As I ease up the quarter mile long driveway toward the cabin sitting on the ridge, I realize the old home place is full of memories and traditions. Yeah, this time of year is about stocking the freezer with good meat for the coming winter. But it’s also about reliving traditions, or starting new ones for future generations.
My siblings and parents are scattered across our Midwest state, but in November the men and boys, and occasionally the women or girls, gather in to the old farmhouse to share the opening of deer season together. We eat good food, relax around the woodstove in the front room, and hunt the old fields and woodlots which grandpa cleared and worked starting nearly a century ago. One portion of the land has been in the family longer than that.
Part of the mystique of deer season for me has always been the simplicity of life that opening weekend. Days are filled with hunting, refueling our bellies for more hunting, or sitting around the woodstove talking about hunting. We do everything without electricity, cooking on a woodstove, doing necessary tasks with simple hand tools, and hunt with firearms which, in some cases, are older than the hunters carrying them.
After both my grandparents had passed away, my dad eventually bought his sibling’s shares out, and now owns the old homestead. Since then the land has been used for hay production, for providing our winter firewood, and for hunting everything from squirrels and quail to deer and turkey. My grandparents cooked and heated with wood and relied on an outhouse even though they had indoor plumbing and a bathroom. They had simple electric lighting but shortly after their passing we turned the electricity off. The farm’s been off-grid for years.
Lighting Up The Hunting Camp
We rely on a mixture of propane gas lighting, oil lamps and flashlights. As the nearest ‘city gas’ is 20 miles away, we use LP lamps and lanterns, which can provide light equivalent to a 65 watt bulb or better. Our lamps are clean and efficient with few moving parts to ever need repair. Keep a supply of mantles and the fuel source at the ready and you have dependable lighting. Lamps and lanterns provide warmth too.
While gas lights our main living areas, the bedrooms and indoor bathroom are lit with oil or hurricane lamps. Hurricane lamps are easy to use and carry around or even outside if needed. Dietz is the Cadillac of the hurricane lamp world. We also have a few oil lamps which either sit on tables or wall-mounted holders with attached reflectors to intensify the light the lamp wick supplies. We keep a small storage box of supplies at the cabin, and the box includes several new wicks, a pair of scissors for trimming, and a few bottles of lamp oil. I even keep an extra globe in the box in case someone gets careless.
I also keep a stash of multi-powered hand-held flashlights on hand during deer season. (We also have one in each vehicle in our family fleet and a couple in drawers or cabinets at home.)
Each has a small solar charging panel on one side and a tiny fold-out crank on the other side. They charged during the day using the available sunlight, but for extended use at night or in an emergency situation you can always turn the crank a few revolutions and have power for several minutes. Had such lights been available at an affordable price in grandma and grandpa’s day they would have surely owned at least one.
We’re lucky enough to have both of the original heating and cook stoves in the farm house. We can cook on the same stove Grandma used for decades. More modern cookstoves are even more fuel efficient. We can heat water on Grandma’s, and warm the house too.
For quick mid-day meal warmup on hunting days we use the top of the wood heat stove or a portable camp stove or grill. Chili or stew is often warmed on the flat surface atop the heating stove in the front room. For pan-prepared meals I prefer a portable burner. I have a cast-iron double burner which uses propane for fuel. The same job could be accomplished with a newer, smaller portable camping stove, but I like my black cast iron burner with its more decorative legs and rugged frame.
Although I don’t grill while at deer camp, my brother loves to fire up the outdoor grill and prepare some burgers or brats on the first night in camp. Along with the grill, we keep a set of grilling tools for him in the same storage box which holds our cast iron skillets, Dutch ovens, griddle, bacon press and cooking hand tools.
The heat stove in the front room does the lion’s share of keeping the farmhouse warm. With 30 acres of woods, most of which Grandpa managed for firewood production, fuel isn’t a worry. Our stove has a cast top, bottom and front, with a single sheet of tin wrapping around to make the other three sides. It has two removable top lids for cooking. Despite the fact that it’s about 70 years old it still works very well. It lights easy and is pretty efficient on fuel. We usually heat all weekend on about a third of a rank of wood. Around here the opening weekend of deer season in mid-November can range from up to 70 or so during the day on a warm year to 10 or lower during a cold snap.
We sleep dorm style in a bedroom off the front room. Although we catch some residual heat form the main room, we rely on heavy blankets for keeping warm at night. Wool blankets and down pillows are the preferred bedding.
Making life simple
With no electric power to the farm house and being a long way from the nearest spring or stream, we carry in our cooking and drinking water. We have several three- to five-gallon jugs with spouts. We sit one on the edge of the kitchen table and it works great. If we run out of water we head to a nearby church which has an outside hand pump the minister allows us to use as needed. My grandfather provided the church with additional acreage for the expanding cemetery which sits behind the original log structure. Both he and grandma are now buried in that cemetery and the church’s congregation still looks favorable on the family … thus our fresh water supply as needed. Just as an extra precaution, I keep a small portable water filter on hand.
Dress for safety and the weather
As for clothing, of course camouflage is the name of the game, with the blaze orange vest and hat that our state requires. I always take along my thermal underwear and union suit to wear as needed.
I remember my grandpa occasionally wearing a Buffalo Plaid hat with ear flaps when he hunted. My dad had a similar hat in brown plaid which he often wore while hunting small game. A few years ago I asked for a Buffalo Plaid hat and lined jacket for my birthday. My wife came through with my “Elmer Fudd hat and coat” as we call it. So while I wear the blaze orange as required during the season, afterwards, I can often be found around town the rest of the winter wearing my Elmer Fudd hat and jacket.
Generations come and go, and times and interests change for family members, but we’ve developed a time-honored tradition of getting together the opening weekend of fall deer season to enjoy hunting, eating and catching up with each other. The few simple tools and goods I’ve mentioned have become part of what makes that time together great.