Come November, thousands of deer hunters will head into the woods during the state’s firearms season. Many, forced to work during the week, will focus their efforts on Saturdays. Many others take a week (or more) off, as they have for years — and as their fathers and grandfathers and uncles did for generations — and head to “deer camp.”
Deer camps come in different shapes and sizes. Some actually have (believe it or not) electricity. Many, however, rely on generators for power … or have no power at all.
The romantic Maine notion of card games conducted under gas lamps still exists there, whether deep in the woods or a convenient hike from home. Outhouses are used. Family and friends sleep in bunks, cook camp-worthy food like beans and biscuits, and warm themselves near wood fires after cold, wet days afield.
Those who spend a week or more each year love their deer camps. Those who are invited join not-so-secret societies where everyone emerges from the woods, days later, with memories they’ll cherish … whether they’re allowed to share them or not.
We asked readers to share some of their deer camp stories. Here are a few. Enjoy.
From Gary Drinkwater, Milford
Having been born into a family of outdoorsmen, I have always gone hunting with my dad, uncles, cousins and friends.
My uncles sold Camp Get Together in the late 1970s and purchased a bus. We converted the old school bus into a mobile hunting camp, complete with eight bunk beds, gas cook stove, wood stove for heat, and a large table for eating and playing cards.
Felix Cote would always go with us, as he was our resident cook. It was a time of fellowship that only outdoorsmen can understand. We would stock the bus with groceries the night before and Dad would stay behind and build a fire to warm the bus.
We would sit in the old bus and tell stories of hunts long ago. It was like Christmas Eve, kids so excited they can’t settle down. We hated to go home for the evening, shaking with anticipation for the journey which was to begin. The next morning the old-timers would be up and ready to hit the road at 6 a.m. If anyone believed that the bus was leaving at 10 a.m., as was told to us every year, they would miss the bus. By 6 the bus was on the road to a new adventure.
At one time, we had two buses. Uncle Don worked in the woods for more than 50 years, and always knew where we could find game and park the bus. By opening morning we would awaken to the smell of Felix cooking bacon, eggs and his famous homemade bread. I can still hear him telling us that our bellies our full, and to get out of the bus because there are no deer in the bus.
Sadly, we have lost a lot of the crew, but the memories of Camp Get Together live on, and a few of us still make new memories, which I am now passing along to my grandsons.
On one trip, Uncle Don decided we would be hunting in Grindstone. Upon arriving everyone had their chores to finish setup. Level the bus, gather firewood for the week, fill the water bucket, sight in the rifles, organize the bunk, and get Mr. Turkey prepared for the big Sunday feast.
Felix would always tease anyone who would come back to camp and tell stories of seeing rabbits. He would tell us stories of snaring rabbits while cooking for the CCC camp, and the game warden coming into his cook tent to have some rabbit stew. Felix thought he pulled one over on Mose Jackson, only to discover that Mose had pulled all the snares before having lunch with Felix. The cook wanted us to get us a few rabbits for his famous rabbit stew, and “make sure you shoot them,” he proclaimed.
This one time, someone did bring in a couple of rabbits and Felix made a rabbit stew, loaded with veggies. It filled the bus with aroma. We came in at around 10 a.m. for lunch and he had the stew and hot, homemade biscuits ready.
There were eight of us sitting around the table, enjoying lunch, when Ralph Bates asked Felix to come over and look at his spoon. Ralph asked the cook if that was a kidney in his spoon. After looking it over, Felix proclaimed, “Why yes, Ralph. That is a kidney.” Alfred, being our resident comedian, quickly seized the moment and told Ralph not to worry about it. Felix boiled the piss out of it.
A couple of tough Maine men quickly exited the bus to throw up.
From Judie Saucier, Mars Hill
See attached poem, “Hunting Camp,” about our deer camp (labelled ” the dirty camp” by one of our young grandkids many years ago to distinguish it from our lakeside camp (clean) and “deer” i.e. “dirty camp”).
Our granddaughter, Eola Saucier of Topsham, 12 years old, composed this poem of her memories. Young and old alike who have been there all agree, it captures our memories so very well. It brought tears to the eyes of all.
In 2010 at the age of 9, she composed a fictional tale, “Lost in the Hunting Zone” based on their real life experiences with a photo of the camp with her cousin, her grandfather and her dad. She dedicated the hardcover computer-generated book to her father and grandfather with gratitude and thanks for bringing her there each year and teaching her how to shoot.
All the children have loved the experience of deer camp (dirty camp).
The camp itself has been falling in for years, located deep into the woods near Roberts Mountain in northernmost Penobscot County near Patten.
We believe it is the weight of all the wonderful memories of four generations.
Hunting Camp, by Eola Saucier
The smell of gunpowder,
The roof starting to cave
Potholes in the roads,
Trucks rattling around the trails
Branches snapping at the windows,
I see the yellow chipping paint
The sagging walls,
And the pickup trucks,
Covered in mud
The door is slightly sagging
And the overgrown grass
Begging to get inside
The uneven floors,
Dare to throw me off balance,
The insulation peeping through the windows,
A cool air is being tossed around
Light the fire,
It’s too dark,
Light the gas lights,
The smell of propane fills the camp
The springs behind the couch
Like they are trying to get away,
The old rocking chair
Sits by the window,
With the chest beside it,
Pleading to be opened
Through the down trees,
And old tires
There’s the sawdust pit
With old gun shells,
Spread apart like seashells at the beach,
Our old forts,
Like we never left,
laying half-covered in dirt,
Frozen to the ground
It’s our own space,
Staying just how we left it,
Changes in the scenery every time,
Walking up the hill,
I am waking up everything that lives there,
Squirrels, birds, foxes
Everything running away
It’s just me
With the sun setting
I head back,
Over everything that stands in my way,
Eventually I see the outline,
Of something that used to be a luxury cabin,
Rundown, beaten up, and tired
On its last breath,
But still standing
From Hazen Trueworthy, East Winn
Thanksgiving Day, 1937. In the summer, while fishing, snooping around, I found a 16-by-16-foot camp, all made of cedar, in pretty bad shape. I had no idea who built it, but I got it repaired slowly, alone. Cedar logs, split cedar roof and floor. I tar-papered the roof, put in a sheep herder stove.
I was a registered Maine Guide when I was 16.
So, the day before Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law and two men from Mass went to camp. The Mass men had a 1934 Plymouth. We drove that about a mile, left it in an old field, then we walked an old trail downhill and waded a stream — about a 2½-mile walk.
It started to snow and snowed Thanksgiving morning. There was about two feet of light snow.
I had borrowed a .44-40 Winchester rifle. I went to look for a deer while the others stayed in camp. I picked up a track — just a dimple in the snow going into dark growth. An eight-point buck got up and stood head-on, looking at me. I took aim at the white spot. The hammer fell slowly. Click. I cocked it again. Click. On the third try, it fired. Dead deer.
I dressed it out. I was near camp and they helped drag it to camp, where we hung it up. The next day we headed home. Uphill drag, but we got to the car. The car was frozen up. So we dragged it to my home, about 3½ miles.
That was the only deer we shot. The Mass boys gave me $100. I don’t know how they got home. I guess they bought a car. That car stayed there for several years, until, I guess, someone took it.