By V. Paul Reynolds
Back when America produced real leaders, one of them – Gen. Douglas MacArthur – said in one of his famous speeches that “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” Maybe the same is true of old sportsmen.
As a stalwart deer hunter from the Old School, I’m confronting a new social dynamic: most of my contemporary hunt buddies are losing their passion for the hunt. Most of them, although living, will not, for various reasons, be making it to deer camp this fall. Mind you, we have a long history of being together every autumn in the Maine deer woods. I’m talking more than 50 years of sharing space with five guys at the same deer camp November after November for more than a half century!
Of course, there is a blanket explanation: geezerhood, plain and simple. When your vision and hearing is not what it used to be, when your knees crack and your hip hurts, or you are on heart medication, the days in the deer woods can lose their allure.
There is chapter in my book, A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook, called “Five Grumpy Old Men.” It was written a decade or so ago. It was about me and my aging deer-camp contemporaries being weathered in at deer camp for a week. Part of it reads “they have completed their transformational ride from spirited, dauntless, in-their-prime deer hunters to simply Five Grumpy Old Men.
I wrote that particular chapter, despite its thread of cynicism, with appreciation for lasting, deep friendships and brotherly love. As one of the grumpy old men I knew then that my time at camp with these wonderful, colorful characters was fleeting, that our mortality or infirmities would in time dictate an end to the deer camp experience as we knew it.
Most of us, I suspect, use different yardsticks to gauge our time on earth. When I was an enthusiastic young hunter standing a deer vigil on a cold cedar stump, I sometimes passed the time by pondering life’s imponderables. It struck me that – boiled down – my life span could be measured by X number of November deer hunts. The unanswerable question, of course, was how many deer hunts would there be?
If all goes well I will be putting my rifle on the gun rack at deer camp again this fall. I won’t be alone. My sons and other second generation camp mates, and, perhaps even a third generation hunter or two, will be around the campfire. There will still be the early morning aroma of bacon in the pan and heat radiating from the old wood stove. Above all, there will be manly laughter and stories galore. If we are lucky there may even be a buck on the game pole.
With or without my aging friends at camp, who, along with me, started the Skulkers of Seboeis more than 50 years ago, it will still be a good deer camp. As Tom Heberlein wrote in Legendary Deer Camps, “..a good deer camp needs multiple generations, with old men to tell the stories and young men to sit and listen with wide eyes. It needs some serious hunters to make the new stories, and some camp men to make sure that the floors are swept and the dishes washed.”
This old Skulker, after all these years, still can’t wait to get to deer camp. If climbing over blowdowns and negotiating bogs and fir thickets proves to be too much for me, there is always plenty of inside chores to keep me busy.
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide and host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has three books .Online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.com..
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