Previously, camp etiquette was based on coarse and uncouth behaviors, those all-male enclave traditions that we bearers of the XY chromosome combination learned in junior high school and never progressed beyond. Demonstrative belching and farting, for example.
A woman in deer camp
A woman in the hunting party is a new experience for me, and one that does not easily fit into my narrow, entrenched concept of what life in camp is supposed to be. Heather has joined the Over the Hill Gang, and being the only female member of this disreputable bunch and far too young to be over the hill, she has brought a whole different dynamic to our hunting expeditions.
The days afield are not much changed. She has certainly not hindered the pace or the tactics of the hunt since she can out-walk, out-shoot, and out-think all of us. If she is not as physically strong as the males of the troop she is surely more tough and durable. More driven and tenacious, too.
So there are no gender issues as we hastily plan strategies: two of us will walk this draw, and the other two will post by the hay bales. When it comes to assignments, she’s just one of the guys. Truthfully, if it came down to making a 250-yard shot on the only deer of the day, I’d rather she was doing the shooting. And it goes without saying that I’d rather have her drive my pickup through rough country than any of the lunk-headed men; she has yet to get it stuck in a mud hole or snowdrift.
There have been a couple minor disagreements this fall, but Heather and I have come to a mutual understanding and acceptance of our gender and generational differences: I accept her superior intelligence, and she accepts my male chauvinism. She said that agreement works for her, most of the time, because she had to strike the same bargain with her grandfather. Since her grandfather and I were friends and hunting cronies for many years, I took that as a compliment and a bond, but maybe she’s just outsmarted me again.
No, my struggle to adjust to the new situation is not during the long hours of the hunt itself but during those short evening hours in camp. This year’s lodging was a plush bunkhouse instead of a primitive cabin, but regardless of accommodations the character and atmosphere of an OTH Gang hunting camp has always been… well… crude. Previously, camp etiquette was based on coarse and uncouth behaviors, those all-male enclave traditions that we bearers of the XY chromosome combination learned in junior high school and never progressed beyond.
Demonstrative belching and farting, for example.
When we unpacked in camp this year some unexpressed but unambiguous cease-and-desist order was handed down by the court of social propriety due to a woman’s admittance to the gang, and we all behaved – for the most part – like cultured gentlemen, or at least like civilized human beings. I’m not saying this change is necessary bad, or necessarily good, but it is assuredly different. We don’t even call each other “butthead” or “dipshit” or “numbnuts” anymore. Or use vulgar terms for basic body functions and improbable sexual innuendoes as descriptors of each others’ blunders during the day’s hunt.
Hell, we didn’t even throw empty beer cans at each other as exclamation points to particularly animated parts of the conversation. And we all peed in the toilet. With the bathroom door closed.
Camp food selections and preparation were also substantially altered. Chili, brats, chips and salsa, candy bars, fried pies… all gone from the menu. Don’t get me wrong, the Brussels sprouts roasted in olive oil with garlic were delicious, they really were, and the venison steaks were as wonderful as they have always been, although grilled instead of fried in bacon grease. The new fare was tasty and satisfying and much more healthful; I probably came home with a cholesterol count below 400. But I missed the traditional dietary madness. Tubs of buttery popcorn, fortunately, were still permitted.
It’s not that Heather forbids us to eat any of the junk foods, but we feel vaguely guilty when we indulge. Same for cigar smoking.
Polite and appropriate behavior requires mental concentration and physical control that we have not been obliged to exhibit in the past. I won’t say the deer camp’s ambience has become tense or strained, but it is a bit awkward at certain moments.
Jokingly, sort of, but hoping for a writ of dispensation from all the new protocols, I said to Heather on the second night of camp, “You know, if this were the old days, all of us guys would be walking around in our underwear, drinking too much beer, belching and farting, and smoking panatellas. It’s all different now that there’s a woman in camp.” She looked at me a few long seconds and replied, “I appreciate the consideration.”
I have been married long enough to know that meant, “Those days are over, forever.”
That’s probably best for all concerned.
More stories about hunting and life in the North Country 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.