The Armchair Outfitter

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Deer Camp Story, #1,000,001

February 24th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Yes, this is a deer camp story, and yes, you have already read a million of them. This deer camp story is mine, however, and if you read it that will make one million and one. If that sort of thing doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, fine. Your garage probably needs reorganizing anyway. On the other hand, if you will indulge me for a few paragraphs, press on, gentle reader.


Antioch Hunt Club

The first deer camp I ever knew was the Antioch Hunt Club in Ramer, TN. Calling it a club is really elevating it, much like calling Ramer a town. It was near the end of a dirt road that began behind the Antioch Church of Christ, hence the name. My friend Trevor’s dad Houston was the “hunt master,” and when we were old enough, Trevor and I were invited to go along with the men. I didn’t have my driver’s license yet when we first started going down there to hunt, and I hunted there through my college years.

The cabin was an old three-room shack the guys had moved onto the property. It had once been someone’s home, but it didn’t have running water or indoor plumbing. There was a sink in the kitchen that drained straight onto the ground outside, and we hauled water from “town” and boiled it to wash dishes. The bathroom was either a rock that sat by the front porch, or the woods behind the back porch for jobs requiring paperwork.


We young bucks didn’t sleep in the cabin proper, but in an old Falstaff beer trailer off to one side that had been converted into a six bed bunkhouse. There was an old white van that had made its last run to Colorado for elk hunting and been put out to pasture, a cinder block pit in which someone had reputedly barbecued a bobcat, and a barrel for burning trash. The burning barrel had holes in the side from where someone cleaning out the cabin had accidentally scooped up some live rounds. From time to time, pine trees would blow over onto the wire that carried our power, and the whole compound would have no electricity. In short, it was paradise.


There was a massive old wood stove in the front room that was made from a heavy metal cylinder, possibly a propane storage tank. It drafted like a steam train and it would run you out of the cabin on the coldest night if you stoked the fire properly. More than one of us melted the soles of our boots by resting them too long on its surface. In a pinch, we’d put aluminum foil on top and toast bread. In the evenings, the fire would warm the hundreds of wasps that nested in the ceiling, and they’d start working their way through the crevices and come down to join us. We considered it very manly to kill one of the still groggy wasps with your knife rather than making a big fuss and swatting it. Occasionally you’d get one that was a little too fresh, and then you’d have your hands full.

Rules of civilized conduct and decorum were relaxed at the deer camp. Swearing, dipping, smoking, and drinking beer were not encouraged for the younger folks, but were at least tolerated. We’d have ribeye steaks cooked on the grill with potatoes and onions individually wrapped in foil and baked in the coals. The younger folks would usually then play German spotlight while the grown men played poker. For the uninitiated, German spotlight is a game in which one person counts with eyes closed to about a hundred while the others disperse through the dark woods. The person who is “it” has a flashlight, and the other players see how close they can get before the player with the flashlight can trap them in the beam and call them by name. The first identified is the new “it” and the game begins again. It is absolutely spooky how close the players can get if they time their movements properly and use camouflage. We would often switch hats or clothes to make the final identification more difficult. Of course, while one player is in the light, the others are all advancing.


We had a jam box in the beer trailer, and we would listen to Motley Crue or Iron Maiden and tell stories about girls we wanted to be with. We read Metal Edge magazine and Petersen’s Hunting. We’d have our own poker games, usually for toothpicks or if we were feeling particularly reckless, pennies. One night we were awakened by Bobby, who had done so well in the real poker game that he marched through the camp singing “Bringing in the Sheaves” at full throat. He was obviously in the Spirit. I still think of Bobby every time I hear that hymn. In the mornings, one of the older guys liked to wake up about 4:00 and cut our power when it was twenty degrees outside. This was supposed to motivate us to get up and get in the woods, but all it ever did for me was make me dig deeper into my sleeping bag.

There were a couple of three-wheelers down there, and Trevor’s cousin Keith could do just about anything on a Honda 200X. It had a clutch like a motorcycle, and it scared the living dickens out of me. It was cold-shouldered, and to start out in first, you had to rev it up and dump the clutch so hard that you popped an involuntary wheelie. There was a more mild-mannered 200S that I nonetheless managed to roll over on my friend Colby and myself trying to climb a rocky, near-vertical hill.

We hunted from ladder stands like the Oil Can Stand, named because the trail to it was marked with a discarded oil can, and Uncle Blackie’s Stand, named of course for Uncle Blackie. Colby killed a nice seven-point out of the Oil Can Stand, and I made the longest shot I’ve ever made on a whitetail deer out of Uncle Blackie’s Stand after Uncle Blackie was getting on in years and didn’t hunt from a tree anymore. Houston had a stand in the crotch of a tree that was nearly thirty feet high, and Trevor once awoke from a sound sleep to shoot two deer practically straight under the tree. If there is any such thing as luck, Trevor has his own share and mine.

We were woods hunters, because this predated green fields and shooting houses. The tractor would not become a deer hunting implement for several years. We’d hang a stand over a likely trail and wait. I still like to hunt that way. The “long” shot I mentioned was stepped off at 163 paces, and was only possible because a bachelor group of bucks ran noisily through an opening on the opposite ridge. One stooped for just a moment to see what could be making that sharp whistling noise, and I dropped him with a Remington Bronze Point from my .270.

As older members quit hunting or passed away, we were eventually promoted to sleeping in the cabin. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep, so I took the top bunk in the front room where the poker game would often go on into the small hours. My appreciation for the game comes from watching the older gentlemen playing. From my vantage point, I could see some of the players’ hands, and I had to remain stone-faced and silent to avoid giving away any information. In one night, I saw more than a thousand dollars change hands over that table, and that was more money than I could even imagine back then.

Trevor’s uncle and Keith’s father Wayne was our camp cook. We boys all called him Uncle Wayne, and the other men called him Big Wayne. I’d hazard a guess that Uncle Wayne went over five hundred pounds, and he snored like nothing I’ve ever heard in my life. Needless to say, he could cook, and he sometimes withheld our breakfast until we younger fellows cleaned out the cabin or washed dishes. I guess my folks had enough of chores when they were growing up on the farm, so I didn’t have many at home. I’m pretty sure the first time my hands ever touched dishwater was at that camp.

There was a cow skull hanging on either side of the front door, and a wooden sign read “YES, THERE IS A LOT OF DEER HUNTED AROUND HERE, BUT THE DEER ARE NOT AWARE OF IT.” A chain fastened to a nail in the door and looped around a nail behind one of the skulls was all we had or needed for security. Splitting firewood and tossing it onto the front porch one year, Troy threw a stick of stove wood through the front window, illustrating the futility of installing any sort of lock. I did spend some cold nights down there when the power went out after some scoundrel stole our wonderful stove. I’ve since been in more comfortable camps, but that one will always have my heart. I keep some spent orange “Hunter” 12 gauge shells in my reloading bench that I took from a shelf in the front room when we finally left the old place for the last time.


The Daniel Hill Sportsmen’s Society

After the Antioch property was sold, the club started hunting out of what had once been a Boy Scout camp in Bethel, TN. The cabin on this property stood before the Civil War, and was originally built without a single nail. Wooden pegs joined the ceiling beams, and some of the square-hewn logs in the walls were over two feet wide. Dogtrots separated the main cabin from two bunk houses. A renovation replaced the original chinking material with concrete and added electricity and running water. Beavers dammed a creek that ran beside the pump-house and flooded the well, so we still hauled drinking water, but we could take a shower or wash dishes with “beaver water.” The group changed its name to the “Daniel Hill Sportsmen’s Society” to honor the man who originally built the cabin. We kept the old sign.


I was out of law school, and I paid dues to help maintain the cabin and pay for luxuries like electricity and television. For the first time, I played with the older members in the poker games. We played dealer’s choice, with a $1 or $2 bet on each card except the last, when the limit jumped to $5. Follow the Queen was always a favorite. One year after subtracting my poker winnings, I paid $2 to hunt the whole season. All those late nights of quietly watching were obviously worthwhile. I was proud to be able to hold my own with these men I admired.

We hunted green fields on this property. I once shot a six-point just before dark from a metal folding chair at the edge of a field within sight of the cabin. I was hunting alone that weekend, so I walked back to the cabin. I used my Jeep to drag the deer down the road to the cabin where I field dressed it. I spread trash bags on the floor and pulled the buck into the kitchen to keep coyotes or wild dogs from finding it before I could return with my Papaw in his pickup.


Roger killed a fourteen-point with some freaky-looking palmate antlers that was one of the nicest bucks I’ve ever seen anywhere. Uncle Wayne hunted his last season from this camp. When he passed away, I looked around at the funeral and saw all the men with whom I’d hunted over the years. His grave site is within walking distance of my Mamaw and Papaw’s house, and when I walked home after the service, I remarked to my folks that it really made me think about the people with whom I spent my time. There aren’t any saints in this bunch, but a young man could do a lot worse for companions.

Another group bought the lease on this property, and that ended my TN hunting career.


Washington County

I didn’t hunt deer for many years, and then I started going with my friend Marty to the “camp-house” he shares with his brother Johnny Mack in Washingtom County, AL. The description is apt, as I’ve lived in many places that were not as nice. That’s the camp truck, “Skippy,” in the photo of me with the fat doe accompanying the “Who is the Armchair Outfitter?” piece. To say that the hunting is good over there would be a massive understatement. I had hunted out of that camp for exactly 28 minutes before that doe was lying dead 90 yards from a shooting house called Number 4. I killed one that could be her twin out of Old No. 7 the last weekend of the 2007-2008 season.


One reason I’m welcome there is that they are overrun with does, and I won’t hesitate to take one. Sure, I’ll wait for a buck, but only if there’s already a doe in the freezer. “Put the meat on the ground,” is my catchphrase, and it has earned me a nickname involving a slang term for either the female part of the anatomy or a cat and “slayer.” I’ve been called worse. I like to take a nice healthy animal, and the Sporting Wife and I can’t eat antlers. This year, Johnny Mack drove to Old No. 7 after hearing my shot, served me a beer out of his cooler and some peanuts, and threw the deer in the back of his truck! Johnny Mack’s son Garrett had taken a nice eight-point earlier the same afternoon. Combine that with poker and Sid or Marty’s cooking, and you can’t have a better deer camp experience.


Tags: Whitetail Deer Hunting

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Greg // Feb 26, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    Let me just add that even non-hunters were welcome at the deer camp, with no pressure to join the hunt nor any requirement to rise before the sun. And, we p***** a hole through that rock.

  • 2 Trevor // Mar 4, 2008 at 5:38 am

    And in my defense it was not a “sound sleep”, but merely a chance to “rest my eyes”. Thank you very much!

  • 3 armchairoutfitter // Mar 4, 2008 at 8:21 am


    I admire your strategy. Sit quietly and still until the deer make enough racket to wake you, and then take them. Whatever works, man! It was great shooting, by the way. May I suggest a safety harness?

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