Sunday, November 30, 2014

PA Deer Camp

Tomorrow mornin', the Pennsylvania woods will look like a pumpkin patch, as the damn-near world-famous "Orange Army" descends upon the landscape in search of "da turdy-point buck". It seems there are less and less camps bein' filled around the state, but for many of the 750,000 Pennsyltucky hunters, the traditions that come with Opening Day continue to live on. Since I lucked out and got a buck with the ol' stick and string, I'll be absent from the Deer Eve festivities up at Ron's this year, but I hope to make up for it the first weekend, when the doe season opens.

I've posted this before, and I'll post it again. I'll never be confused with an emotional critter, but this fine piece of prose does the trick every time. H/T to the Main Line Sportsman, a most excellent wordsmith. Best of luck to you, my friend, and to all the hunters out there in PA.

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Opening day has varied meanings in different regions. To baseball fans it is the first pitch. To fly fisherman it is a morning on the stream.To Keystone state deer hunters it is the Monday after Thanksgiving when deer are hunted with rifles.For me, for many years, it is a trip to Deer Camp in Pike County and a cabin on a ridge above the Delaware river in Pennsylvania's northeast hardwood deer country.The experience and the memories begin during the drive. Beeches,Oaks and Hemlocks are framed black against the failing sun as you turn off Route 209.

When you drive off the paved road, there is the weathered grey wood sign "Camp Reform" bearing a carved outline of a high-powered rifle shell. The trucks and jeeps are parked in the wet leaves around the cabin and a dull yellow light pierces the Pocono darkness from the front window. Mounting the porch you see the jugs of spring water and the stacked cases of beer. The door always sticks so you give it a hard yank and you are met with the smell of cigar,woolen clothes,gun oil and the earnest greetings of the boys...your brethren,your hunting buddies. These are guys you went to ollege and law school with, as well as local old timers who grew up in and around Stroudsburg.In this cabin there is no pretense or posturing; just hunters gathered for a yearly pursuit of bucks and camaraderie unique to a hunting cabin.

At the table is Chick, 80 years old and still hunting. He wears the same black and red checked hunting cap, which is probably from a pre-war Woolrich catalogue and faded fatigue green khakis. He is fond of cranking up the wood stove and putting a galvanized pail of water on top.This arrangement gets the cabin sweltering like a botanist's hot-house... even though some years it is 60 degrees and raining outside. If you screw up and miss a shot, Chick will call you a Dutchman. He remembers guys who used to trap with your Grandfather. You covet his old deer rifle and feel privileged to talk to a sage old hunter of his wisdom and years. He says little but when he does speak we listen and it is either deer hunting wisdom or some damn funny story from a hunt 40 years back.

Benzley is at the table, a face and carriage like John Wayne and a Lucky Strike perched in his mouth. He is the Captain and you pay deference to his experience and woodsman's knowledge. He was a Marshall and a Sheriff and even in hunting clothes and a wrinkled orange cap has a distinct aura of law enforcement authority. He makes you feel welcome and will put you on a good deer stand the next morning because you are Jon's buddy from Lehigh. Benzley fries the eggs and scrapple in the morning and makes coffee that could erode a slab of Appalachian rock. He drops you off at a carefully selected deer stand in his old Chevy truck and leaves you in the cold dark morning with a wish for good luck and usually a remark about not missing. Benzley picks you up when the sun drops over the ridge and by that time of the late afternoon your cold toes and hands welcome the light glow of his headlights coming up the logging road. He tells you where to watch for does and following bucks near a certain tree or stand of Rhododendron because he knows. Most of what you know about deer hunting comes from listening to Benzley and from hunting with him.

Roy stands up from the big table in the middle of the cabin and slaps your back. He asks how the goose hunting has been and wants to show you his new rifle...all the while hurling loving insults at Larry. Roy can drop a deer at 85 yards that is at a full run and put the lead projectile right in the "engine room" behind the front shoulder. Roy's wife has sent up 3 pans of lasagna for dinner. The sauce is from a jar and she uses too much ricotta...but it is filling and you eat 3 plates full out of respect. Roy can help you zero in your scope and knows the best loads for your .35 Remington for different stands where your shots are at varied distance and maybe thru thick brush.

Larry is the much loved and dumpy jester of the crew.His face is more Norman Rockwell hobo than anything else. He is in his early 70's and makes gag-inducing dandelion wine...but excellent syrup from a Maple sugarbush on his land. Larry's homemade scrapple is the best you'll ever get....made with buckwheat instead of cornmeal from a pig he kills every November. Larry has a bone saw in his garage and will butcher your deer for you.... a skill he learned in the woods but refined working at the A&P. He also dabbles in making "shine" and when you sit down, he hands you a "Veryfine" juice bottle of corn liquor that surprisingly has some color and age to it and hits the throat with less burn than you anticipate.The whiskey adds to the warmth of friendship you feel in the room. Larry is a guileless rural gentleman who asks questions about events in Philly and how the Eagles will make out. He is sure to remind you that Roy is a candy-ass and old Chick will out-hunt all of us and that John is getting uppity since being elected mayor and then Common Pleas Judge. Larry can shoot an acorn off an Oak at 100 yards and has great Navy stories. Larry used to be a bit wary because he figured you have money...but years of hunting together filed down that edge.

Jon is there at the table cleaning his .45 side arm. He carries this Colt revolver to his stand and swears one day he will drop a buck with it. A Lehigh and Law school classmate with a disarming smile,a wealth of charm and country wit and a surgical intellect and intelligence that he keeps well hidden at Camp... but unleashes on the County Bench in his role as Judge. He pitched for Lehigh, excelled in Law school and is engaged with passing to his sons the etiquette and ritual of Camp. Jon asks about the pheasant hunting, your wife and kids and makes his yearly excuse about missing the Lehigh v. Lafayette game. He spits his Skoal wad in a styrofoam cup and gets you up to date about his kids, his wife, County politics and where the deer are moving. Jon is the Co-Captain of the Camp and has killed his share of deer and knows these woods like a bookie knows the line on the Eagles/Cowboys game. Much of the ground we hunt on was taken from his grandfather by the Federal Government via eminent domain when they built the dam on the Delaware and created the Delaware Water-Gap National park. This affront still stings him and he is no fan of the Park Service or their intrusions. He knows I am from the Main Line but gives me a pass because I know what a "farmer's rain" is and because some of my people came to his County in the 1700's and because my Grandfather grew up in a house down the street from his and hunted and trapped these woods and rivers in the '20s, and because I know my way around a deer camp, and around these woods and around a duck blind and have a good bird dog of my own. You know Jon is one of the best guys you will ever know and you mentally kick yourself in the ass for not seeing him more often.

Bammer is another Lehigh crony who happens to live in New Jersey now and apologizes for it frequently. A broad shouldered ex-football player,he gives you a bear-hug and belts a shot of moonshine with you and makes sure you always have a fresh cold beer from the porch. Bammer makes the evening meal a sporting competition and can consume massive amounts of whatever is plated before him. He can drag a deer 2 miles through Pike County woods like a John Deere tractor and will always show up to help you gut and skin whatever deer you may shoot. He also expects and demands that I bring at least 2 of my Mom's Shoo-Fly pies. These are the wet-bottom variety that eclipse the cake-like junk fed to the tourists by the Amish down in Lancaster. These pies are from her great-grandmother's recipe and my Mom hits the ball over the fence every time she makes them. The pies are the first thing Bammer asks about after releasing the bear hug.Only after the pies have been produced from the truck does he ask about how things have been going since you last hunted together.

After dinner the Sunday night football game is flickering on a piece-of-shit 19 inch TV wedged in the corner. Smoke from the stove mixes with cigarettes and cigars and the stories and raunchy jokes pierce the humidity of Chick's water bucket heater contraption. Talk soon turns to where we will hunt the next morning and where the big bucks might be. A few hands of cards are played but the heat and the whiskey make you drowsy and you hit a bunk earlier than normal because you are getting up at 0-dark thirty. As you drift off and ignore the snoring and the creaking racks... you have a child's Christmas eve-like hope that you will clip the big buck the next morning. You inventory your hunting gear in your mind and the comfort and familiarity of deer camp is your last thought before sleep.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

First snow of the year

Three to six inches in our local area. This is about when it started fallin' last year... hopefully this year ain't as bad, but who knows.

I love snow. I just hate drivin' in it and shovellin' it.

Gone huntin' (and workin')

The way my work schedule's laid out, I more or less have a "heaven" week and then a "hell" week. I'll work five 12-hour shifts in seven days, then only work one 12-hour shift durin' the followin' seven day stretch. There's a smatterin' of milkin' shifts and bar shifts thrown into both of those scenarios which also make life interestin'. Regardless, I run myself into the ground with work for a week, then run myself into the ground chasin' adventures the next week. Hence, the reason you don't see nearly as much from me here as you used to. It was a helluva lot easier to keep this blog up when I made my livin' in front of a computer....

Anyway, November is purty much one of the best huntin' months of the entire year. The whitetail deer rut usually peaks in the first week, durin' the tail of our archery season. Then it's on to Bear Camp, our annual Thanksgivin' mornin' waterfowl hunt, then Deer Camp. Sprinkle in a mix of pheasants, rabbits, ducks and geese into the mix, and you got one helluva busy huntin' month. Work is merely a nuisance that keeps me outta the woods a few days a week.

Now that everyone's stopped readin', I'll get to the good stuff.

I had to work the Tuesday after Bowhunter's Weekend, and then I had two more days off before my "hell" week began. Since it was the final week of archery season, I planned to spend both days in a familiar stand at the farm.

Wednesday yielded plenty of deer, but no legal buck. I got to enjoy yet another beautiful sunrise, so not all was lost.

Thursday mornin' was about the same, although I had a very close encounter with a beautiful pair of red foxes that were eye-level with me at less than five yards. I did manage to unstring an arrow at one at about 20 yards, but wasn't able to anchor it. While I was down retrievin' that arrow, I decided to move my stand about 60 yards, which turned out to be a good plan.

On a side note, I was sittin' there for damn near three hours before I discovered my little brother's bow hook, forgotten in a tree less than five yards in front of my face. Seems Joe and I both thought this to be a purty good spot.

The rest of the mornin' passed uneventfully before a hellish sleet storm moved in. After sittin' through that for over an hour, the deer started to move. Before long, a nice buck ran a doe right under me, and I finally managed to get him stopped. He took the 100-grain muzzy right through the boiler room at 40 yards... it was a better shot than either of us deserved.

Between the cold and the adrenaline, I was shakin' uncontrollably, so I got myself outta the tree before I fell out. I found my arrow, and a short 60-yard track led me to a piled-up buck. With 90 minutes left in my archery season, I'd been blessed with a little bit of luck.

He's a young deer, but my best archery buck. He'll make for a very nice euro mount. I may even get froggy and try the power-washer method, as recommended by CenTexTim.

On another side note, I became an uncle again a few hours after I shot my buck. Jesse's wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy in the wee hours of Friday mornin' I was purty much on Cloud Nine all day Friday after all the excitement.

And, of course, the best part of gettin' a fat ol' deer is the obligitory tenderloin feast a few days later. Some folks are weird and put 'em in the freezer, but not me. Those delectable little morsels are usually enjoyed within 72 hours of the harvest. A little Old Bay seasonin', some pepper out of the grinder, and fried in butter beside some sauteed mushrooms and onions.... some damn good eatin' right there. Enjoy with a rum and coke for better appeal.

Durin' the gaps of the followin' hell week, I was able to get the buck cut up and in the freezer, so when I finally came up for air, it was time to go huntin' again.

First thing's first, Joe and I hit up the range last Friday for some trigger therapy, and to make sure our deer rifles were ready to go. On the way home, we stopped at a local gun shop and found a right purty Mossberg 835 12-gauge. Joe's buddy Batts had been lookin' for the right deal on a good pump gun, and this was it. The next day, with new gun in hand, the three of us headed for the local game lands to try to score a pheasant. With the very first pull of the trigger, Batts put down a beautiful rooster with his new gun. That was our only action that evenin', but it was still a nice tromp through the switchgrass.

Monday mornin' found me up at Bear Camp, ready to do some chasin' with the gang. I damn near stepped on one durin' our first chase, but the mountain laurel was so doggone thick that I never was able to see the bear. I'd guess he was within seven yards when he busted out, so the ol' ticker was definitely tickin' for a few seconds. We had four good chases that day, but that was our only action. Those boys are a helluva lotta fun to hunt with, and although I only made it up for one day, I had a great time.

So, tomorrow mornin' will find the Ol' Man and us kids in a duck blind somewhere, as we do every Thanksgivin' mornin'. Then, Dad and Joe will be off to Deer Camp, with Jesse and I followin' the next weekend when doe season opens.

It sure is a busy time of year, but it's damn near the best time of year.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pennsyltucky foliage

We live on a right nice back road that is heavily wooded and doesn't see too much in the way of traffic. With the turnin' of the leaves in the last few weeks, the pilgrimage home from work has been rather pleasant. On a particularly nice day a few weeks ago, I jumped on the bike specifically to ride a half-mile up the road to take this picture. The lightin' ain't quite what I wanted, but I'll take what I could get.

I'm a day late and a dollar short on this post, as most of these purty leaves have long since been on the ground. There's still a few hangin' on for dear life though, so I'll enjoy it while I can.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bowhunter's Weekend '14

We were tryin' to figger out how long we've been gettin' together for Bowhunter's Weekend, and we think this may have been the tenth year. Go, us!

As always, it was a hellva good time amongst good friends. It's a good thing the food was excellent and the beer was cold, because the deer whooped our asses this year.

We had a handful of folks out on the river over goose decoys, and they came back with a pair of honkers. We also had a handful of turkey hunters out and about, but all they had to show was a collective three whiffs. The rest of us were bowhuntin', and while there was several close calls for most of us, and a pair of whiffs by the ol' man, the only deer to come back to camp was arrowed by the camp rookie. My girl's brother Josh and his girl Lauren made the trek north. On her first trip to camp, Lauren showed the rest of us up by bringin' back a fat button buck, her second archery deer.

Bowhunter's Weekend is prolly my second favorite weekend of the year, behind the Spring Gobbler opener. It would certainly not be so without such a great group of friends, and the ridiculous generosity and patience of our camp host, Ron.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I'm not dead

Just busy, and half the time, when I do get the urge to post, my ol' PC gives me a hard enough time that I just give up.

In the meantime, the 2014 Bowhunter's Weekend is upon us. I think damn near everyone took tomorrow off, as camp is packed already.

Stay tuned for pictures of deceased and delicious critters...