As White-Tail Deer season is wrapping up in the Texas Hill Country and most of the campfires have been extinguished, it is time to reflect on the good times the season brings.
Oh, the tall tales that have been told, of the big one’s that got away—the 185 B/C with double drop tines and 10 inch main beams that never presented itself at a good angle, or the nice 12 pointer with a wide, tall basket that only came out when the light got too dim. “You should have seen the kickers and the stickers and he was well outside his ears……”
I know, I know….For those of you that don’t speak Hunter, that sounded a lot like “blah blah blah blah…..blah blah blah. Yada, yada yada…”
The rest of you will understand the thrill of the hunting season, even when it isn’t very fruitful. There may be entire seasons that go by without someone actually taking a big buck. A few does here and there, or the occasional wild hog may be the only bounty of the season. So why do they do it, year after year, these hunters? Why spend so much time, and even more money pursuing a trophy buck they may never even see?
To answer that question, you have to first consider what type of hunter you are dealing with. We’ll call them, in the broadest stereotypes, the Party Animal, and the Family Man. There is actually a whole Hunter Spectrum, but we’ll just focus on the two extremes.
The Family Man is married and has children. He likes to bring his children, and often his wife, with him to deer camp. He loves the outdoors, considers himself a hunter-gatherer, and wants to expose his children to the idea of putting food on the table the old fashioned way. He will teach them to respect the land and life, and how to be responsible with a gun. His weapon if choice is a 300 Weatherby, because it is a simple and effective gold standard for white-tail hunters. In the evening around the campfire, they will grill hot dogs on wire coat hangers, and marshmallows on sticks. They will look at the stars, and listen to coyotes howling. There will be steak or brisket on the grill, and foil wrapped potatoes in the fire pit. The kids will drink hot cocoa, and the adults will probably not. Unless there’s Irish Whiskey in it. If there are no girls around, and only if there are no girls around, there may be mild use of off-color jokes and curse words. The boys will be taught to leave both behind at the gate when they head home. They will rise in time for the morning hunt, and will eat a good breakfast hash when they return to camp. The Family Man will teach his brood to leave the gate the way they found it, leave the cabin and camp cleaner than when they arrived, and never kill anything they don’t plan to eat.
The Party Animal is younger, and usually not married with children. Even if he is, he will almost always leave them at home. Hunting-time is man-time, after all, and he will spend it with his hermanos. He and his boys consider themselves to be lean mean hunting machines, and may be prone to shoot anything that moves. The weapon of choice in this group is the Remington .30-06. It doesn’t matter that it is better suited for hunting Elk and Bear, or that it will knock somebody to the other side of the blind–the goal with this group is carnage. In the evening around the campfire, they will get their nutrition from light beer and corn chips, and grilled steaks and baked potatoes. They will howl at the coyotes, and shoot at the stars. They play in dirty jokes and profanity the way Rembrandt played in oils. Way too often, they leave neither behind when they head for home. They will awake with a dry mouth and a pounding head, too late to make the morning hunt, and will eat a good breakfast hash. Although they will eat the deer, the hog, and the turkey, they will leave lay the porcupine that was crossing the road, and the javelina that was standing under the feeder. But, we are not here to judge.
Two very different hunters, and a whole bunch of other types in between but all of them have one thing in common: the campfire is the center of their meat and potato loving universe. Whether it’s tall tales or fairy tales, beer or hot cocoa, the campfire is the reason most of them will continue, year after year, dollar after dollar, to keep the tradition alive. It is a place of communion, for meals, and music, and story telling. A place where old stories are passed down and new stories are born.
It is a place where the food always tastes best, because you cooked it yourself, over a fire, with coyotes howling in the background.
Some Deer Camp favorite sides and appetizers are included below…Although these instructions call for cooking over a fire with coyotes howling in the background, they may also be prepared indoors in your oven, with whatever ambient noise you have available.
Barbecued Cheddar and Bacon Jalapenos
Makes 4-6 appetizer servings
- 6 large fresh jalapenos
- 8 oz pound block mild cheddar cheese
- 6 slices thin cut bacon
- ½ cup barbecue sauce
Cut jalapenos in half lengthwise. Carefully remove seeds and membranes. If you aren’t used to doing this, wear plastic gloves. Cut cheese into 12 uniformly sized sticks. Place one stick into each jalapeno half. Wrap one piece of bacon tightly around each cheese stuffed jalapeno half, and secure with a toothpick. Cook over hot coals (or under your broiler), turning occasionally, until bacon is browned and cheese is melted. Baste frequently with barbecue sauce.
- Per person—one large russet potato or sweet potato
- 2 t. Salt
Make sure to make some extras of each, so you can make the breakfast hash below….
Scrub potatoes very well with a brush and soapy water. Rinse. Salt heavily with coarse salt. Double wrap in heavy foil. To cook in fire, place in potatoes in fire pit, in a cooler spot where the coals are hot, but there is no flame. Turn every ten minutes, until done. The cook time will vary wildly, but they will be done when they are soft to squeeze.
Alternately, you can bake in oven at 400* for 2 hours. The potatoes should be soft when squeezed—this will happen much sooner for sweet potatoes than for russets.
Grilled Onion Packets
- 2 large sweet yellow onions, sliced
- 1 large red onion, sliced
- 2 T olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 t salt
- 1 t black pepper
- 1/2 C beer, or apple cider
Divide onions between 6 pieces of heavy duty aluminum foil, cut as long as the foil is wide. Drizzle onions with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place one smashed garlic clove into each. Divide beer over each packet. Fold foil into tight packet around onions, sealing edges. Place in cool part of fire, or on grill, and cook until soft and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Serve over steak or chicken.
Morning after Breakfast….Always save some extra steak or brisket, sweet and russet potatoes to make breakfast next morning. This is the best part.
Texan Fusion Hash, with Brisket, Sweet Potato, Jalapeno and Red Onion
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 1 fresh jalapeno, minced
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 leftover baked sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 2 leftover baked russet potato, peeled and cubed
- 2 cups cubed, leftover brisket or steak
In a large skillet over medium high heat, add oil, onions and jalapeno. Cook for a few minutes until softened. Add meat and potatoes, and cook until heated through, and starting to brown on the edges, turning occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste.