Ray: Campfires at Deer Camp

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer … Continued

Rut Reporter Brandon Ray is an expert on the region. Ray was born in Dallas and shot his first deer with a bow in Central Texas at the age of 15. The full-time freelance writer manages his family’s Texas Panhandle ranch, is a licensed New Mexico guide, and last year took a 184 gross P&Y non-typical trophy. States covered: TX, OK, NM.

What is it about a campfire? The flicker of light, warming of cold hands on a dark night and crackle of burning coals brings out a primal connection between man, the outdoors, and fire.

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I’ve shared fires in elk country, sat around a pit in South Africa, and I’ve sat around the coals in whitetail country. No matter what game we hunt, a fire is a soothing place to gather after a day chasing big game.

One pit is memorable just because I’ve spent a lot of time around it over the last five years. It’s a friend’s lease in north Texas. The pit is a big hole in the ground surrounded by gravel and slabs of limestone for safety. Don’t want a stray spark to burn down deer camp!

It sits in front of the double wide trailer that serves as base camp. A hefty stack of well-organized mesquite and cedar, cut long before opening day, lay next to the pit. Every night, as our friends trickle in from the evening hunt, we gather at the pit. The ritual is the same every night. The first one in from the afternoon hunt starts the fire. As more guys gather around the pit, drinks are poured and tales are spun. Some nights, there’s fresh venison back strap to cook over the coals. When the hunting is slow, there’s always beef steaks in the fridge. The stars were always unbelievable on those clear nights.

I remember one night in particular. Four of us were comfortable in our chairs around the pit. Classic rock was playing in the background and venison sausage was sizzling on a small grill. That’s when the one member of our party we were missing, Michael, finally showed up. He’d hit one right at dark and needed help. So Benton stayed at camp to monitor the pit, start dinner, while the rest of us piled in a suburban and one pickup to start the search. Armed with flashlights, an hour later we found the deer, a mature doe. We returned to camp to find a gourmet meal waiting for us and a bonfire in the pit. Who knew Benton was such a good cook? It was a good night.

As much as we talked about the day’s events, and deer hunting in general, we talked about other things, too. Divorce, bad business deals, family, old times in school, we covered everything. Topics that a bunch of macho men might never discuss around a stuffy dinner table, were somehow easier to recount next to a crackling fire. And most of the time there was so much laughing and carrying on, practical jokes played on each other, that tears ran down our faces and our sides hurt from laughing so much.

More than once, my friends have enjoyed the late night fireside chats so much, they stayed awake all night and missed the morning hunt. I think some of the boys look forward to the late nights at the fire pit more than the deer hunting.

I never get tired of lounging around the fire, even if the smoke isn’t ideal for reducing my scent from the keen senses of a big buck, some things are worth breaking the rules over. It’s traditions like these that make deer hunting what it is.