I can’t prove this scientifically, of course, but I’m confident that the first deer camp was organized within, at most, a few days after human beings and whitetail deer first stumbled upon one another in North America. I’m sure it’s also safe to assume that the members of most deer camps were either relatives or very close friends of relatives. Getting invited to become a member of one of these groups would have been nearly impossible were it not for the fact that larger, faster and stronger predators often created vacancies.
Nowadays, far more vicious, albeit allegedly more civilized, monsters do their best feast on deer hunters, but other than that, not much has changed in the past 12,000 years. Most deer camps are still made up of a close-knit group of family members and/or friends, who gather to hunt deer and to renew their relationships every fall. Today, however, a few deer camps are rebuilt from scratch each year, because their primary purpose is to promote a particular product or cause.
I’ve been the organizer of family/friend deer camps, I’ve organized special purpose deer camps, I’ve been a direct invitee to both types of camps and I’ve been a friend-of-a friend quasi invitee. The following tips on how to be invited to join a deer camp and how to not be invited back to one are based on that experience.
Space prohibits spending much time discussing promotional hunts. As a rule, hunts intended to support causes are open to anyone who’s willing to show up for the prerequisite pre-hunt meetings and, in some cases, pay a fee. This type of hunt rarely includes an actual camp. At the other end of the scale, hunts that promote specific products or locations are usually limited to specific invitees (i.e. outdoor or travel writers.) Many of these hunts are staged out of well-equipped camps. In either case, being part of a large group of like-minded people while being able to enjoy a day or two of guided deer hunting is more than worthwhile.
The all-important first step in being invited to join a private hunting camp is to do some research by talking to members of the group. On the one hand, this research will help identify camps with closed memberships–a long since disbanded camp consisting of a friend, the friend’s son, my son and myself is a prime example. On the other hand, general conversations with friends or work associates can reveal the existence of deer camps which are either seeking new members or which will at least entertain the idea.
Once a potential deer camp has been identified, keep in mind that newcomers are more readily accepted if they can bring something positive to the group. This can be as nonspecific as being willing to shoulder a full share of the general work load to as specific as having a talent for cooking, equipment maintenance, tracking or meat processing.
A willingness to accept limited participation at first is also helpful. For example, many groups strongly discourage members from bringing guests on opening weekend but encourage it later in the season. If you need consolation for missing the first few days of the season, consider this: the traditional stands used by established members who’ve filled their tags may now be available. This can be an important consideration, because while the members of some camps take pride in putting first-time visitors on the best stands, others do not.
We all have bad days, and the lead-up to deer season can be stressful. That said, while any camp worth being a part of will forgive an occasional bout of peevishness, constant whining is a sure way to avoid being invited to return. Chronic temporary absences when there’s work to be done is another sure way to become permanently absent. And as I hope goes without saying, lapses in judgment regarding firearms safety or the use of alcohol are justifiable grounds for an immediate invitation to leave.
One thing that shouldn’t be a factor in becoming part of a deer camp is being a deer hunter. I’ve been in several deer camps that included one or more people who had no interest whatever in killing a deer. Believe me, those of us who hunted from dawn to dusk appreciated all the things our non-hunter camp mates did around while we were gone. In one instance in northern Missouri, this included shooting enough pheasants to provide the main ingredient for a gourmet meal. Need I say that he was on the “A List” from then on?
Here’s one final hint. Youthful enthusiasm kept under control can be huge asset to anyone who’d like to join the deer hunting fraternity. This will become increasingly true as the hunting population ages.
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]