If there’s anything more relaxing than a deer camp, I haven’t found it.
Awhile back some old friends invited me up for their annual deer-season kickoff at their camp located near the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area. Of the dozen or so who attended, only one planned to hunt the next morning. The rest of us claimed it was too hot – or some such excuse.
Truth is, after a long, late evening of reminiscing and yarn-spinning, it’s hard to roll out at 4 a.m. Besides, it WAS too hot.
The campsite is nestled on a parcel of paradise owned by Steve Selecman, who was joined by brothers Bill and Mark in hosting the cookout. Steve directed traffic, Bill roasted the ribs and I assisted Mark with beverage-control.
Speaking of Mark, his son Ben added a celebrity touch to the gathering. In a couple of weeks he will wed Mattie Jackson, daughter of country music superstar Alan Jackson. Maybe Alan will join us next year and bring his guitar.
A couple of regulars were absent. My boyhood buddy Tom Thurman and Bill’s long-time pal Mike Bohannon both were under the weather, but expected back soon.
Last year Mike brought along his two faithful old hounds and they spent the evening dozing by the fire, sighing, whimpering and twitching as they dreamed old dogs’ dreams.
It’s not just old dogs who nod off by the fireside. Old campers do too. We generally just don’t whimper and twitch so much.
It seemed like just yesterday when Tom, Bill and I were kids, lazing around a campfire on the banks of the Thurman’s farm pond with the rest of our gang, Tony and Ralph, listening to a chorus of bull-frogs and katydids while pondering the mysteries of the cosmos and Mary Sue Wattenbarger.
We grew up and went our various ways. Tom became a nationally-renowned district attorney who prosecuted several of Nashville’s most high-profile criminal cases (and always won). Tony became a vet and went to Africa for mission work. Bill became a dentist, Ralph joined the postal service and I meandered into the ink-stained ranks of newspapermen.
Bill’s left pinkie remains stiff, a souvenir of a copperhead bite he got while clearing stumps from a field as a teenager. The bum finger hasn’t kept him from being the most popular dentist in Crossville for a half-century.
Another camp regular is my cousin Jerry Hedgecoth, a retired Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency officer and an expert turkey hunter. (Jerry once took Irlene Mandrell, of the famous Mandrel Sisters, on a successful turkey hunt, and seemed more intrigued by the big gobbler Irlene bagged than by the lovely Irlene.)
Jerry, Tom and I were walking down an old logging road when I killed my first deer in ’63. I dropped the leaping little forkhorn with a lucky shot, while Jerry and Tom supplied supporting fire. That couldn’t possibly have been 54 years ago, could it?
Jerry’s wife Carolyn delivered a batch of her prize-winning cornbread to the camp, then she and my bride Mary Frances raced away on Jerry’s four-wheeler like Thelma and Louise, leaving us to our Guy Stuff – gnawing ribs and burping, pausing in-between to chuckle over another bygone adventure, tell another tale, spin another yarn.
Occasionally the circle would grow silent, mesmerized by the flickering firelight and the distant whip-poor-will’s plaintive serenade.
If that’s not Heaven, it’s mighty close.