The Warmth of a good campfire…. and good hunting companions
I can be on the worst hunt with the worst weather, see no game, and if there’s good company and a warm campfire in camp I’ll enjoy myself. Thinking back over my 36 years of being outdoors, what I remember most about a lot of the hunting camps that I’ve been in is the campfire.
Sitting around a campfire probably goes back to man’s earliest days. There’s something about a campfire that joins you to the others in the circle. The smoke, the glow of a warm fire and the laughter, stories and song that make the whole experience memorable.
The late Rev. Stacy Groscup used to do a special campfire ceremony and as he conducted the ceremony he would explain the different traditions the Indian celebrated around a campfire. It was a beautiful service and we would sit spellbound by Stacy’s story telling ability. The circle had a special meaning to the Indian and Rev. Groscup often talked about the circle of life. That too was represented by the circle around the fire. The older, wiser counseling the young was also part of the tradition. I sat around quite a few campfires with Stacy and I sure miss him.
After a day hunting in the rain or cold weather nothing feels so good as a warm meal and a good campfire. It relaxes you and lets you unwind. I remember one elk hunt in Oregon for Roosevelt elk. It was a long, hard hunt and I didn’t see one bull elk. However, a friend from Alaska kept the campfires funny, lively and never dull. I think he’d been in three plane wrecks and lived to tell those stories. I wasn’t anxious to ever fly with him though… his stories though made the hunt a little better and gave me plenty of happy memories about a rough hunt.
A fireplace often serves the same purpose as a campfire. It is still a warm place to gather after a hard day’s hunt. A fireplace allows you to sit back, kick your boots off and snooze, talk and tell stories, and visit with folks.
My father’s retail archery shop has a flagship stone fireplace right in the center of the pro-shop. It’s massive size draws people near. In the “off season” many people gather around the fireplace just to tell stories, drink coffee and visit. It’s amazing to me how many folks will come in just to sit in front of the fire.
A few years ago West Virginia Governor Bob Wise became active in bowhunting while he was in office. Once day he was sitting in front of the fireplace eating pizza with my family when I looked at him and said, “You know Governor, there’s been more game taken in front of this fireplace than anywhere in the state…” He laughed. He knew that hunters had been gathering around this fireplace telling long, drawn out stories for years.
It was funny to see other customers come into the store when the Governor was there and see him sitting in camo by the fire. Although he’s left office now, I’ll bet he still has good memories of his visits to the shop and sitting by the fireplace. On almost any late autumn day or winter day there will be someone sitting by the fire at the shop.
I love to bowhunt on the King ranch in South Texas. The only drawback to that hunt is that there aren’t any campfires. It’s usually much too warm there to sit around a campfire. When in South Texas we usually have breakfast at Lydia’s in Kingsville. This is where everyone gathers to eat breakfast taquitos and talk over the hunting situation. My pals Gary Bogner and Dr. Warren Stickland have talked about Lydia’s many times. The only drawback to breakfast is that to eat with the King ranch’s legendary Butch Thompson you usually have to be there around 5AM. This is about the only hunt my father and I like to go on that doesn’t involve a campfire.
Can you imagine all the campfires the late, great Fred Bear must have sat by? I’d like to have shared some of those warm fires at Grousehaven with Papa Bear. I can only imagine the hunting tales told. Having known Fred, there was probably a colorful joke or two told as well.
A “dream hunt” would have folks like Fred, Earl Hoyt, Rev. Stacy Groscup and some of the other legends of the sport that have passed on sitting around a campfire someplace and telling their tales. What a great time that would be. What I especially liked about Fred was the way his shoulders would rock when he really started laughing… he laughed with his whole body when he found something genuinely funny.
Ted Nugent often talks about a spiritual campfire. I can tell that he’s a fan of a good campfire too. A year or two ago my dad told me about Nuge being in bear camp with him and playing the guitar until the wee hours. I don’t know if they were around a campfire or fireplace but I’ll bet they were.
Ted played some of his best licks on the guitar and sang some of his tunes. Pop said Ted got a tear in his eye when he sang his song, “Fred Bear.” Since Pop isn’t up on rock and roll music, I’ll bet he doesn’t realize how much money some fans would pay for a private jam session with uncle Ted as host. I’ll bet that’s one campfire Pop will long remember.
In the Varian hunting camp in the mountains of West Virginia I remember as a teen I had to get up earlier than everyone else in camp to carry wood, to do dishes, and would rarely get a moment’s peace. There was always something for me to do. I remember asking my father’s friend and the camp owner Joe Varian what I had to do to get out of being the grunt around camp that did all the dirty work.
Afterall, I was the only teen in camp and there wasn’t anyone younger than me coming around. It looked like I might get stuck with these chores for some time. We were in camp rifle hunting for whitetail deer. In the early season we’d bowhunt but this was gun season.
I asked Joe how long I’d have to do all the work. “Get the biggest buck and you’ll be camp boss, ” Joe replied. “We’ll bring your plate to you, you won’t carry wood or do dishes..” he added.
Camp boss. Hmmm. The next morning I gathered in the wood, helped with the breakfast dishes and we all went out for the day’s hunt. Early that morning I saw a huge buck making it’s way through the woods. There was about six inches or so of fresh snow on the ground which made the buck really stand out. He was big. He was sneaking along and staying low. As he stepped into a clearing I saw an opportunity and squeezed the trigger. As my .270 cracked he immediately dropped. I saw a huge rack and could tell from where I stood that he was a trophy.
My mother had been on stand close by and had witnessed the shot. Soon Pop and the other hunters gathered to see the magnificent buck. When Joe saw the deer he announced that I’d just become “camp boss.” I got a huge grin on my face and enjoyed the moment.
That night, with my feet propped up, sitting not far from the warmth of a fire, they brought me my supper. Now that friends is one campfire that I’ll always remember.
I hope you’ll enjoy many warm campfires in your time. Until next time, Adios & God Bless.