OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Search, spiritually, somewhere between the sweet hot air of a ridiculous laugh aromatically seasoned with homemade wine or beer and the heart string that connects a lump in the throat to the mist-maker behind an old man’s eye and you may find the place of a hunter’s dreams.
It’s called a deer camp.
The place I found early is loaded with characters and stories. Enough to fill a couple of books.
They perhaps revel in a little more drink than they should sometimes, but not so much as to be harmful or dangerous. They are honest storytellers, but most are practiced at executing an outlandish exaggeration when it helps a story along. Special individual skills are revered and acknowledged around camp, often with a community pride that comes near to being boastful - but it’s the true screw-ups that become the stuff of legend.
On the west bank of clear-running, spring-fed Greenleaf Creek at the swimming hole about 200 yards upstream from the flat rock hole on Oklahoma’s Cherokee Wildlife Management Area is a longtime deer camp affectionately known as the “Old Phartz Circle.”
That’s what the sign at the entrance reads, anyway.
“We changed the spelling some so hopefully it wouldn’t offend people,” said Bill “Mountain Man” Boyington, with a school-boy’s grin.
The white-bearded 77-year-old, dressed in full leathers and a coyote fur hat, was my tour guide. He dressed the part and toted a .54 caliber flintlock rifle mostly for my visit. He used to rendezvous and dressed in the old-time garb for Boy Scout programs, but he doesn’t always dress that way. It’s for special occasions.
His camp has occupied the shade below the twin sycamores on The Circle since 1964. Every year, he and a passel of others call this place home from the time deer season opens until it closes. These days, that’s Oct. 1 to Jan. 15.
The Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/21KzU3T ) reports that many of them return in April for turkey season. They set camp and stay. Some commute daily or weekly to work. The majority now are retired. Someone is always around to keep an eye on things.
Jim “The Legend” McBride, who lives near Lake Texoma, has been coming to the hunting area longer than most but has been on the circle only about 10 years.
“It’s been since 1958. I was 10 years old, with my dad and grandad, my mother’s father,” he said.
He doesn’t hunt much anymore. He cruises the paths in his Jeep with his dachshund, Lulu, on his lap, and a camera around his neck.
“It’s so much easier to take pictures and record everything and take that out of the woods than it is to drag a deer out,” he said.
One camper is the true patriarch of the bunch. He wasn’t around that afternoon for an interview, but everyone talked about him.
Eighty-four-year-old Dave Tiger fights the ailments of age and now hunts with a permit that allows him to go afield astride an ATV.
“I remember him when I first came here. (I) was just 27 then,” McBride said. Around camp the talented Creek Indian carver is known simply as “Tiger.”
“That man can carve any animal out of a stick of wood,” Boyington said. “He is a true master carver.”
Mountain Man, The Legend, Tiger; add in Stormy, who is a storm spotter; Bread Man, who worked for Rainbo; Bonfire, who never starts a small fire; Firewalker, who once fell into a fire; Big Buk and Whitetail, a Tulsa couple that hasn’t missed a hunt since 1972; and, well, you get the idea. Characters.
The camp is a collection of wall tents, wood piles, fire pits, Jeeps, trucks, tiny camper trailers and some big campers with slide-outs for extra space and all the comforts of home.
Mike “Bird Man” Morris of Muskogee has a custom-painted classic 1960 Serro Scotty Sportsman camper he got a few years back in a trade from someone else in camp for an old .357 magnum revolver.
“I’ve been offered up to $1,500 for it right here in camp,” he said.
Bird Man paints decorative patterns on skulls, feathers and other items. Most everyone in camp has a rabbit skin with a map of the area painted by Morris.
Stan “Stormy” Callahan - think Santa Claus in hunter orange with a sidearm - is a longtime ham radio operator, storm spotter and emergency services volunteer.
He has a weather station outside his designated wall-tent “kitchen,” which was picked up by a tornado last fall, flipped upside down and dropped on top of a neighbor’s tent. He had to patch a hole in the roof, but it was still sound otherwise.
“I was sleeping right here next to it,” he said.
Several have their long-established fire pits, some built with suitcase-sized stones hauled in years ago by hand, truck or ATV. Every fire pit has plenty of chairs for visitors.
The stories abound - hunting stories, family stories, wildlife encounter stories, life stories.
They laugh a lot, but they also remember friends who have come and gone, and look across the campground with eyes filled with decades of memories.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Stormy said.
“A fine bunch of fellas, here,” Mountain Man said. “It’s like family. A lot of memories here, a lot of good memories.”
And that, my friends, is a deer camp.
Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com
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