Preperation Deer Camp
After the first break of the summer heat, many people start to prepare for the big events of the fall. Young men start football practice. Parents begin the back to school shopping that will decimate bank accounts for the next few months, and then holiday shopping will take the rest of the years funds. For a lot of East Texans, it also signals the beginning of deer camp preparations. To insure a successful and meaningful deer season, hunters know they need to start early. Hard work in August and September could mean success in November and December.
Getting ready for deer season has changed for me through the years. Most of the people I grew up with didn't even know there was a deer season, sure they shot deer, but they did it year around. Preparing for deer hunting meant changing the batteries in their spotlights and feeding their deer dogs. For those reasons, there weren't a lot of deer on the farm while I grew up. There are only a few passing does spotted on the farm today, but that is a lot more than I ever saw growing up. Of course there were hunting clubs down on the Neches, but my family did not make deer hunting a priority, (we were squirrel hunters.) In order for my brother Bil and me to hunt deer, we had to scout out places on the national forests. We preferred the Davy Crockett Forest, as did half of the then free world.
We would look for a place that was accessible by truck, which had water near by and had clear shooting lanes. There are more places that fit these criteria than you would think, so we looked for a new place every year, hoping to get lucky one day. Bil hunted for deer more than I did, but I don't think he ever had success on the National Forest. I know I didn't.
I became a full-fledged deer hunter while living in Austin, Texas. I had a good friend there that lived to hunt. I was somewhat familiar with the process, with my agrarian background, and soon we became hunting buddies. During the months between the close of one deer season and the beginning of another we would hunt deer leases. We traveled all over South and West Texas looking for the perfect lease. We wanted one that was easy to get to, cheap, and had game. This became an obsession for us, and we literally spent at least one weekend per month looking at leases. The ironic part is that we had the perfect deer lease all along. Dan, (my friend,) was a gifted musician. He was aquatinted through his musical connections with the son of a wealthy Houston Lawyer who had a ranch in Dripping Springs, Texas. Dripping Springs is just west of Austin, less than a half-hour drive from Dan's house. The lawyer let Dan and his friends hunt on that ranch for free, so the location and price were right. It was also teaming with deer, and no one in the area hunted them. It was perfect.
To prepare for deer season Dan and I would start to build stands in trees and put out our feeders in the summer. Dan only bow hunted, and that was how we got this prime property to begin with. The owner felt that since we only hunted with bow and arrows, we would be less likely to destroy things and cause problems with neighbors. He was right, we never had a run in with people in the area, and most were glad to have us around, the deer there were becoming a nuisance. We had to clear shooting lanes through the brush as well, since we used arrows and not bullets. I am by nature a little lax when it comes to safety, and why I never seriously got hurt clearing shooting paths proves God's presence. The worst example of not using common sense was when another man was helping us prepare for deer season.
This man was on disability from the Houston Police Department because of injuries sustained while on "the job." He could still climb trees and work, and went bow hunting with us occasionally. I happened to glance up at the tree stand he was working on. He was clearing shooting lanes by trimming the branches of a large Live Oak tree. He had a bow saw and was cutting a branch while straddling the branch. I yelled up at him and told him that he was literally sawing the branch out from under his feet. He yelled back that he knew that and that he wasn�t an idiot, and he showed me that he had tied a safety line to a large branch to keep him from accidentally falling. As I looked up I couldn't believe my eyes; he had tied his safety line to the branch he was cutting. If I had not wandered by and brought this to his attention the limb would have certainly jerked him out of the tree. I now knew why this man was on disability.
Deer camps are usually a different place. The accommodations can run from very nice lodges and cabins to tents or even a plastic tarp stretched over a large tree trunk. My friend John Thannisch had an old army MASH tent as headquarters on his Central Texas deer lease. I never got to see it in person, but I have seen pictures. Since we never spent the night at the Dripping Springs place, we didn't have a camp.
The other things that need to be serviced and brought to working order in the summer before deer season are the hunting vehicles. I have seen some outstanding hunting trucks in my life, and since I like ugly trucks, these are very special to me. One vehicle stands above the others though. I had another friend in Austin that spent more money deer hunting than I. He was part of a large lease near Llano, Texas. He had a four-wheel drive Chevy pick-up when I first met him, and that was he used to go deer hunting in. He traded his truck for a brand new Jeep Wagoner one spring, and it was nice. It was way too nice to drive around the deer lease in. He knew of my fondness for ugly trucks and wanted to know if I had one or knew where he could get his hands on one. I didn't have one at the time, but had noticed an ad in the Sunday paper advertising a sheriff's sale for confiscated and abandoned vehicles. I suggested that that might be a good place to find a deer camp truck.
We went to the auction. We were looking for a small import four wheel drive or at least a good truck for cheap. We had seen the ads where a person could buy a good vehicle for "pennies on the dollar." Maybe you can, but not there. There was a reason those cars had been abandoned. We did find one possible purchase however, and we bought a 1973 Caprice Classic station wagon for two hundred dollars. It had lots of rust on the body, a cracked windshield, torn upholstery, and the engine smoked. It was a perfect deer camp car. We got it home and started to work on it. The engine smoked a lot, it was not a casual smoker, it was more the four pack a day chain smoker. I decided that Tom needed to carry a lot of re-refined motor oil with him and let it smoke. That would be cheaper than a new motor. The paint was a dark maroon color and the car had lots of rust. We decided to work with this and paint the car a special camouflaged color of maroon, rust and bondo brown. It really didn't look like a paint job; it looked more like graffiti covered rail car. It actually worked; the brown colors blended with the Autumn Hill Country foliage. We ripped out the third seat and lay the second seat down and installed a piece of plywood as a truck bed to haul things on .It was starting to take shape as a classic camp vehicle.
The worst thing we did was with the windshield. Sometimes I get too creative, and when people don't stop me I do stupid things. I decided that the best thing to do with the windshield was to remove it. I removed it; I did not just smash it out. I did not replace it however. Since there was no front windshield, I thought it only fair to remove the back window to make it more aerodynamic. There are reasons I am not an engineer, I that was one. Since the car had no windshield, it had no inspection sticker. My friend did not want to take the car to the lease on a trailer but was scarred to drive it. I was not as opposed to driving a car that was not street legal, so I volunteered to drive the car to his lease.
We left late at night, to miss traffic and to lessen the likelihood of meeting a DPS trooper. I had never driven a motorcycle before, but with no windshield driving that car was like hitting the road on a very large Harley. I had to wear goggles to keep the bugs out of my eyes and had to keep my mouth shut or be prepared to swallow some bugs. The hour and a half drive to the deer camp was exhilarating. The car ran fine and we made it there only stopping to refill the oil once. As far as I know, the wagon is still there.
I have heard other people tell stories of favorite deer camp trucks. I have heard hair-raising tales of wasps, raccoons, snakes and skunks in camp houses. Every deer hunter has their favorite deer stand story, and other yarns about things that have happened getting ready for deer season. I think that sometimes the preparation can be as much fun as the hunting, and that is why so many of us do it. It is not what you kill during the season; it's how you set the year up that is fun. Why else would we work so hard in the hot summer days? We look forward to the fellowship and camarade, of swapping stories and getting ready to spend weekends without women, and when the weather starts to turn, something inside of us starts to drive us to prepare. Women "nest" before they have babies and men "camp" before deer season. It is just part of nature.