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Monday, July 25, 2005

Phil -- Welcome to Camp

Originally Posted - 03/12/2005 : 08:39:41

I had been angling for an invite to deer camp for years. Dad had been unwilling to take me as a kid. He didn't hunt. So it was not until the death of one of this old guy I hardly knew that I finally got a chance. I guess it was some perverse thing with my Dad that got me into deer hunting. He hated it, so I liked it. The whole family was into hunting except us. I'd been going out on opening day for 5 years and sitting on a stump from sunup to sundown. Mom had fretted, my girfriends and co-workers had just laughed at me. I just kept coming, year after year. I'd gotten really tired of hunting the WMA's-- watching and endless parade orange vests traipsing through the woods. I'd never quite figured out why I stuck it out so long. I could never get anyone to go with me.

So I was sitting around at this funeral a few months ago. There were a bunch of guys off in one corner yucking it up, and they were sitting as far away from the casket as you could get and that was fine by me. I just kind of wandered over and hung out around the edge.

"Well, look." said one. "Look who's here." I waived. Some of the guys I remembered from Christmas parties, and Thanksgiving dinners. Most guys I had not seen since I was in grade school.

"Hi." I said.

"Phil?" asked one. He looked vaguely familiar.

"Yeah, I'm sorry." I replied. "I can't remember your name."

"Bennie." he replied. "Bennie Cooper. Guys, for those of you who don't remember, this is Phil Williams." I was suddenly deluged with handshakes and names. They could tell I didn't respond well to the limelight and let me slip back into the periphery. They were in the process of sharing a bunch of stories about deer hunting.

". . . so we trail this thing all day. There's just enough blood to keep us going. Jay's sure he put one in the vitals, but it's not dropping. We'd have let it bed, but there was snow coming, and the trail would have been wiped out. Six hours later, we find it dead in the middle of a pasture, only it wasn't a pasture. When we looked up, we're on the lawn of the Roosevelt Nature Center, and here's all these kids and their parents staring daggers at us. I went up to the building to find a phone. We were going to need a pickup-- no way we could cart this back to camp on foot. Jay's still on auto-pilot. He starts gutting the deer! Yep! Right in front of the kiddies."

"Ouch!" replied Jay, who I vaguely knew. "It just didn't dawn on me."

"Do you all hunt Roosevelt?" I asked.

The look I got was like a massive collective "DUUUUUH!"

"I hunt Roosevelt." I said. "I'm usually up over by Bear Lake."

Silence.

"Any of you hunt that way?"

"Camp's over off of 56." replied one guy.

"Oh, is this the famous family deer camp?" I asked.

"Yep."

"I was always interested in that place. " I said. "I couldn't find out how to join."

"You're Phil Williams, aren't you?"

"Yes," I said.

"Well, then I guess you just show the hell up, and tell someone to move their fat ass over." said Bennie Cooper. There was a long silence, as everyone watched me as I tried to wrap my head around this concept. Suddenly all the years of sitting on that stump got to feeling horribly useless, and at the same time it was the payoff of years of patience.

"Hell," said Bennie. " You practically own the damn place!"

"I didn't know." I said.

"Welcome to deer camp."


Over the next 8 hours I got the full story. It still didn't make sense why my Dad had walked away from it all. However, by the end of the night, it began to make sense why I'd been drawn to deer hunting-- why I'd managed to acquire subscriptions to a dozen hunting magazine, and had blown a week of vacation every year going out and sitting in the woods all by myself. I guess I just had it in my blood.

Five months later, I had the print-out from Bennie on a clipboard on my seat. I knew the way as far as the motel in Crandon. This time, however, I continued up the road and looked for small unmarked gravel road. I missed it the first time and had to backtrack a good five miles. Finally, I found it, and rolled back slowly. It wasn't until I saw all the cars parked in the apron that I knew I wasn't going to get shot for trespassing. There were two guys sitting at the fire. I walked up and introduced myself.

"Phil?" said one of the guys. "Walt Cooper. You don't know how happy I am to see you. This is Craig Steinholtz." I shook their hands, and soon I had a cup of something in my hand that tasted like paint stripper.

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