By Bob Fala
One way or another, this West Virginia family group from the Coalfields has been heading up to deer camp continuously since 1961. When the roads weren’t so good, they camped out at just about every pull-off spot along Kennison Mountain to doze off the rest of the night. That is, so they could make it into camp the next morning over by Cass in Pocahontas County. You know, the mountains, the Monongahela National Forest, the Mountain State’s first God’s country since it was the first to harbor you know who, the white-tailed deer.
Sure, there were mountains back home just as steep but all there were back then were squirrels and an occasional mountain grouse or native pheasant if you were lucky enough to catch one sitting. There was nary a deer track in the coal counties back when dad, the camp patriarch, first established that far off getaway. Just about all the other folks from back home seemed to be up in those parts somewhere or another for Thanksgiving week too. And for the same reason, it was deer season. It was just like Myrtle Beach in the summertime. There was always a familiar face around.
By golly, every once in a while they even got a buck or sometimes two. But whatever the ups and downs per winter and mast, and how that affected the deer herds, they returned each and every year just to see for themselves. The deer were game for the chase just as the hunters were for the hunt.
But that’s not the only reason they went. It was a special time with special friends, special country, outdoor and indoor smells emblazoned in the mind. Dad always loved to cook for Thanksgiving and a lot of those familiar faces came around and boy did they eat well. As if he were heading to that camp from up above, dad eventually passed away en route to the camp, of all places.
Distraught over the loss of the camp founder, his dad and hunting companion, his son put up the for sale signs. Mom got four phone calls from prospective buyers before he even returned home to the Coalfields. Upon second thought, mom and the son decided not to sell. They called a trusted camp neighbor telling him to tear down the for sale signs post-haste. The neighbor was glad to do it. And, that was one decision they never came to regret.
That’s not what dad would have wanted. Instead, he would have wanted them to continue in his image. After all, the son had his own young son and he too was an ardent hunter. Before you know, he would be growing up and might have a family of his own to you know, continue with the camp tradition. By now, there were just as many deer back home as there were up in Pocahontas County.
But that didn’t matter; they would travel to camp because they always had to keep the rich family tradition intact. They would hunt the old familiar places with names that only they were familiar with but not on any maps. They would sample a few new ones along the way. You know, the ones around the next corner that might just be holding a buck or two.
This story reflects the rich deer camp tradition of one camp and its founder, the late Riley Browning of Whitman, West Virginia as told by his enthusiastic hunting son Tim, who now hunts plenty with his own twenty-year old son Tyler.
As can be seen, the rich tradition of deer camp passes from one generation to the next. And after all, that’s what traditions are all about many thousand times over, all across this great state of ours, you know, deer country.