The Meaning of Hunting Camp

It’s November. The days seem greyer, even with the glow of orange and red and yellow in the tree tops around us. There is a chill in the air, a foreboding reminder of the months to come. Our noses sting with bitter and smoky aromas that are only in the air in autumn.

In hidden hills and hollers around West Virginia, cabins, trailers and campers are being cleaned and loaded with firewood in preparation for deer season, now only a few weeks away. Many West Virginians are packing old army duffels and sighting their granddad’s rifle in preparation for a trip to hunting camp.

Hunting camp is many things, and every single one of them is critically important to our local and national culture and economy—much more important that most people realize. But at the top of the list, at least in my opinion, is the community of hunting camp.

It’s certainly not a normal community. At first glance the community seems fractured, as each camp is comprised of only a few people, many of them related by blood. But that’s not what I’m talking about. That’s the camp, not the community. In West Virginia, it’s deer camp. In Maine, it’s moose camp. In Colorado, it’s elk camp.

I’m referring to every single person, across our country, who goes to a camp to hunt something, somewhere. Though the individuals in the community tend to be private by nature, we nonetheless combine as a community that transcends the camp, even the state. It is a nationwide community of people who share a common set of beliefs and values, and who choose to act on those values.

We celebrate the heritage and craft of hunting. We value and make use of our Second Amendment rights. We appreciate the opportunity to escape all that is modern and to rest in the comfort and simplicity of tradition. We drop the labels and stigmas of our social-media driven world and live, if only for a short time, as hunters.

This year I was reminded of the wonderful community of which I am a part. It started with a phone call while I was away hunting in Wyoming. When I returned home, my wife told me someone from Mississippi called several times while I was away.

Assuming he was trying to sell me something, I returned his call with an email. He indicated he’d read an article of mine in Bugle magazine. The article explained my view that elk hunters of tomorrow must start as youth hunting small game today. I had used my son as an example in the article of a young person who wants to hunt elk and is starting on that path by chasing squirrels in West Virginia. The gentleman went on to explain that he appreciated my article, and wanted to offer my son a complimentary elk hunt on his ranch in New Mexico.

At first I was skeptical—after all, nothing in this world is free. I spent several days emailing him, every time waiting for, expecting really, “the catch.” After all, he owns a business that sells these very same hunts with a salty price tag. After several days of emails I cut to the chase and asked in plain language if I’d owe him any money. He responded, “No, this is for your son, a future elk hunter. I just want to be the guy who helps him get his first elk. If we can’t share our blessings, what good are they?”

Blessings. I had forgotten that the community I’m a part of still believes in them. I was reminded that the men of my community will do something just because it’s right or good. I was immediately ashamed. I’d forgotten where I’d come from and the community of which I am a part. I had doubted a person who I should have trusted. I had let the jaded world in which I live convince me that this man certainly wouldn’t do anything that didn’t directly profit him.

By Doug Humphreys

I am proud, and thankful, to be a member of the hunting camp community. I will do everything I can to ensure my children are a part of it too. I will try to show them all the camps: West Virginia deer camp where my heart and soul reside, Elk camp in the dark timber of New Mexico, and mule deer camp above timberline in Wyoming. Moose camp in the North Woods. Bear camp on the coast of Alaska, and caribou camp in that state’s indescribable wilderness.

As we travel from camp to camp, I will introduce them to the community of people who bring these camps to life. I will help my children understand that being a member of this community doesn’t make them old and outdated; rather it makes them special in their ability to transcend the path that our modern society sometimes likes to travel.

The best part of hunting camp is that all are welcome. If you can shake our hand and look us in the eye as you ask to join us, we’ll gladly open the door of our hunting camp to you. I promise you’ll like what you find inside.