. We split up into twos and headed out and only made it a short distance when we saw a dim flashlight beam come over a distant hill.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Fortunately, it was Mr. C.  He was most excited to tell us about the hill that he had discovered that offered a beautiful vista of the surrounding old fields.  Apparently it had at some time been an old house place.  There was a pile of big rocks to sit on that offered a splendid view of the evening’ gorgeous sunset.  An old possum had come shuffling by to feed on some persimmons.  Mr. C. was so enthralled with the beauty of his surrounding that he sat there until well past dark just soaking it up. Not realizing that he was over an hour away from camp.  The next year I bought walkie-talkies![/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]The following year it was back to the same conservation area.  After that much success, we couldn’t imagine going elsewhere.  Upon arriving, much to our surprise, we had trouble finding a place to camp.  The camp ground was full!  We finally found a place down a service road that may not have been exactly an approved camping area.  The place was overrun with hunters.  Some campers even encroached on our road.  The hunting was still good that year as most hunters stayed within a few hundred yards of camp.  Not many ventured back into the bowels of the area. Once again we got several deer, but not Mr. Carver. I got my deer pretty early on as he walked out on to an old pond dam near a grove of white oak’s that I had stake out.  The creek was too high to cross that year so I had come in from the far side and found a good road that allowed much easier access for our new game cart.  This was easy!  Mike Mickel, who had become a regular with our group, had found a high spot right above the raging creek that offered a view of a well-defined trail that crossed the creek.  I didn’t expect him to see anything because of the rushing water but I was wrong.  The deer didn’t seem to mind the fact that the creek was up.  Two does come loping down the trail and Mike shot one. Unfortunately the deer kept right on going into the creek before it realized that it was dead.  The swift current started carrying the dead deer rapidly downstream.  Mike quickly got a length of rope out of his bag and started chasing the floating deer down the creek bank trying to lasso it.  He kept missing it for about a quarter of a mile until he found a place that he could wade out in waist deep water and snag the deer.  He and the deer is a quarter mile from his rifle and pack.  Fortunately one of the members our group, Dale Bailey, witnessed the rodeo and was there to render him some assistance.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]By this time, I was adamant that Mr. Carver was going to get to shoot at a deer so I spent the afternoon trying to find him a deer.  I finally saw two does tippy toeing down a trail and stop by a big tree that had blown down before it had lost its’ leaves.  I watched them bed down and snuck back to get John.  I showed him the trail and pointed out a big tree that he could sit next to that would hide his outline.  Mr. C. had refined his hunting equipment.  He carried an aluminum folding arm chair with a strap.  A large back pack that contained food, a large thermos, reading material, spare clothing, rope, knives, extra bullets, and possibly some cast iron.  He also had two seat cushions hanging from his belt and a beautiful old Remington 30/06.  This was in addition to at least 3 layers of clothes and a complete set of insulated orange hunting pants and coat.  He also wore a pair of gators over his boots and pant legs.  He in no way resembled the svelte figure he actually was.  I watched him make his way to the tree that I had pointed out and set up his chair.  I had explained the situation; there were two does bedded in the tree top.  I explained that I expected them to run directly back up the trail toward him.  He only needed to be ready to shoot.  I took my time and circled around to the far side of the does. It took me a good twenty minutes to get into position.  Sure enough, the deer were still there.  They jumped up white tails flagging and headed up the trail exactly as I had hoped.  I stepped behind a giant tree and hunkered down waiting for a shot.  Nothing happened!  Finally, I heard a shot well past when I thought I should.  I then headed up the trail to see what he had shot.  There was Mr. C. standing by his chair with his rifle in his hand looking at an old field about 100 yards past.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]His pack was knocked over as was his cup of coffee.  He explained that the deer had almost run him over.  He had poured himself a cup of coffee and got comfortable, when there were the deer.  He carefully sat down his coffee, picked up his rifle, jacked in a cartridge and by the time he stood up the deer was well past him and on their way to the next county.  He had fired a shot at a rapidly vanishing white rump but to no avail.  I had a good laugh and I resigned myself to the fact that he probably would never kill a deer.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Mr. Carvers’ presence in deer camp gradually changed the entire demeanor of our group.  He never said a word to any of us that made that change happen, but his very presence made that change occur.  We became more aware of our surroundings and the beauty of nature.  Not that we didn’t appreciate it before, but now we found ourselves saying things like,” I found the prettiest little hidden valley today, Mr. Carver should see it, he would really like it there”.  His attention to the beauty of God’s creation was rubbing off on all of us.  We never sang hymns again after that first year but we never had a meal without asking Mr. Carver to pray.  He would always pray for our safety during the hunt and none of us would have had it any other way.  When any of us had health or family issues we always asked Mr. C to include a prayer for that as well.  In 1997 Mr. Carver had his own problems.  He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had to go through radiation treatment as it had spread to surrounding tissue.  It was our turn to pray for Mr. Carver; and we did.  He missed at least one deer camp, but after a scary battle and much prayer he was declared cancer free.[/custom_font]
[blockquote text=”Mr. Carvers’ presence in deer camp gradually changed the entire demeanor of our group. He never said a word to any of us that made that change happen, but his very presence made that change occur. We became more aware of our surroundings and the beauty of nature. ” show_quote_icon=”yes” text_color=”#66c13c” quote_icon_color=”#5eba39″]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]The next example that we learned from Mr. C was his positive attitude.  He came back from his battle with a zealous appreciation for life.  He never let the changes that sometimes come with that kind of surgery get him down the least little bit.  I never heard him complain even once about the changes to his life. If asked how he was doing he would often times reply, “Just like Minnie Pearl, I’m just proud to be here”.  Sometime during the early 2000’s, we started hunting the Corps of Engineer Ground that surrounds Stockton Lake.  Mike Woolley had a friend that owned a farm that joined that property and he was kind enough to let us camp by his barn and hook our camper to his water and electricity.  There was no home on the place, just cows, and we had easy access to the Corps ground.  We became intimately familiar with that few thousand acres.  It was then that we added Richie Worden to the mix. At the time he was the 13 year old grandson of one of my best friends, Bob Howard.  Bob had passed away rather unexpectedly and I really wanted to bring his grandson to deer camp.  I had known this young man his entire life and wanted to offer him an opportunity be a part of our group.  He has been ever since.  It was a good location for our group. Richie was from Joplin, my son Jon was in college in Springfield, cousin Gary was from eastern Kansas so it was convenient for most of us.  We had three campers between us so we parked them in a ‘U’ shape.  I was a right cozy camp.  Our friend Dan Yoest hunted with us those years and he had a two man ladder stand that he shared with Mr. C, but to no avail.  That first year at Stockton, as we were getting ready to pack up and come home Mr. C. and I headed out to retrieve that big two man stand.  We would strap it to our deer cart and pull it back as no vehicles were allowed into the area and the stand was about half a mile from the access point.  As we were heading up the access road pulling our cart, I noticed some movement at the tree line some distance from us.  I stopped Mr. C and pointed out the yearling doe that was at the tree line.  He knelt down and placed his ever present back pack on the deer cart and took a careful and very long rest.  I silently prayed that the deer would stay put as John settled in with his Remington .243.  Finally there was a boom and the deer disappeared.  It didn’t run off, it just disappeared.  I asked him where he was aiming and he told me at the neck.  It was a long shot and I didn’t expect to find a deer but we started for the spot where the deer had been.  I counted steps from where John had shot.  At the end of 243 steps lay the young doe, shot in the neck!  I had a whole new respect for Mr. Carver.  I might mention that he was not unfamiliar with firearms.  He grew up in Texas and had learned to shoot as a child.  He had also spent four years in the Army in the 1950’s, mostly in France and Germany where he had qualified with the M1A1.  He really could shoot.  Most of the folks from deer camp had already gone home and that was a shame, Mr. C was jubilant that he had finally shot his first deer.  I feel honored to have been present when he made that incredible shot.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]We killed several nice deer during our years at Stockton, but as usual more hunters found our honey hole and we were once again, having to compete for hunting space.  My son killed his first big buck there, a nice 11 point mature deer.  But the highlight was a couple of years later.  Mr. C was once again hunting from the two man stand on opening morning.  I had moved it to what I thought was a more advantageous spot for him. He was up on a hill looking out over a grown up field with an old pond about 250 yards in front of him.  I was hunting a deer trail down in the bottom along a creek.  About an hour into opening morning I had a nice 8 point buck come down the trail and bounce across the creek.  I dropped him as he started up the bank on the far side.  My son heard me shoot as he was hunting not far away and came over to see what I had killed.  As we stood there looking at my deer, we heard a distant shot from the direction of Mr. C’s stand. My son and I stood there thinking the same thing when suddenly my radio came on with the words “Oh Mitchell, I think I have done it again”.  I told him we would be there shortly as I had one down as well.  We quickly field dressed and tagged my deer and headed up to see what was happening with John.  We found him admiring a beautiful mature buck with a nice 10 point set of head gear.  Once again it was shot in the neck at about 250 yards; this time with his dads old Remington 30/06.  This man that took 15 years to get his first deer was on a roll! We headed back to camp with two deer on our one deer cart.  It was a long hard trip pulling all that weight on our little 2 wheeled, top heavy cart.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]By 2008 we had to find a new place to hunt.  There were just too many hunters encroaching on our spot and deer numbers had dwindled. We even found a nice deer that someone had shot and left laying because it apparently didn’t meet their expectations.  We also caught someone butchering a spike buck in the woods so as not to have to check it in.  It was time to leave.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]I spent all winter researching and scouting new conservation areas.  After much research I pitched Indian Trails to the group and we decided to give it a try.  It is a large conservation area in Dent County and seemed to be off the beaten path.  We had a great season and our group killed five deer that first year with minimal competition from other hunters.  We brought along another hunter that year, a young man by the name of Augustus Harris.  He was fresh out of the Marine Corps and a couple of tours in Iraq.  He got his first deer that year, a big doe, almost cut off his finger while field dressing it and drove my truck off in a hole ruining a tire.  An exciting year! Probably a good thing that Augustus moved to Georgia; I’m not sure I could have afforded for him to keep hunting with us.  At the very least my insurance was going up if he stayed around!  Actually, I miss him, he is a great young man and it was great having young energetic people in camp.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Mr. C hit a dry spell and was starting to slow down a bit.  He had proven to himself, and everyone else, that he could kill a deer so it wasn’t as important to him.  More and more he just enjoyed hanging out in camp and fixing supper for the rest of us. The following year turned out to be our last year on the road. Both my son and I killed a deer that year.  We were hunting fairly close together and I heard him shoot.  Within a couple of minutes, I saw a big doe coming my way.  Concluding that was probably what he had shot at and not wanting a possibly wounded deer to get away I dropped her.  Turned out Jon had shot another big buck that he had watched come off a steep hill and bed down in some brush.  He patiently watched that little patch of brush for an hour and a half until the buck stood up from his nap and then shot him.  That was when I realized that my son had grown into a patient and exceptional hunter.  I was a proud dad.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]The years have blended together as the deer camp experience evolved.  From our early years of tents and tarp shelters, we eventually graduated to canvas sided pop-up campers and then on to more modern pull behind and fifth-wheel campers.  Finally, in 2010 I was able to buy a piece of property surrounded by the Mark Twain National Forest in the rugged Ozark Hills of Southeast Missouri.  Along the way friendships strengthened, some went away and new ones came along, but the core group has continued to embrace the tradition.  The second generation is now well entrenched and the third generation is on the horizon as grandchildren are starting to come of age.  Richie’s little brother Hunter has now become a regular and is eagerly awaiting his first deer.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Mr. Carver quickly became the soul of this tradition. The few years that he has been unable to attend for health or family reasons he was sorely missed.  There have only been a handful of those over the years but it certainly put a damper on that year’s camp.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]During the late summer of 201, I received a call from a friend that sold real estate.  He said, “Mitch I have found your place”.  I didn’t know that I was looking for one, but apparently I was.  Actually, I had mentioned to my friend that if he ever came across a place in Crawford or Dent Counties that adjoined the Mark Twain National Forest to let me know.  He had found one! It was a forty acre outtake in the National Forest.  Only one corner of the property was connected to another private land owner.  It was virtually surrounded by public ground.  My son and I got directions and went to tour the property.  It was love at first sight.  There was an old home site with the remains of a foundation and charred timbers of a burned homestead.  There were electric lines coming to the property and what appeared to be a well.  There was a small shed at the edge of the yard that was brim full of all kinds of stuff; lumber, cooking utensils, an old kerosene lamp, windows etc. The 8X12 building seemed to offer some possibilities except for the big hole in the roof.  The best part was the trees.  There was no sign of any timber being cut in decades; there were huge old trees everywhere, many gigantic white oaks trees that I could not reach around along with black oak, red oak and several varieties of hickory.  It was a typical Ozark Highland forest except for the size of the trees.  There were even two mature pear trees in the yard of the old house place that were loaded with fruit.  There was no live water on the place but evidence of several intermittent streams and old topo maps hinted at a possible spring. After an offer and a counter offer, we were homeless no more.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Of course, the first person that I took to see the property was Mr. Carver.  He was ecstatic!  We spent that fall cleaning the place up.  We had a couple of work weekends when all the troops showed up to help.  It was fun and productive.  It was hard to divide up our time between working and exploring the surrounding forest.  We cleaned off the old yard, hauled off scrap metal from the burned house, cleaned off the old foundation.  I had the electricity hooked back up and a local well driller came and hooked up the old well pump the day before deer season.  Much to our surprise, it worked! The old pump fired up and we had running water.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]The first deer camp at Camp Hobo was a celebration; everyone showed up.  We camped in tents and used the old 8X12 shed as a cook shack.  My big 12X20 Cabela’s wall tent fit perfectly on the old foundation.  We built a big bonfire and had a wonderful time of fellowship.  We even hunted a little.  We were so new to the area that we had no idea what the lay of the land really was or where the deer actually lived.  Most of our exploration was by topo map followed by lots of walking.  We actually killed two deer that year in the surrounding forest.  Mike Mickel got a doe and Richie killed a rag horn 5 point buck that needed to be removed from the gene pool.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Camp Hobo continued to grow as we brought in a 14X40 Amish built garage and turned it into a cabin complete with all the plumbing and a wood stove for heat. Next we built a deck and continued to improve habitat.  Of course, Mr. C got his own set of keys.[/custom_font]
[blockquote text=” Every time we get together and before we leave for the woods we always have a prayer thanking God for his beauty and asking him to keep us safe. Due to the example of Mr. Carver we came to expect this and everyone appreciated it.” show_quote_icon=”yes” text_color=”#66c13c” quote_icon_color=”#5eba39″]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]By the time 2013 rolled around Mr. Carver’s health was in question.  His prostate cancer has returned and he was just not feeling well at all.  The one thing that seemed to make him feel better was spending time at Hobo.  We all were greatly concerned about his wellbeing.  His positive attitude is an inspiration to all of us.  Our group is extremely close and the thought that he may not be here for many more deer seasons is troubling to all of us. The 2014 deer camp was pretty somber as we feared that he might not make it to camp, but he did.  It was a cold season and thankfully I had built a platform stand topped with a big ground blind.  I assigned that to Mr. C along with a propane heater.  Darned if he didn’t kill another deer; shall we say, a small deer, but never the less a deer, by making another good shot just at dark.  We couldn’t find a blood trail so we didn’t find the deer until the next morning.  It hadn’t gone far and nothing had bothered it so all was good.  He was so tickled that we didn’t mind that it was a little deer.  He would have been no happier if it had been a thirty point buck.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Every time we get together and before we leave for the woods we always have a prayer thanking God for his beauty and asking him to keep us safe.  Due to the example of Mr. Carver we came to expect this and everyone appreciated it.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]The 2015 season was a bit melancholy.  Mr. Carver was there but tired easily and didn’t spend as much time hunting as usual.  He thoroughly enjoyed deer camp but was far from his old self.  We all had a feeling that this might be his last deer camp. He slept in most mornings and lacked the energy for his usual cooking and cleaning leaving that to the less able hands of the rest of us.  We added another new face to the group, Jared was  a pleasant young man that was a friend of my son .  He fit in like a comfortable old jacket.  I have no doubt that he will be a permanent part of our group going forward.  Our routine never varied.  Everyone got a hug from old friends when they arrived.  We had our big meal and started it with prayer.  You could see our new guest taking this all in.  Jared was lucky enough to get a deer that first morning and unlucky enough to kill it in the bottom of a huge holler out of phone and radio range.  He dragged that deer for two hours straight up a steep hill until he could raise some help.  Next time, he will know to tag the deer and go get help first.  On Sunday, as he was preparing to leave, he came and thanked me for having him to camp.  He told me that it was always a little scary to go deer hunting with someone that you didn’t know, but that this had been a wonderful experience.  He was impressed that we were praying men that had a good time and obviously all cared deeply about each other.  He went on to say that he had a young son and this was the kind of experience that he wanted him to have some day.  His statement made my heart swell, I could see the soul of our deer camp very clearly and I liked what I saw. It all went back to that first camp when Mr. Carver showed up with copies of hymns for us to sing around the campfire.  What a profound affect one man can have on an entire group.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Mr. Carver continued to struggle with his battle against cancer and continued to be an example to all of us.  He turned 80 in February of 2016 so we decided to throw him a surprise birthday party.  The plans were made a hall was rented and we set up a replica of deer camp, complete with his old blue tent from that first camp.  He was not feeling well but by setting up a ruse we got him there and completed the surprise. Most everyone was there with their families.  We fixed his favorite meal his specialty of venison Swiss Steak and we all had a wonderful time sitting around and reminiscing.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]Mr. C’s health continued to decline and I had him back to the farm in July for what turned out to be the last time.  We spent the day just talking and enjoying our long friendship. It was a good day and we headed home; he was worn out from the trip and slept all the way home.  His health continued to decline and he was under hospice care by September.  That last month was not pleasant for him but he died at home comfortably in the early morning of October 14, 2016.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]I had presented him with a bound book of memories and pictures for his 80th birthday that he really enjoyed.  He came to see me just before he had to quit driving and said he had a favor to ask.  Of course I was glad to do anything.  “DO you think you could do my eulogy,” he asked, “after all you already have it written.”  You see, most of the above is what was in his memory book. He also asked another favor, would it be alright if his ashes were buried at Camp Hobo.  That was an honor as well.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”]This past Saturday I gave the eulogy at his memorial service that was held in the high school gymnasium  where he had taught since 1973 and continued to substitute right through the end of the past school year. On Sunday his family and most of the guys from deer camp brought his ashes to Camp Hobo and buried them in a beautiful shady grove of oak trees that overlooks the cabin. His legacy will be long remembered by the members of Camp Hobo.  His life and example for three generations of hunters has had a profound positive impact on all of us.  It has never been about killing deer, it has been about the comradery between men and boys and the appreciation of God’s beauty and wonders.  None of us will ever be the same again!  We would all much rather sit in one of John’s favorite places and admire the beauty of nature and enjoy a more complete awareness of His wonders and grace.  If a fat deer happens to stroll by we will enjoy that gift as well.[/custom_font]
[custom_font font_size=”20″ line_height=”26″ font_style=”normal” text_align=”left” font_weight=”300″ text_decoration=”none” text_shadow=”no”] God bless you and keep you Mr. Carver.  You are dearly loved.[/custom_font]

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