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AP file photo by Carolyn Kaster / Deer hunters look forward to the chance to go after a big buck as fall fades and winter moves in, and along with that for many of them comes the annual trip to deer camp, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.

Maybe you have heard. It's been in all the papers (for those of us who still read the paper): Deer season, meaning the rifle season for buck deer, is in full swing in much of the country.

Now if you are like many readers looking at this crazy column, having a second cup of coffee or slurping your Cheerios, deer season being a current event may not mean much to you. If you are a member of the orange army that pursues the whitetail deer, however, this time of year is IT. I mean Christmas, New Year's, your birthday and the last day of school all rolled into one. Deer hunters live for deer season, and for many of them, it also means going to deer camp.

Now deer camp — which is going to be a hunting camp — can mean different things to different people. The actual camp can take many different forms. It could be a two-room shanty built on dubious squatter's rights land next to a national forest, a big wall tent that gets hauled out every year for just this event or a cabin your dad and his brothers built that summer they were on strike. Many deer camps consist of a big yellow school bus, transformed on the inside with a kitchen, several bunks for sleeping, and a wood stove for heating

It doesn't really matter how big or fancy the structure is, it's deer camp for that time of year.

Deer camp. To a deer hunter, those two words are magical and something that hangs around in the back of your head all year long. You don't suspect that you are thinking about it in July when you are mowing grass and going to the beach, but you are. Deer camp. That almost mythical place that you thought you never would be old enough to go to. The years would not pass quickly enough so that you could get in the truck on the Friday evening before the opener and head to the mountains with Dad, Granddad and a couple of burly uncles who always seemed to be teasing you about something. You didn't care, though; you were going to deer camp.

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Staff file photo / Big bucks may be the target at deer camp, but there are plenty of other things that keep hunters coming back each year to get together and add new members to the group, writes outdoors columnist Larry Case.

Those of you that have a long history with deer camp know a big part of this experience is the food. Some camps have an assigned cook who has been in that position for many years. They are in charge of all things dealing with meals, and woe be to the newbie in camp who ventures into the kitchen and attempts to tell them something about cooking. They usually end up on dishwashing duty. The food itself is usually very savory, very filling and probably doesn't conform to anyone's diet restrictions on carbs or fat content.

This is deer camp. You eat what the crowd is eating and wish you could eat this way all year long.

There are going to be a lot of fried potatoes, sausage, bacon, gravy and biscuits at breakfast, along with gallons of hot coffee so strong that a horseshoe can stand straight up in it. Don't ask for a double mocha latte at deer camp, or you will probably wind up in the kitchen with the guy washing greasy pots and pans. For those who come into the cabin for lunch, there will be a big pot of firehouse chili with cornbread (of course), saltine crackers, a big wedge of rat cheese and other fixings. Either that or maybe a huge pot of beef stew with grilled cheese sammiches (it's a word, look it up). After all that for lunch, some make it back out on their deer stands, while others may surrender for the day.

The main event at deer camp is, of course, the evening meal. I am told that sometimes there is a period just before supper when some of the members may partake of some attitude adjustment libations, and as a result the discussion may get somewhat lively on such things as which deer rifle is the best (this has been argued since Lewis and Clark came back from their little expedition), why we're seeing so many coyotes right now or (shudder) local politics. Regardless of how animated this gets, at the preordained time the cook shuts off the proceedings, a member is asked to say grace, and every ballcap is doffed and every head bowed.

If you think the actual hunting aspect may sometimes take a back seat to other things at deer camp, you could be right, but hunting does actually occur. Some members of deer camp are more serious than others and get on their stands at first light and will stay all day, while others have a more leisurely pace. When someone brings in a buck, all hands gather round and inspect the prize. If it is less than an old mossy-horned monster, the successful hunter can prepare for a round of razzing from his buddies about the ethics of taking immature deer.

The very best scenes appear when a young hunter proudly rides into camp with that first buck and is congratulated by everyone there, even the grouchy old cook. It will be a lifelong memory for the hunter.

Deer camp is going back to the same ridge you hunted with Dad every year and wishing he was here. Deer camp is laughing till your sides hurt as your buddy tells how he missed a monster buck — twice in the same day. It's huge meals and the fire's glow as everyone shares a story, good and bad, and the oldest member maybe shares a secret place on the mountain with the youngest.

Deer camp is the place where you may keep the best memories of your life. That's what is so great about deer camp.

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Contributed photo / Larry Case

"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at larryocase3@gmail.com.

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