This year, I took JC Dodge’s excellent advice and tried Deer Camp in a Western state with a group of guys from my county. I had a blast and learned several things about firearms, shooting, outdoor life, and hunting styles. I also learned that I need to tighten my game in many aspects, especially cold weather preparation. Though I failed to apply much of JC’s cold weather advice, it was a very successful week since we all learn the hard way through failure when it didn’t matter. I count the failures, therefore, as successes as much as my successes. I will discuss both.
The main (dog-free) hunting styles are spot and stalk, still/stand hunting, and mechanized, mobile quad/side-by-side hunting. They all have their place depending on the time, season, and terrain. On opening day, even if you’re still hunting, someone will likely bump a deer into you to shoot (this happened to me). Otherwise, mobility is key in these large public areas. Get your buddies in a side-by-side, drive the roads and glass/spot often. Then figure out how to shoot the deer. Whatever you do, glass often with good 10×40 optics. Having more buddies with you to glass obviously helps you spot deer better.
When it comes to shooting, everyone is an “expert” but almost no one is a real expert who can teach you. In my experience, it is extremely difficult to find someone good who will teach you how to shoot. You will get advice from “snipers” who’ve never tactically shot more than 75 yards. You will get advice from hunters, range jockies, and gear queers who can’t hit the broad side of a barn when it counts. People who offered me shooting advice at the range missed easy shots at stable animals. I hit shots they couldn’t make despite my inexperience. Most of the shooting advice is just plain bad and always consider its source. For good advice, start with Ryan Cleckner’s YouTube series on shooting. Get his first book (sequel coming soon!!!!), then get Plaster’s.
In addition to the basics of shooting reliably from prone, there is the issue of whether or not to use a bipod. Many expert shooters from the military don’t like bipods and prefer to shoot off of packs. I’ve tried it both ways and a bipod is really great to have for shooting over sage, especially if it can extend to shooting from a seated position. I’ve also found it’s easier and faster to transition from a vehicle to a prone shooting position using a bipod because you don’t have to get your pack out of the bed of the truck/side-by-side. Either way, learn to use a sand sock or bean bag filled with airsoft pellets under the buttstock for stability and elevation adjustments when shooting from prone. Also learn how to shoot offhand/standing with a sling, from shooting sticks, or off a vehicle.
There are bullets flying everywhere on opening day. It sounds like WWI at dawn. Wear orange on your body and head. Do not rely on hunters to see you and keep track of where they’re pointing their weapons. Be prepared to use microterrain for cover should you hear a crack indicating bullets are coming at you. The possibility of getting shot with a .308, 30-06, or 300 Win Mag should remind you of the horrors of war. At least no one is using IEDs to hunt deer.
Another important element to coordinated maneuver hunting is comms. Hunting is a great time to practice with your radios. FRS/GMRS walkie-talkies work line-of-sight because they are in the UHF band. Dual-band handhelds can be used without a license in MURS which is VHF and should have much better propagation characteristics for your application: hunting. I had plenty of practice with my Baofeng UV-5R before my hunting trip but little with my Yaesu VX-6E, so I could program the Baofeng to work with the other walkie-talkies with squelch off but not the Yaesu. Train with your radio before you need it, then train your friends. Now that I’ve sold my friends on MURS for hunting, I need to train them how to use a handheld and myself on how to use my Yaesu.
Strength, Mobility, Conditioning, Hydration, Mental Resolve
If any of the above are lacking, you’ll find out while hunting unless you’re just driving the roads and never getting out of your truck. Do you need to stop every few minutes on an uphill hike to “take a chew” (catch your breath)? If not, start rucking before deer camp. I talked to two guys who had to quarter a muley and carry it several miles. Their packs were 60-80 lbs. Can you help your buddy drag a buck without vomiting? If not, get strong. Have you tried side-hilling with your boots, or even walking around the neighborhood in them? If not, the mountain is a bad place to break them in. Are you hydrated? Don’t start off the day with a(nother) Coor’s Light. Wear the right gear to avoid heat exhaustion should you get hot.
Outdoor layering and living
I got cold the first day and never really warmed-up for the next day while on the mountain. Being cold at night means you don’t sleep which ironically gives you the opportunity to try other aspects of grid-down living: staying up all night and having to function the next day. It’s better to be warm-enough to sleep, which means I need to improve my layering, get a zero-degree sleeping bag, and probably buy a tipi tent for my next deer camp. Having your own warm tent wear you can stand up prevents you from having to crash in an awkward situation should one of your friends bring a queen-sized cot that takes up too much room in the trailer. In general, I need to practice outdoor living. I’ll probably do all these things this winter in my backyard with my boys, then take them for an overnight and gradually improve my game by next year.
I also didn’t have enough layering or facial covering for driving around on a quad/side-by-side at dawn with wind-chill. Account for wind-chill if you’re doing mechanized hunting: get a balaclava, more layers, and pop-top mittens.
Great times were had by all and we created memories that will last a lifetime. As Aaron Renn said in a recent edition of The Masculinist, men need to spend time with high-quality men. Our deer camp contained tradesmen, engineers, salesmen, police officers, data analysts, and surgeons of all ages. Where else can you get such a diverse group of successful guys together for a week?
I had tags for buck mule deer and antelope. I missed 3 offhand 120 yard shots at a muley other hunters bumped into me while I was hiking. In retrospect, I should’ve proned-out when the deer stopped to look at me, but a more-experienced hunter told me to shoot. Shoot only when you think you can hit. I passed up on another opportunity later in the day because we were all aiming at it, one guy was missing, and I didn’t want to ruin a friend’s prone shot. My proned friend got it with one shot.
Results for antelope were much better. I borrowed a friend’s 300 Win Mag with an expensive Vortex optic that enabled you to dial yardage directly and a bipod. This was much easier to shoot than my bipodless Jaeger gun: a Mossberg MVP Patrol with a Redfield TAC MOA 3-9×40. My Jaeger gun is really a better brush gun for me at my level of shooting. I filled my doe antelope tag with a 300 yard shot that landed exactly where I sent the round. This was a much further shot than I ever took in practice. The gun was simply much easier to shoot than my gun. I’ll probably start hunting with my Mauser and a bipod.
The memories made with friends will last a lifetime, and this is the most important aspect of Deer Camp. I wish men from the church would see the need for common hobbies and fellowship that lead to warm feelings that carry you through drudgery and tough times. I was the only Christian man at this camp of over a dozen guys, which was both a blessing and a curse. Obviously, unbelieving men have their own standard of morality which weighed me down but they were willing to take me hunting and share their resources with me. This is rare in the Western Christian church nowadays. We have money and don’t need each-other. The church should be the last place this is true. On the other hand, ministers thump hard about the need for evangelism and the Great Commission. This isn’t possible without hospitality and fellowship with unbelievers. I was able to discuss religion with two unbelieving friends after a long time together. Perhaps they’ll believe at some point. God knows. Either way, get to Deer Camp ASAP.