A Hunting Camp of Trackers
by BWB Team Member Mark Scheeren
This past year I had the privilege of spending time in hunting camp with some of the greatest trackers in the Northeast. We had snow early on, and then it continued on throughout periods of the rifle season. Because we hadn’t had these kinds of conditions for a few years, when the snow fell, it was a festive time – there was an energy in the air. Trackers from all over the Northeast were talking…”How much snow you got over there?” “Seeing any tracks of good bucks on that mountain?” “Did you head over to so and so swamp?” Everywhere you looked; from Facebook posts, to articles in several outdoor magazines, to texts amongst friends, there were familiar names in tracking circles being tossed about, and an unusual amount publicity and attention being given to the tracking discipline. In other words, it was a great season, and some big bucks fell in those remote mountains!
At the end of the Northern muzzleloading season, Bob Dunbar and I got to spend a few days sharing camp with Hal and Chris. Each night after the hunt, the four of us would travel to a familiar local bar/grill and have dinner and then head back to our respective lodges for late night chats and laughs. We were not spending our nights in the traditional wall tents that are common throughout the mountains of the east. Instead we stayed in a couple of lodges in the Central Adirondacks. I have to admit, as I’ve aged, I do love a warm shower, a comfortable bed, and a restaurant meal after a hard day of tracking! I’ve had some say that this isn’t the traditional deer “camp” because it’s not primitive and we weren’t cooking our own food, etc., but I disagree. In my personal opinion, the camp is less about the actual place you spend time in after the hunt, and more about the experience of being with friends and forgetting about the world for a little while. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve hunted out of tents too. These were fun times, but my definition of camp, at its core, is the company I keep.
I’m 47 years old. I don’t do things I don’t like doing, or that become a chore to me. Life is too short for that, and I wasted time in my past doing things that weren’t good for me, so those days are over. I like to track whitetails – no, let me say that again – I love to track whitetails; it’s an obsession of mine. I love it more than just about anything else in my life, save my family and my career. The experience of tracking a mature wilderness buck and successfully outwitting him is something that is not a casual effort. It is a demanding skill-set to acquire. In tracking, the process of hunting itself is whittled to down to their most raw and efficient forms. You walk for miles, you need to be alert for that entire time, you gain an intimate knowledge of your equipment, the mountains you hunt, etcetera. It all becomes a part of you. As you gain experience over time you evolve into a different kind of hunter. And furthermore, the more you travel and experience, the more you realize just how specialized you’ve become in your techniques. This becomes obvious when you have conversations with other hunters and you explain tracking, and they just sort of look at you like your crazy, or they placate you by saying, “Oh, that sounds fun,” with a look of expressionless boredom. And so you find there are very few hunters who understand it the same intense way you do – except of course, other trackers. Tracking is after all, a very specialized passion. Because of this, I enjoy being with fellow trackers every fall more than I do other hunters of a more casual persuasion. (Except close family of course.)
Now, I don’t want to sound like a snob here. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the company of others who don’t track – I do, immensely. Just ask anyone who has hunted with me. They’ll tell you that I love to bring new hunters afield, and I enjoy the more passive approaches to deer hunting just like the next guy. I stand hunt every season, (with some success) and I’m not opposed to a deer drive on my farmland either. But, the point here is that when I encounter a fellow tracker, there is instantaneous mutual respect of a different kind that happens in the encounter – a brotherhood. Even the language and terms in the discussion are unique to the discipline. You can take two trackers who’ve never met, put them in a room to discuss a couple of their latest hunts, and you’ll immediately realize the kinship and commonality of their respective experiences. To be honest, it’s uncanny. There are things about big woods mountain bucks that no suburban deer hunter could understand unless they tried tracking themselves. You could say the same thing goes for farmland or suburban deer and the men who’ve hunted them for decades. That is their specialty and they have their own kinship just the same. Those deer are not any less cagey than their mountain cousins, especially if they have grown old. But the experience of hunting them is just different than tracking a big woods monarch. So we all have our favorite methods – mine just happens to be tracking.
Later on in the season, Bob and I were invited to Jim Masset’s camp by Jim and Steve and the gang. Within a couple hours we were all fast friends. We laughed a lot, and told a lot of stories. It was a great time. But invariably, the talk centered on that one creature we remain fixated on – the mountain buck. Bob and I also got to meet some of the younger, new generation coming up through the ranks too. It was great to see.
So while you probably won’t see me out in the wall tent camping old school style anymore, that doesn’t mean I don’t like the Northwood’s camp experience. It’s just as I’ve aged that experience is more about people, friendships and relationships than it is about where those conversations might happen to take place.
If you or anyone you know has a problem with addiction or would like more information about the St Jude Retreats and/or St. Jude Program go to http://www.soberforever.net/bwb or if you would like to call Mark Scheeren directly then confidentially dial toll free 888-424-2626.
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