Friday, December 12, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Deer Camp

Tomorrow is the last day of PA's rifle season, and our camp will be makin' the last minute push to get some deer on the ground. I stumbled on this article from a local rag the other day, and it got me to thinkin' about the ol' timers who have made their final trip to camp... a day we all must face at some point.

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By AD CRABLE | Staff Writer


 John M. Herr has been making the pilgrimage to the Stony Battery Hunting Camp in Centre County since 1936.

That was the year he turned 18 and was out of high school. His father, John H. Herr, felt strongly about the importance of a good education and did not allow his eight children to miss school, even for deer camp.

The only years Herr did not make it to deer camp were the three during World War II when he was in a B-17 as the lead bombardier on bombing missions over Germany.

When he got home, his father died suddenly a week after deer camp. The oldest in the family, he took over running things.

But deer camp was a touchstone that was always there and didn’t disappoint.

He’d push deer and take his turn as a stander with his .35 Remington that he’s had since the 1930s.

Now, at age 96, for the first time, he may not make the drive this weekend to his beloved deer camp that’s been a fixture for generations of Herrs since 1907.

The retired carpenter hadn’t hunted for three years. “I just can’t walk the hills anymore,” he says matter-of-factly from his Kirkwood home where he lives with his younger sister, Verna Herr, 92.

“I just didn’t want them to worry about me while I was out hunting.”

Understandable since the camp has always done its deer hunting with strenuous drives up and down mountains. “When I first started, you never even heard of a treestand,” he points out.

The old hunter’s last deer drive was in 2008 when he underwent heart bypass surgery.

But he remained camp cook until two years ago. The hunters awoke to sizzling sausage and scrapple each morning to get the oomph to get over those mountains.

But Herr still oversees paying the camp’s bills, as well as the log of who gets a deer — and who misses.
And he’s always been in camp for, like, forever. And he always stays two weeks. He was there in October for the annual woodcutting weekend. He didn’t tell anyone then he wouldn’t be in camp for the season opener Monday.

That’s because he just made the decision a few weeks ago. Various health issues forced his hand. He’s had heart bypass surgery, a hip replacement and two ailing knees that were never replaced.

“I’m going to miss it, you better believe,” he says. “I will miss everything. The fellowship. I’ll miss all of that and they’ll miss me too.

“We had a fellowship that you won’t find in most camps. We just got along. It was always that way.”
His brother, William, 92, who has heart problems, won’t be going either, not that that’s any consolation.
At one point in the interview, when asked what he will miss most, John Herr blurts out, “I’m not saying I won’t go up.” He does drive to camp by himself each year.

But his sister quickly responds, “ I am saying you won’t go up!”

That defiant notion suppressed, Herr gets back to imagining a deer season without deer camp.

“I’ll be thinking about it, yeah,” he says. “You can’t get that out of your head. That’s part of life.”

Many deer camps can be on the rustic side. But for almost 40 years, Charles W. Book and fellow hunters braved the elements in tents or two primitive open-sided stone shelters in a clearing off a dirt road in Potter County.

The dinky 5-acre Prouty Place State Park was the setting for a lifetime of memories for “Bud” Book, 85, a retired Lancaster city firefighter.

Fellow bowhunters George Martin and Henry W. “Hen” Fischer and others made the pilgrimage, same time each year, for the archery, rifle and flintlock deer hunts.

Eventually, the shelters, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression, were torn down and the hunters set up large tents and placed tarps over picnic tables to eat.

Heat was generated by a good sleeping bag and light by gas lanterns.

Over time, Book lost many of his hunting companions. Then, Fischer, too, was gone.

Around the time Book retired, in 1989, he started hunting back in Lancaster County on a farm in Drumore Township.

He hunted there for years until his knees got so bad he had to walk across the fields with a cane to get to his treestand. Eventually, it got too hard to climb into the tree-stand.

In a completely satisfying transition, Book started putting his son, Charles “Chuck” Book, and grandchildren in the treestand while he kept a watchful eye below.

“I didn’t even take my gun along then,” he recalls. “I just went down because I wanted them to get a deer. I’d let them sit up in my treestand and I sat under the tree. I’d be half asleep and I’d hear their gun go off and it would scare the daylights out of me.”

He was present when his grandson, Garrett, got his first deer, a doe, with a flintlock. And when another grandson, Zach, got his first doe with a rifle.

Zach was eager to take the deer home to show his mom. Book told Zach’s dad, Mike Daminger, to take over the treestand. By the time he drove his grandson home, his son-in-law also had taken his first deer.
A few months after Garrett got his first deer with Book’s original .243 rifle, he found it wrapped under the Christmas tree. Book bought another .243 and gave it away also when Zach bagged his first deer.

“I loved going out with my grandkids,” he says. “I was just never interested in getting a deer when they were along. I just wanted to see them get one. As a matter of fact, in later years I wasn’t even interested in getting a deer. I believe I got a little mellower as I got older and I didn’t want to kill anything.

“I’d aim at them, put the crosshairs on them, take the safety off and say, ‘Gotcha!’ then put the safety back on and put the gun back down on my lap. I did that more than once. Now, anytime a nice buck would come along, I wouldn’t have done that.”

He remembers the oldest hunts most vividly. “Some of my best hunts were Hen, Chuck and me. We’d build a campfire every night and talk,” he says.

Book hasn’t gone on a deer hunt for close to six years now. But he’s OK with that.

“I have grandsons and a granddaughter who love hunting. I’ve just had a good life. I never got many bucks but I always had a good time, and that’s what’s important.”

Ad Crable is a LNP outdoors writer. Email him at Read his outdoors blog at Follow him on Twitter at @AdCrable.

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