The sun was setting to the west over black skeletons of dead mesquite trees. Daylight was dying and time was running out. It was just before Christmas in north Texas, the night air cold enough that I could see my breath in frosty plumes each time I took a breath.

Twenty-five yards from my hideout were three whitetail bucks. Two of them were youngsters with small eight-point racks. The third buck was a fine 140-class 10-point, but because I was a guest on this well managed Texas ranch, I couldn’t take him. I was looking for a mature 8-point. The Hoyt bow would have to wait to get its chance.

Back at camp, I was greeted by a roaring fire in a shallow pit surrounded by huge limestone boulders. Nathan was on the porch, shaking seasonings over filet mignon and thick rib eye steaks. My friends were slowly drifting back to camp, each one with a report of multiple buck sightings. Excitement was undeniable as the late season bucks were now visible, out of their thorny fortresses in search of free food to regain lost calories from the rut. It was post rut and the bucks were showing no signs of interest in girls, only food. Benton saw the most, eight bucks total, but they were all deemed either too young or old enough and big enough, but with broken racks. Good ones for next year. Benton always waits for next year.

We gathered around the fire pit telling stories from the day’s hunt. A set of heavy shed antlers were passed around for everyone to fondle. The cold night air was kept at bay by the licking flames over mesquite coals. We dug hands deeper into warm jackets, cold drinks sipped from gloved hands. Inside the house, potatoes cooked on the stove and fresh bread in the oven. A tossed salad sat ready in a large bowl.

The fire now down to glowing red coals, the steaks were gingerly placed over the grill. Nathan manned the tongs, his expertise determining when they were ready. Like a pack of hungry wolves, we all surrounded the plate of cooked meats and headed inside, out of the cold. A feast to remember, over more talk about deer.

Deer camp is different in every part of the country, but nothing seems so consistent to a good camp as hearty food and a warm fire. Truth be told, the older I get, the more I look forward to standing around the fire. Almost as much as tagging a fine buck.