Editors Blog

Deer Hunting’s Tailgate Ties

Mossy Oak deer hunters

Some of the best memories from deer camp are made at a pickup truck’s endgate. These Mossy Oak hunters have plenty to celebrate, including fresh venison backstraps for dinner. (photo by Daniel Schmidt)

The spark that ignited my passion for whitetails struck me sometime 40 odd years ago when I experienced my first gathering around a bloody tailgate. It might have seemed odd the first time I saw it, but an open, blood-stained tailgate on a pickup truck was a sign of success.

Back in those days, deer hunting was pretty much limited to nine days in November for my family. The best day of the year was the Sunday after Thanksgiving, because that’s when my dad and brothers returned from deer camp. It was ritualistic. Dad would pull the pickup into the driveway loaded with hunting clothes, a freshly cut Christmas tree and one, sometimes two, frozen deer carcasses.

It was rare for him to have the vehicle stopped and parked before the home-bound kids were outside clamoring around the truck’s tailgate. We wanted to see those deer, but more importantly, we wanted to hear the stories. Our questions came in rapid-fire succession.

“Who shot it?”

“How far did it go?”

“Did they see any other deer?”

“Did anyone else get one?”

These scenarios played out time and again as I’ve shared more hunts with family, friends and colleagues over the years. The more I experience these moments, the more I savor them. In fact, tailgate time sometimes lasts only a few minutes, but I often consider them the best individual moments of deer camp.

It’s the high-five you give your buddy after seeing him roll in with the biggest buck of his life.
It’s the hurried excitement of your campmates as they come piling out of the cabin. Your buddy Pete is whooping and hollering and pumping his fist into the air. Uncle Bob is tripping over his feet trying to pull a pair of boots over his bare feet. Brother Jim is holding his lunch in one hand and digging for his cellphone with the other so he can get the first photos.

Everyone scurries for a spot near the tailgate. Some grab it and peer into the truck bed as if it were a baby crib. Others lean with one elbow and glance sideways at the day’s bounty. Still others just stand back a bit, in a “I’m too cool to get too close” manner. Don’t read any of them the wrong way. They’re equally excited about what’s transpiring.

The happy hunter accepts accolades, shares the hunt’s details and flashes reverent humility for his quarry. And for a moment, everyone forgets about the inane. The here and now is about experiencing camaraderie, brotherhood, community and fellowship in a way that only deer hunting can provide.

One thought on “Deer Hunting’s Tailgate Ties

  1. gregr

    It`s almost time…it`s time now, to go trim shooting lanes, hack paths through the briars and horseweeds to stand sites, and scout portable ground blind locations. It will be time consuming and hot and sweaty to trim shooting lanes from tree stands, opening up the canopy slightly in key spots to hopefully have a clear shot with rifle or bow at white-tail deer. But it will be good to get back into the woods, and the summer sweat will hopefully lead to fresh venison this fall and winter.

    It`s almost time…once the work is done in summer, it will be a waiting game. Waiting until the temperatures begin to cool just a bit. Until the decreasing daylight makes the bucks antsy, frustrated, begin to start prowling, searching for does that will start to come into estrus. Archery season opens October 1, gun season the second Saturday in November.

    It`s almost time…once the Locusts cycle through their time in late August and September, once the days are noticeably shorter, and the temperatures start to fall back, it`s all nearly ready. The skies will be that crystal clear vibrant blue that you just don`t see through the haze of a summer day. The afternoon moon will shine in the early evening sky like a night light in the kitchen while the master and mistress of the house slumber. Subtle, soft, but drawing your eye to it for it`s warm hues.

    It`s almost time…when the days will be crisp, and you`ll stalk through the woods and cut crop fields to your stand locations in the pre-dawn darkness. You`ll see your breath as a vapor in the light of your headlamp, and the chill will be refreshing. You get to your stand, climb the ladder to your seat, and haul up your weapon and settle into the darkness, trying to become a part of the woods. Quiet, working hard to sit motionless, nothing moving but your eyes, you`re a predator, you`re hunting.

    It`s almost time…you`ll hear it faintly, wondering if you really heard anything at all, but then it will sound closer. The sound of hooves on frost covered leaves as deer move through the timber, stopping, checking everything with their nose, their ears swiveling two different directions at once, and those huge eyes that will catch even the slightest movement. Then he`ll step into view, into the shooting lane you trimmed in July or August, then stop, once again scanning the area, looking for danger. You`ll pull up your rifle or bow, center the sights right behind the shoulder and let out half a breath…

    It`s almost time…

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