There’s always a beginning to every journey. The main intention of this blog is to relay the upland adventures with our beloved English Springer Spaniels. Before there were stories about trialing dogs, pursuing Blue Grouse in the Rocky Mountains or chasing Pheasants on the prairies of Eastern Colorado there was a time that were deer hunting was fuel to this author's time afield.
Before there were cell phones, I remember anxiously waiting for the phone to ring on the third Monday night in the month of November. That third Monday was the traditional opening day of the shotgun deer season in Upstate NY. When that phone did ring, it was a call from a pay phone outside the Sure Save corner store in Angelica, NY. The call was my Dad giving me the report from that days events. The calls were quick due to the line of hunters with the same intentions. But those calls did quite my curiosity on who got what or who missed what or who saw what. Back in the early 1980’s there weren’t many deer running around so the call often sounded like “ Tommy took a big doe, Tommy John took a small doe and so and so missed a big buck” and I asked “what about you Dad” and that was followed “I could have taken a small doe but I passed it up”. To me that was code for he’s waiting for the chance to take a big buck. When that week was up I couldn’t wait to see the take from the opening week. I was always mesmerized by the size of the deer’s hooves and the tongue that always out of the deer’s mouth.
The place where all of the deer hunting took place was out of an old farm house near the town of Angelica, NY. A group of friends and hunters from Lackawanna, NY, put a few dollars together in 1960 and started the Steel City Conservation Club. The club was named in honor of the unofficial nick name of Lackawanna as it was home to the one time large and bustling Bethlehem Steel Plant. All of the original members of the club at some point worked at the plant. The old farm house was now turned into a hunting camp and is often referred to as “the farm” or “the cabin”. The locals and other hunting camps always knew us by “Steel City” as a sign has always adorned the front of the building.
This past deer opener saw a resurgence of hunters in camp. Over the past few years attendance has weakened due to the “in’s and out’s of life” such as health issues, time issues and hunters living to far to attend the annual festivities. Fourteen hunters packed into this small house to celebrate this annual right of autumn. A few new faces and many old faces came together for 3 days to laugh, eat, drink (after the hunting of course), hunt and laugh some more. The usual shenanigans of deer hunters started right away as the beer and whiskey fueled the camaraderie of camp. The stories of old flowed as new stories unfolded right before our eyes. Many stories of the old started with lines like “remember when” and the the new stories started with “I can’t believe that just happened”. Such is life in deer camp.
This year’s deer opener was on my calendar for many months as I longed to back in the familiar cabin since I have missed the last few due to life in general and the fact I live 1600 miles away. I had a particular importance to head back to this year due to the recent passing of my Father this past spring. You see, my Dad was the person who loved this old cabin and the memories it brought. He loved the deer opener as is was a time to reacquaint with old faces and hunt deer as he only knew how. This cabin was the fabric of my Dad’s enthusiasm for the outdoors. And when it came to deer hunting he only knew one way and that was to drive deer. Never mind waiting around for that deer to hopefully walk in front of you. It has always been about creating your luck by lining up posters and pushing deer through the swamps, pine groves and wood lots. It’s a time and true tradition that caries on to this day as camp had three bucks and one doe hanging by the end of the opening day.
The day became extra special as a close friend who decided to come to deer camp for the first time. Most hunters start hunting at a yearly age and then carry on tradition through life. But this hunter decided to try his hand at hunting at the mere age of 36. And to think, deer hunting was an after thought and I can clearly remember him saying “I’ll only shot a big buck or something like that”. We’ll "something like that” happened and something just so happened to be the biggest buck taken in our camp’s 51 years of deer hunting. Some bucks have come close but this 9 point had good mass, height and width. We would later learn that it scored 145 green points. Those who hunt deer in Upstate NY know that is as good as it gets when it comes to quality.
In these three days, it was evident that there was more to hunting than the size or quantity of any trophy. To this particular group of hunters, this time was a celebration of the past, living for the moment and looking forward to more good times. And no one would have been more proud to be here in this camp than my Dad. He would have loved to laugh and joke about the past. He would have loved to see the take of opening day. He would have loved to have seen camp look and feel like the old days. But for those who were in camp for those three days know that my Dad was here and that made this time even more special. That’s why it’s important to come full circle in life from time to time.
til next time...
Here's a few photos to tell the story of deer camp. Make sure to turn up the volume.