By Tony Hooker
For most of the past decade, my Saturday morning routine has been the same.
First, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and head to Hugo to have coffee with my step-dad, Donnie B. In case there’s anyone in The Journal’s coverage area that doesn’t know dad, let me tell you, he’s more energetic at 82 than I am, and we usually find some sort of mini-adventure to go on, with him leading the way.
This weekend was no exception, as we headed out to check trail cameras and get things ready for hunting season. Every December since about 2011, dad has told me that he’s too old and he’s done. And every March since about 2012, he’s reminded me to get our permits ordered online. There is no quit in that man, and I don’t know why he even bothers saying so.
As with everything, deer camp has changed significantly over time. Back when he wore a younger man’s clothes, he would lead an entourage, sometimes numbering 15 to 20 people, to a primitive camp set in the Shawnee National forest. I would love to share some stories, but as I was told when I made my first trek at the age of 12, what happens in deer camp stays in deer camp! Suffice it to say that legends were born in those woods.
These days, deer camp is a much smaller, quieter affair, with each of us staying in our warm beds at home before convening at the shed in the pre-dawn hours. Gone are the days where we would all stay at camp, hooting and hollering and re-telling stories that only grow over time. The numbers have dwindled, with only five of us participating, but the camaraderie remains. Time alone in the deer woods is the way that I shed all of my accumulated worries from the previous year, and harvesting one of these amazing creatures is secondary to finding my tiny, insignificant spot in nature, and in sharing that moment with my dad, who got me hooked on the adventure 44 years ago.
I try not to think about it often, but I do sometimes wonder about what will happen when he finally does hang up his blaze orange cap and trusty 12 gauge. He’s been the center of deer camp for over 50 years now, and I fear that my generation is too harried to carry the torch when he tries to pass it.
I hope that you all find your own personal ‘deer camp’, whatever shape that takes, and take time to reflect on your blessings and your spot in the universe and to set your worries free. In the meantime, here’s to Donnie B., the King of Deer Camp. I’m proud to call you dad, and I’m happy to call you friend.