Deer Camp: Family, Friends, Memories, and Two Fine Bucks
Sometimes hunting camp goes smoothly. Most times, not. Always, however, time spent in camp with family and friends, surrounded by the wonders of our natural world, is memorable, precious time. Success or failure, tags filled or tag soup, it’s hunting camp.
This past November, an overcrowded group of hunters, young and old, gathered at a very special place in the mountains of North Central Montana, around an old homestead cabin with a wood stove, an incredible array of trophy mule deer, whitetail deer, elk, mountain goat, lion, and bobcat on the wall mixed in with worn out cowboy hats, vintage guns, generations of photographs, a running journal written over the span of scores of years by inhabitants and visitors to “the cabin”, and countless memories. It was deer camp. Three sets of father-sons were there, with a few old Grandads in the mix for perspective and seasoning. NBA legend Frank Brickowski and his son, Jack, made a long journey over icy roads to join their friends. Those in camp who were hunting had in mind to hike the mountains in search of trophy class mule deer, and to hunt the lowlands and river bottoms for mature whitetail bucks.
What we learn in Hunters’ Education, and from our hunting elders and mentors, turns out to be true. As we grow older, we learn that there really are stages to the life of a hunter. While “hunting hard” is still a valued ethic, and the thrill of chasing and taking elusive, trophy game (however we define it) remains in the core of a hunter, it is amazing how the joy of passing it on to the next generation grows within us and ultimately becomes more valuable and gives more pleasure than hunting for ourselves. For the fathers and grandfathers in this camp, we had some incredible hunting, watched large herds of elk, cows and young bulls with the older bulls having pulled off and vanished into their elusive winter solitude after the rut. We hiked hard to high altitude ridge lines and felt the sting of a Montana late season hunt, recalling the challenges of glassing into stiff, cold wind. As crowded as camp can be, it is amazing how fast you find yourself alone in the majesty of Montana when you hike out of camp in all directions with visions of big buck deer dancing in your head.
As fate would have it, two fine whitetail bucks were taken, one by a young hunter, and one by a crafty old veteran. Quentin Favia took his first whitetail, a big, mature 5 point buck. He and his friend, Michael are both now freshmen in college, one in Denver and one in Missoula. They hunted together as very young boys but had never been in deer camp together. Their camp started by helping our friend Scott recover a really fine buck who was in a tough spot where three men came in handy to get him out on a cold November afternoon. After Scott’s deer was taken care of, hunting their way back to camp just the two of them, Michael and Quentin spotted a big deer in the creek bottom with a few does. Michael has hunted whitetail for a few years now and had punched his tag on a good buck two weeks earlier. As light was growing dim, when the deer turned his head sideways the boys knew in an instant he was a shooter buck. Before the does could spook and lure this nice buck out of sight, Quentin, who is a fine athlete and a fine young man, calmly took aim and made a great lethal shot with his .308. Back in camp at the cabin, the fathers and granddads were just starting to talk about what the boys were up to when they heard the rifle report. Shortly before pitch dark, Michael and Quentin arrived in camp like rock stars, conquering heroeswith Q’s big Montana whitetail deer dressed and tagged. At that moment, camp was made. Hoots, hollers, hugs and high fives all around. Way to go boys!! Well, really, young men.
Topping off a memorable deer camp was the buck taken by the oldest member of the crew. Tim Cusick has imparted incalculable knowledge, some welcome, some not so much, to new and young hunters over the span of many years. On a bitter cold, sunny day, he and a partner hunted for a good whitetail buck but hadn’t seen much in very windy conditions. As the hunt was nearing its end, Tim spotted a single doe in a thick coulee bottom. Patience and a few steps of new angle revealed a nearly invisible buck. I’ve personally witnessed Tim break a clay pigeon in flight with a .30-06, so the man is an accomplished shot. With his trusty open sights BAR, Tim had to make a quick shot on the buck, who was under 100 yards but wheeling to flee. Mr. Cusick dumped him in his tracks. Fresh deer heart for breakfast!
Deer camp. Nothing better, except maybe elk camp, or bird camp. Let’s face it, hunting camp with your family and close friends is just flat hard to beat. We counted our blessings for this one while we marveled anew at the majesty of the place and of God’s creatures. One for the books and, a life flows on like the bends in the Beaverhead, we remember the warmth of the cabin, and of the special love and bonds made stronger by hunting camp.