I love the camaraderie of the deer camp. A group of unshaven men sharing a bit of life and a week’s vacation from the job together in tents or a cabin in the deep woods, or perhaps in campers parked in the edge of the woods, or along a rutted logging road.
If the hunt takes place on private land, they have obtained permission to be there from the landowner, who owns the land and controls access to it, though he does not own the deer that roam there. They belong to all of us.
On opening day, they’re up long before daybreak with a light breakfast and cups of steaming coffee, then head out for their separate stands with their
rifles or slug-loaded shotguns slung over their shoulders.
They’re generally back in camp by noon, the successful ones getting help to drag their deer out, field dress it, and hang it on a wire strung between two oaks.
Someone can cook, or at least open cans of beef stew and heat it over a camp stove. There’s joking and laughter over a trick somebody has played on a fellow hunter. After a hot meal, some may choose to take a short nap before time to head back to the evening stands.
Some tall tales are exchanged around the campfire that night. Just about everyone turns in early, because 4 a.m. comes early.
Some are content to shoot a doe for the tender venison they provide. Always, though, there is a trophy hunter in the crew. He will only shoot at a deer with a super rack. He may go two or three seasons without even taking a shot, or settle for a regular buck on the last day of the season.
Ohio’s gun deer season opens Monday, Nov. 27, and runs through Dec. 3.
FISHING IS BETTER
I would rather be fishing than hunting. Anyone with a week off from work could do both.
I remember one time, not so long ago, I was in deer camp in Ohio with some friends when the temperature climbed to the 70-degree mark. I knew the sauger runs were in full swing on the Ohio River. More than the stand in the woods above a deer trail, I yearned for the feel of a pole in my hands and a fish dancing and yanking down below the surface, trying to take the pole out of my hand if it could.
Mark Hicks, in his 1994 book, “Fishing the Ohio River,” described the first sauger he ever caught:
“It’s back and sides were mottled patches of copper, black and brown. It’s belly was creamy white. It’s tall and spiny dorsal fin was freckled with distinct dark spots. I knew it was a sauger, because I had read of them. The fish is a close cousin of the walleye and its flesh is equally firm, white and sweet.”
They stack up in the tailwaters of the Greenup Dam through December, as well as around the mouths of feeder streams such as Tygarts Creek, Kinniconick Creek, Turkey Creek and the Scioto River – both the big Scioto at Portsmouth and the Little Scioto at Sciotoville.
So I left the deer camp early and that afternoon found me launching my boat at Portsmouth’s Court Street landing.
I motored downstream under the Carl Perkins Memorial Bridge and on to the sandbar jutting out from the Kentucky shore, about a mile below the bridge.
Half an hour later the glass minnow trap brought me several dozen minnows about the size of your index finger.
With the sun making a downward spiral for the ridgetops downstream, I ran back under the Perkins Bridge and dropped anchor at the mouth of the Scioto. I hooked a lively shiner through both lips and, with a split-shot attached to the line about a foot above the hook to take it down, lowered the bait to the bottom, then raised it about a foot.
Immediately I reeled in a 14-inch sauger. I had six more by the time the sun hit the tops of the hills.
In a moment or two I felt a fish take the minnow and nudge the end of my pole downward. I set the hook, gently, and reeled in line as the fish danced and dived and dipped – the feeling I had been longing for, and the longing that took my mind away from the deer camps.
Sure enough, it was a sauger, 14 inches long, and looking just the way Hicks had described him.
The sun went behind the hills, silhouetting the bridge, as I released the fish and headed up for the Court Street landing to take out.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 932-3619.