I had meant to post this story on Monday but it was set aside for some other things. The picture above is of my best friend Bart (left) and his Potter County, PA record 10-point whitetail he bagged on our last hunting trip the year before I moved to Arizona. I can't remember the kid's name on the right, but he was the nephew of one of the guys in our camp and it was his first hunting trip ever. He didn't do so bad either.
Well, this story is about traditions, and the big one with Bart and myself every year was the annual trek to Potter County in north-central Pennsylvania. As in all traditions, this was huge with us. It overshadowed birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan... Everything. The world could have been ending, but we were still going hunting, thank you very much.
So rifle-buck season traditionally opens in Pennsylvania the first Monday after Thanksgiving so every year for several years after I got out of the army, Bart and I would pack up our gear in my truck the Friday after Turkey Day and make the six-hour drive to the North Woods... We drove that far because there was nowhere to hunt in southeastern PA, too many people around and two, Bart's father-in-law at the time had a fantastic place to go, and all that was needed to guarantee a bunk at the camp was $50 towards the food and beer.
We'd get there the two days before the season officially opened for a few reasons. One, it was to give us some time to scout around and check out for a spot to hunt opening day, because it was just too far to drive throughout the year to properly scout. From my house in Philadelphia to the camp was exactly 256 miles. Secondly, there was always a continuation of the previous year's poker game that lasted the whole week we were there that started the moment at least two people showed up.
The year before this trip was unusually cold, even for the upper PA Appalachian coal fields where we hunted. It was -36 F on opening day that year and nobody in our group even saw a thing. It was just too damn cold, even for Bambi. This year we planned for a cold one, bringing extra thermals and I even went out an bought a new $200 Carhart insulated hunting suit. I wasn't going to freeze my cajones off this year. But lo and behold, we got to the camp at nightfall that Friday night and it was a balmy 50 F...
That Saturday after we woke up slightly hung-over, we wandered behind the cabin where our host had a nice 100 yard rifle range set up where we could sight in our rifles and check our zeros. We all had the usual assortment of rifles, Bart and I had a 30.06, some of the other guys had .243's, some .30-30's... The usual calibers. But one guy, who I'll affectionately call "The Nazi" had an odd-ball. He had sporterized an old British Lee-Enfield jungle carbine chambered in .303 British.
We got to the range and he realized he didn't bring any ammo with him. He remembered everything but the most important ingredient to the hunt... Something to shoot the deer with!
So as we all sight-in our weapons he runs the ten miles into town to get some. When I say town, it's really not one. The only thing in this "town" was a combination bar-restaurant-gas station-sporting goods store which touted to carry "every caliber ammo known to the Western World"...
So he returns from his quest for more ammo and tells us the place that carries every ammo known to man didn't have .303 British in it's vast inventory. Off he stomps back to the cabin and comes out a while later with three rounds he found in a coffee can in the kitchen. He fires one round at the target, looks through the spotting scope and declares "Close enough!"
Going out on opening day with only two rounds of ammo is a ballsy move. But you didn't know the Nazi like we did.
Monday morning rolls around and we eat a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and oatmeal and head out well before sunrise. It's still balmy and I'm sweating buckets as I find my way into my stand. As the sun begins to rise in the east, I check my watch. One minute to sun up. In years past this time, right at sun up, you'd have thought World War Three had broken out as hundreds of gunshots would echo down the holler and over the mountain, but not this year. I only heard a few faint shots off to the west a little but nothing so far in the direction of my buddies. I look around my little spot that had looked so promising with fresh tracks, scrapes and rubs and see nothing.
Then the quiet is shattered by the loud report of a nearby rifle, it didn't sound right though... It had a louder, deeper 'crack' that the usual .30-06 or .30-30... It was a .303!
One shot is all I heard then nothing more. I stayed in my stand to see if the shot scared up some deer, but by noon I still had seen nothing. I climbed down and headed back to the cabin for lunch. When I neared the place I noticed smoke rising from the chimney and a deer hanging from the 'meat pole'. It was a decent sized "Y" buck. I cleared my rifle and entered the cabin to find the Nazi, sitting in an easy chair reading the paper, rum & coke in his hand. A lone live .303 British round was standing on the table next to him. He looked at me and with a dead-pan expression said...
"I still got one round for next year..."
Anyway, the rest of the week for me and the rest of us was pretty much the same as opening day. Nothing moving in the woods, and it looks like the Nazi yet again would be bringing home the only deer in our camp.
The final day as we were packing up to head home, Bart said he was heading out for an hour or so, just one last try at something. The kid decided to tag along. Ok, I said. I'll just get everything here ready so all we have to do when you get back is head out.
I finished packing and sat out of the porch reading the Williamsport Gazette and smoking cigarettes waiting for Bart and the kid to return. I thought I had hear a few shots but didn't think much of it. One, two, then three hours passed with no sign of Bart. I go over to my truck and fetch my blaze-orange vest and put it on with the thought I might just take a walk to see where they got to.
I needn't have worried. Just as I rounded the corner of the cabin, Bart and the kid both appeared over the far hill dragging deer... Bart with his 10-pointer and the kid with a decent 8-pointer. Best deer out of our camp in years.
The look on Bart's face was priceless. He was like a little kid with his first bike.
That was the first time in a long time we had a deer on the roof of my Bronco, and even though it wasn't mine, I was smiling just as broadly as Bart was the whole trip back to Philly. We had a successful hunt.
I miss those days. I may never get to hunt again, but I'll always remember and treasure those days spent after Thanksgiving with my friends in that little cabin up in the north woods. It was more than hunting. It was something far bigger than that. I can't explain it, but I'll always cherish those days and remember them fondly, whether we had a successful hunt or not. Those days were so important to us, they're in the past, but they're not gone. As long as remember them I'll always have something to go back to in my mind on crisp autumn mornings...
Some traditions, if not kept, should be remembered.
Copyright 2005 Thomas J Wolfenden