“Keep the Fun in Hunting!” – that’s how Ed Spinazzola of Michigan, a former National Board member of this organization and a good friend of mine, ends every letter and e-mail he sends. I’ve always taken that advice to heart, and I wrote an article a few years ago on how to Make Deer Hunting Fun for Kids. I try to follow that advice for adults too, so here are five things I do at our deer camp to keep it fun for everyone involved.
I’ve seen friendships lost over deer, and I vow to never let that happen on my watch.
My family is fortunate to own land in north-central Pennsylvania with a hunting camp on it. We share the property with several friends and family members, and hunting season is our most anticipated time of year. Thanks to NDA, we have excellent hunting opportunities, but having fun is about a lot more than having the chance to fill your freezer with venison or kill a mature buck. I’ve seen friendships lost over deer, and I vow to never let that happen on my watch.
Men and women hunting the same property will have more fun if they’re socially connected. This doesn’t mean you hang out together all the time, but sometimes outside of deer season you need to.
The first way we accomplish this is with an annual food-plot day in spring and a camp workday in late summer. It’s a great way for us to get some valuable work done, but it’s even more important as a team-building exercise. Those who sweat together to accomplish a goal tend to appreciate the success of a fellow camp mate when hunting season arrives. This is also a great time to share some meals, beverages and good stories around a campfire.
Oldest Doe Contest
Once hunting season arrives some of our camp mates get very serious. Others, not so much, and that’s fine. To remind everyone to keep it fun we have a few contests at camp. The first is an “oldest doe contest.” Everyone who wants to participate throws $5 into a cup, and the hunter who shoots the oldest doe wins the pot (I age all of our deer by tooth replacement and wear). The cash prize is certainly nice, but the recognition by your peers is typically a bigger prize.
Buck Tag Consolation Prize
We also do a “buck tag contest.” Like above, everyone throws $5 into a cup, and when the season ends everyone who still has their buck tag is eligible for the prize. I figure if you shot a buck during the season, you’re already a winner so you’re out of this contest. Everyone left throws their buck tag into a hat, and a kid at camp draws one tag out. The winner takes the cash prize – and usually shares some with the kid who drew his or her name! This creates anticipation, excitement, and some good-natured ribbing by those not eligible because their tag was used earlier in the season. In short, this is a fun time at camp.
Trail-Cam Photo Contest
A camp favorite is our annual photo contest. The rules are simple. Every camp member can submit two non-altered trail-camera pictures of bucks for the buck category, and two non-altered pictures of anything else for the “other” category. These can include deer, bear, turkeys, predators or even Bigfoot if you get a pic of him. I put all entries into a file and email them to camp members to vote for their favorites, and the winners are revealed in our annual camp report. We added a special category for kids to enter the photo contest last year, and I’m excited we brought in a whole new group of potential winners.
Memorial Squirrel Hunt
Finally, once deer season ends and camp is closed for the winter, we take one more opportunity to get together and celebrate our good fortune. Every February just before squirrel season ends, we hold our annual Jim Adams and James Kelly Memorial Squirrel Hunt. It’s always really cold, and that results in minimal squirrel activity, but it’s a great way to get the gang together for one more day and night at camp. We hunt semi-hard during the day, and at night we play cards, tell stories, and enjoy a few beverages. This is the best contest to win, because your name and winning weight of squirrels gets forever etched into a special plaque that hangs in a prominent place at camp.
Hunting is fun, and the engagement with the other hunters at camp enhances that. Everything we do at camp is designed around this concept. Having others at camp to share in the joys, frustrations, and overall mental rollercoaster of deer season sure makes it a lot more fun. Good luck this season and remember to keep the fun in hunting.