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.