This list is not intended to be comprehensive, and there may be some regional and cultural differences, but I expect that every bird hunter past middle age will identify (or identify with) several of these axioms that I have titled “You know you are in senior bird hunting camp if…”
Senior hunting camp
Senior hunting camps are different, and they are the same. Depending on the hunt and the country, camps are different from one another for the obvious reasons: deer camp (all those backpacks and rifles) does not much resemble bird camp (all those dogs and shotguns), and the typical camp in the frozen aspen forests of Minnesota (all that wood stacked by the fire pit) does not much resemble the typical camp in the sweltering piney woods in Louisiana (the 80-quart cooler full of ice).
But senior camps have a number of similarities that make them all the same. When the campers are in the sixty-and-over age group, their outlook on hunting, on all of life, is likely to have undergone a major shift. It may be best expressed by a comment from one of our Over-the-Hill Gang members this week as the afternoon temperature on the grasslands of South Dakota reached 82 degrees.
“I’ve come to that time of life,” he said, “when I think recreation should be fun, not punishment.”
The other seven of us heartily agreed and began speculating which steak house in Pierre would have the widest variety of beers on tap. That got me to thinking about a few dozen other comments during the week that indicated a changed –– let’s call it “more mature”— attitude about our bird hunts now that we are of a certain age.
I spent an evening assembling these observations in order of frequency and I present them here. This list is not intended to be comprehensive, and there may be some regional and cultural differences, but I expect that every bird hunter past middle age will identify (or identify with) several of these axioms that I have titled You know you are in senior bird hunting camp if…
So here goes:
You know you are in senior bird hunting camp if…
Roommates are determined by pairing the guys who are the worst snorers with the guys who have the worst hearing.
Morning conversation is limited to “Mornin’ ” until everyone has had at least two cups of coffee.
The phrase “Sleep well?” has been replaced with “Get any sleep?”
The guys with functional fingers help button the shirt sleeve cuffs of the guys who are hampered by King Arthur: arthritis.
Breakfast consists of more medications than food.
A 7 a.m. hunt starts at 8:30.
While scouting cover, there is general agreement that the flatlands appear to hold more birds than the hills.
More than half the dogs are in the “I think he’s got one more year in him” phase of life. This is also true of all the hunters.
Shotguns are 20 or 28 gauge models, supposedly because they are more sporting but actually because they are “superlight” and weigh a pound or more less than the old 12 gauges.
Nevertheless, 28 gauge guns seem to kick more than the old 12 gauge guns used to.
Six or eight shotshells in the vest is enough. Plenty enough.
Dogs that used to immediately obey the “Eight Basic Commands” now loosely follow the “Three Necessary Commands”: Whoa, Come, and Hie On.
Each hunting vest has at least one bottle of ibuprofen.
Hunting pants are more than 50 percent patches.
Hunting boots have been modified to accommodate bunions.
Every camper knows the names of his buddies’ dogs back though 30 years but is a bit fuzzy on the names of children and grandchildren – even his own.
Descriptions of old athletic injuries have become more vivid. So has their lingering torment.
There is a “most major surgeries” contest after the third beer of the evening.
The third beer of the evening is the last.
Ordering the 32-ounce stein of beer with a steak is looked upon as braggadocio and inappropriate behavior.
Mexican food is no longer on the menu, even with the mild sauce.
Every hunter has at least one communication device that he can use only for phone calls because the technology is beyond him.
No one ever gets lost because no one can walk far enough to out of sight of the pickups.
Everyone carries two compasses anyway.
At least three guys compare brands of hearing aids.
Everyone wears a brace on a knee, ankle, wrist, elbow or other joint.
Combs and hair brushes do not take up a lot of space in the duffle bag.
No one has original equipment eyes: glasses, contacts, or corrective surgeries are universal.
Eyes problems are blamed for much poor shooting.
Except for humorous stories, there is no mention of politics or religion.
No one can name more than two players on his favorite professional or collegiate team this year.
Everyone can name the full starting line-up of his favorite professional or collegiate team from 40 years ago.
There are more references to bowel movements than to sex.
Everyone distinctly remembers the great moments of bird dogs of the past, and has tactfully forgotten most of the bad.
Each evening’s conversation includes memories of Over-the-Hill Gang members who have gone over the final hill and are no longer with us.
The drive to camp is the same length as always, but the drive home takes much, much longer.
Each and every camper says, “This is my last year for this hunt!” on the final day, but a week later all will send out an e-mail message that says, “Keep me on the list.”
More stories about life in the North Country, hunting, bird dogs, and bird guns are published in my two collections of essays, Crazy Old Coot and Old Coots Never Forget, and my novel, Hunting Birds. All are available in Kindle and paperback editions at Amazon.com.