Can you eat that?
By Dave Curry
As I worked the lock on the gate into deer camp, I noticed several sets of vehicle tracks as guys moved into Camp Broken Antler for the upcoming deer season. Some of those tracks were mine as I had just driven in yesterday to deliver drinking water, tools, a storm door for the cabin and other vitals that might be needed for the week long camp. Three of our campers were already there and the other three or four would arrive today or tomorrow. A mile of muddy road over the sods and through the woods with numerous, bottomless potholes separated me from camp.
A hundred yards beyond the gate, the road crosses a fenced drain. On the right, hung on the top strand of a barbed wire fence was a beautiful barred owl. One wing was impaled tightly on a barb and the owl hung lifeless. While owls have extraordinary night vision, they may become totally absorbed in the rustle or squeak of a mouse or vole and could easily miss seeing the wire. Life and death come easily in the wild.
Meanwhile, deer camp is a happening place. Guys are stowing their gear, preparing the bedrolls, cleaning and repairing the cabin as needed, in a place where cleaning and repairing can be spotty. Many of the guys have been coming to this camp for 30+ years. The camp has grown, expanded and become more livable and comfortable for all of us. However, just like our friend the owl, the Grim Reaper has made his own pass through our troops and thinned our ranks by one since last season. Cookie will be missed and each of us will step up to fill the void. All of us are getting older and there appears to be no alternative.
The owl on the fence was the next topic of conversation and that brought up the question, “Can you eat that?”
Now I don’t remember who asked that question. And the fact that it was relatively fresh since it wasn’t there the day before, probably played a part. But that question always comes up – “Can you eat that?” It is like camp is an episode of Survivor. Deer Camp: Day 29. The winner of this reward challenge gets the dead owl. Or maybe the Survivor auction. I’ll bid $500 on that dead owl.
All of the hunters are in camp now and none appear to be under nourished. They’re not even hungry. We have plenty to eat. A huge piece of roast beef from the deep pit ox roast, seafood from the Eastern Shore, award winning bacon from the 4-H program, slabs of pork loin, Grandma’s special mincemeat pie and other tasty morsels, occasionally washed down with copious amounts of beer. We couldn’t eat it all if camp was two weeks instead of one. But still we are on the lookout for something else that might be needed to sustain us to the end.
One year, Doc shot a small red squirrel. “Can you eat that?” Probably so, but with the fairy-diddles’ diet of spruce cone seeds and pine nuts, it would probably taste like squirrel seasoned with Pine-Sol. Even though it was dutifully skinned and placed in the cooler, it somehow missed going into the stew pot. But we could have eaten it if we had to.
Years ago, Roger Tory Peterson of the Peterson Field Guide fame was first introduced to birding at Cape May, New Jersey. In those days birders carried shotguns and considered it great sport to shoot as many migrating birds as possible. After an exciting day of carnage, he was presented with a fully prepared Sharp Shinned Hawk and sides at dinner. Years later a reporter would inquire about what he did then. He replied in the only way a man could and said, “I ate it.”
By the way, shotguns are frowned upon by most birdwatchers now and a good pair of binoculars is usually all the tools a birder needs.
Back at camp, the season has gone well. Lots of good eats, lots of tall tales, good times, camaraderie and bonding for all. Enough to carry us over till next deer camp. Just like thousands of other deer camps all across the country.
As the first rays of light began to appear on opening day morning, there was a single hoot from the top of the mountain. Not the cheerful, multiple hoots of the horned owl or the territorial “Who cooks for you” of the barred owl, but a long, single, more mournful than usual hoot of an owl looking for its lost mate – “Where are you?”
And one of our young hunters took a nice eight-point on opening day.
“Can you eat that”?
You bet you can eat that.