Echoes of deer camps past

By Roger Wolfe - Outdoors Column

We are well into the holiday season and better than two thirds of the way through the hunting season. It is, generally, the time of year that a lot of people start getting a bit nostalgic. Whether it is adorning the Christmas tree with ornaments that bring back memories of decorating grandma’s tree from years ago or simply reflecting on deer seasons past.

Fond memories abound this time of year. Some happy, some sad, trophy deer missed, and trophies that now grace the walls of the man cave or trophy room. When thinking back to hunting seasons gone by, many of the most treasured memories are not of the bucks killed but of the good times spent with family and friends pursuing the wiliest of whitetails.

Some of those times were somber, and some of them utterly hilarious. One such event happened many many years ago but still echoes clearly in my mind and brings a smile to my face whenever I happen to think back.

The setup for this chain of events started several years before. It was a long running tradition, or jinx as it were, that on opening day of the season someone was always in charge of bringing onions to deer camp. The plan was that the first deer taken was to provide a delicious dinner of liver and onions for the hunters in camp.

Being a young teen, I was never all that interested in the tradition because I wasn’t going to eat the onions, much less the liver that was scheduled to accompany it. I was quite content with my bologna sandwich and chips for dinner. The rest could have their so-called feast.

I digress, for several seasons and several deer camps the onions were present, but, for whatever reason, the liver always seemed to be late in arriving or not arriving at all. Well on this trip the deer played their part and the liver arrived right on time.

Here is where the story takes its turn. As myself, my father and various uncles sat around on the porch of camp my grandfather was busy preparing the long-awaited feast. Just like many other evenings spent in camp, stories of hunts past and brag sessions about the big bucks to come were running rampant and tall tales getting taller.

Perhaps a little too tall. My grandfather could embellish a story as well as any literary that ever put pen to paper. It seems that this particular evening the tale may have exceeded his timing for the cooking of the celebratory feast that was at hand.

Finishing his story, he returned inside the camper to check on dinner, the rest of the group continued to enjoy the time spent together while waiting for the feast. Now everyone knows that the best part of a dinner of fresh liver and onions is always a cast iron skillet of homemade cornbread.

That’s what I was told, I don’t like liver, onions or cornbread. I was still looking forward to my bologna sandwich.

Evidently, the key to good cornbread is timing, and that was something that my grandfather had forgotten all about on this evening. When the camper door burst open moments later the family gathered on the porch immediately began to scatter as smoke billowed out the door and filled the air.

Completely surprised and caught off guard, everyone was scurrying around trying to figure out what had happened when suddenly my grandfather emerged from the smoky haze on hands and knees. As he cleared the doorway of the camper and emerged into the evening air we could tell he was carrying something. Well, it was more like dragging something.

As he stumbled to his feet we could tell he was holding a pot or a frying pan. Still too choked up to speak he held up the skillet in an attempt to explain what had happened.

It was at this point a smoking round chunk of what we could only assume used to be cornbread fell from the pan with a loud thud onto the porch. To add insult to the injuries that this poor morsel of what was intended to be food had already sustained, it bounced, yes bounced, across the porch and down into the grass below.

With smoke still seeping from the cornbread, the camper and, also, my grandfather, we all watched in silence as the round charred remains rolled down the hill picking up speed. The last that was seen of it was the weeds parting in the meadow and a wisp of smoke rising above the tall grass.

As the air inside the camper cleared and my grandfather was able to clear the smoke from his eyes, the porch erupted into laughter. Not sure of what had just happened, but positive that it was quite possibly the funniest thing we had seen in a while everyone agreed that it wouldn’t soon be forgotten.

Luckily, the only thing that was burnt was the cornbread because it could have easily been the whole camper. To be honest, as hard as we laughed and from the pain in our sides and the gasping for breath, it would have been hard for any of us to escape had the whole place went up in flames.

I can’t say whether the liver and onions were fit for human consumption that particular evening, but I can say that for weeks to come there was a black hunk of cornbread in the meadow that not even the opossums would eat.

Even though I can’t tell you if it was a big buck, or a yearling doe that provided the liver, I can still picture in my mind the sight of that burnt pan of cornbread disappearing through the grass and down through the field.

The best memories of deer camp quite often have very little to do with the deer hunted or the shots fired. The most treasured memories are all the times shared with those we love the most. So, make the most of every chance you get to spend time with the family whether it is at deer camp or gathered around the holiday dinner table. Those are the greatest trophies you could ever have.

By Roger Wolfe

Outdoors Column

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