My first deer camp was at Tippecanoe River State Park. It was the early 1990s, and I was just 12 or 13. It was only my uncle Tom, cousin Derek and I.
We slept on the ground in a tent with sleeping bags. There was nothing fancy about it, but the two-night trip changed my life.
Hunting can be a solitary experience, especially deer hunting. You spend a lot of time alone, often 15 feet or so up in a tree, which affords you ample opportunity to sit and think deeply in the comfort of nature. It’s a huge reason why hunting is so enjoyable.
But for me, the greatest joy comes from the time spent sharing hunting experiences with others.
When the Indiana firearms deer season opens Nov. 18, there will be deer camps scattered in every county across the state. Some will be hosted at fancy cabins on managed private property, while others will be tent camps on public land.
No matter the comfort of the campsite, family and friends gathering together for the annual fall tradition of deer camp will create great memories.
Food is an important aspect of camp. You eat a lot of meals in your life, so to vividly remember one, it had to be special. My uncle took ground venison seasoned with Worcestershire sauce, salt and black pepper, wadded it up in a ball and added diced carrots, potatoes and onions. He wrapped it in tin foil and placed it directly on the outer edge of the hot coals of our campfire. We ate that meal on a picnic table surrounded by empty campsites in a forest of trees that had shed their leaves.
I’ll never forget how good it was and how grown up I felt at that moment.
The final preparations are complete. All of the tree stands and ground blinds are up. A large stack of seasoned firewood is next to the fire pit. Deer camp is just around the corner. I’m like a kid waiting on Christmas.
Friday night, we’ll start the weekend off in fine fashion, with a venison chili supper followed by the first campfire of deer season. Sitting around the crackling flames, I’ll soak in the reality of completing another trip around the sun.
I’m reminded of time by the passing and coming of seasons. Not spring, summer, winter and fall; I measure instead by deer, turkey, trout and duck.
How quickly the time has passed since I was the young boy sitting fireside, looking up to my uncle who was so willing to give of himself to guide my development as a hunter.
For so many people, deer season is about so much more than shooting deer. It is the one time of year, for a very short window, when hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers put aside the stresses of everyday life to focus intensely on time outdoors. It is a time to reflect the hunters who came before us and pass on our tradition to those who will follow.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler writes a weekly outdoors column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.