Deer Camp

by Silverbelle Margaret Osha

[If you haven’t gotten your buck this year, then time is running out. One of the greatest compliments as a writer that I’ve ever received was someone told me they found my novel Beyond Yonder on the book self of their deer camp. I felt like had finally earned my way into the ranks of real Vermonters. As vegetarians, Silverbacks do not hunt deer, but are generally supportive of hunting/gathering activities. For Vermonters of all ilk, deer hunting season is a religious experience. SB SM]

Deer hunting is a long-standing tradition and part of our rural culture here in Vermont. Deer hunting season is one of the most eagerly anticipated times of the year with lots to do to get ready for the season, from sighting in the rifle to formulating a plan for the opening weekend to scouting the woods and observing deer runways and patterns. Once Labor Day is over and the air turns crisp and cool, deer camps in the area begin to come to life. More than just a sport, deer hunting season is a management strategy regulated by the State of Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department, which works to monitor and balance deer numbers in an effort to keep deer habitats stable and productive. Too many deer would lead to disease, starvation, and damage to our forests and landscapes. 

Deer hunting season was a big deal when I was growing up on the farm in Northfield.

My father and brother were both hunters—our farm consisted of fields, pastureland, and forest—the hunting was good and deer were plentiful. The rifles came out of the gun closet and targets went up a couple of weeks before the start of the season to make sure the sights on the gun were accurate. With rifles sighted in and oiled up, the opening day was anxiously awaited. In the days leading up to deer season, I remember going with my father to the top of the field where we might see a dozen or more deer grazing just before dusk. I was just a young girl, and trying to make out how many points a buck had in the twilight of the evening was such fun. I felt so proud when my father told me what a fine, sharp eye I had. A rush of adrenaline burst through both my father and I when we spotted a buck mingling among a herd. Once the season started, like magic, the deer disappeared from the fields and took to the woods. 

selective focus photography of brown buck on grass field
Photo by Steve on Pexels.com

On opening day, well thought-out plans were put into action. My father had good luck hunting in the maple sugaring woods and was always where he headed to. Everyone knew exactly where in the woods they wanted to be on opening morning. Of course, there were the spruce forests, the back pasture, and the adjoining properties which were sizable tracts of land. These were all open to hunting as not a lot of land was posted back in those days. Neighbors and friends of my father and my brother looked forward to coming to our farm to hunt. My father had a herd of cows to milk and a barn to clean. He didn’t always get out as early in the morning as he would have liked, but my brother pitched in to help lighten his load and get him into the woods a little sooner.

For us, deer hunting was a good time filled with wonderful memories of family, friends, and neighbors. The crackling wood cook stove always kept our large kitchen toasty warm and the coffee hot. Mid- to late-morning hunters came out of the woods looking to warm up and gather around the kitchen table to exchange stories about the events of the morning hunt. My mother was famous for her filled cookies she made during deer hunting season; the hunters loved them. They were a substantial cookie filled with raisins and or dates sandwiched between two sugar cookies. I think of filled cookies as being a man’s favorite. They were perfect for cold, hungry hunters.

When I reached high school, my father taught me how to shoot and bought me a deer rifle. I didn’t know any other girls who hunted, but I was eager to taste the excitement of hunting up close instead of observing the excitement of the season from the sidelines. My father always believed I was a hunter at heart, but I don’t think anyone else did. I was in my early 20s when I shot my first buck. It was opening weekend and there was a couple inches of fresh snow on the ground from the night before. I was very slowly making my way among the hardwood trees on the farm beyond ours when I spotted a six-point buck ambling slowly off the top of the mountain. He was in a world of his own which is often the case when a buck is in rut, and I was downhill from the wind so he didn’t pick up my scent; it was a perfect scenario. I was so nervous, but with shaking hands and a pounding heart, I took aim. Could I bring myself to squeeze the trigger? I did. 

I made my father proud that year. We loaded the deer into the back of the farm truck and headed to the nearest weigh station in town. It’s customary to leave the tailgate down to display your deer for all to see. My brother made me a beautiful gun rack out of the antlers and butternut wood. I felt like a celebrity for the remainder of that season, and the venison never tasted so delicious as it did that year.

As much as I loved being in the woods and feeling like a real hunter that momentous day, I quietly decided to myself that I would not take aim again. I have hunted since then and carried a rifle, but I just don’t take any pleasure in the actual harvest. For this reason, I can’t claim to be a real hunter. It’s been pointed out to me that hunting and harvesting an animal in the wild rather than raising an animal in captivity for meat is a lot fairer, and that’s a point well taken. It’s a serious act taking an animal’s life for food and one that I don’t take lightly, whether it’s an animal raised for slaughter on the farm or one hunted in the wild. I feel richer for experiencing the sacredness of a successful hunt and the shared comradery.

The act of hunting summons a long, forgotten primal instinct within us by elevating and amplifying our sense of sight and sound. Something mesmerizing and fascinating happens when our ears and eyes tune into our surroundings, and we become one with the woods. I have not forgotten the feeling of hunting on a cold fall day when the trees are bare of leaves and the landscape is painted in varying shades of gray. I remember sitting motionless against a tree, just me, my breath, and the woods while all bundled up in plaid hunting wool.

“There’s no other place most whitetail hunters would rather be than at deer camp—whatever form that might take—during deer season in deer country.” (Deer and Deer Hunting, 2019) A story about deer hunting wouldn’t be complete without a glimpse into deer camp. There are a number of generational hunting camps that have been passed down from father to son in the central and upper valley regions of Vermont. These camps hold powerful emotional attachments to those who own and hunt from these rustic establishments that are often located in remote places. 

I recently had the pleasure of talking with lifelong hunter R. William Pemberton. I am touched by his love for Vermont, his love of hunting, and his love of mankind. Pemberton, a World War II veteran and a truly delightful man, wrote a documentary about his deer hunting adventures and living the deer camp life. Reflections on Deer Camps/Bull Run East Chronicles is a wonderful book filled with deer stories and photographs spanning a course of over 50 years of hunting in Roxbury, Vermont.

Pemberton was born in 1926 in Greenport, Long Island. Growing up where produce farming and fishing were the mainstay, he speaks of his youth with appreciation and admiration. “I can’t say enough about the village. I learned so much there. There was every nationality that you could think of and everyone got along. Very, very nice people.” After the war, Pemberton studied at Norwich University and became enamored with Vermont. He met a woman from Northfield, fell in love and married her.

In 1956, Pemberton came to Vermont to hunt and built a jointly-owned camp in Roxbury with his brother-in-law. This camp wasn’t in the woods and that bothered him. He explained he felt that “a camp should be a place in the woods that would be hard to get to but would give one peace and quiet.” One day in 1964, while hunting on the mountain, Pemberton took refuge from the rain in an old sugarhouse. This abandoned sugarhouse fit his camp criteria perfectly. Determined to make it his base camp, he finagled a deal with the owner, and his dream of a deer camp in the woods came to fruition.The next year, he and his family spent their vacation repurposing the sugarhouse into a camp. 

Pemberton knew that he wanted to live and raise his family in Vermont. In 1966, he relocated his family from New York to Northfield, Vermont. He and his wife Winona raised four children and enjoyed many years of happy times at their camp on the mountain in Roxbury. Over the years, there have been many renovations and improvements made to the camp, but as always, it remains a camp in the woods as Pemberton originally desired.

The introduction to Pemberton’s book sums up what it was like for him being at hunting camp. “During the over 50 years of my deer camp history, I have indeed met fellows that want to discuss only the amount of deer they have harvested. To me, this is not the main intent of deer camp. I say this, not that I am ashamed of my conquests. My total enjoyment at Camp has been the fellowship extended by all to each. To see and hear the conversations about different items was a great education to all. The comradeship, the conversations, the food, and whatever really makes a deer camp.” In the section “Time for a Change”, Pemberton reflects on his years at the camp and comments with the future in mind, “The whole story was great, but I realized that being in my 90s, I could not continue ownership.” In 2017, the camp was deeded to Pemberton’s son Michael and his wife Bonnie. In a card of appreciation, Michael writes how much the camp means to him. In closing, he says, “As you know, it is in good hands and will remain so for as long as—well a long long time.” 

Deer hunting is a long-standing tradition and part of our rural culture here in Vermont. Deer hunting season is one of the most eagerly anticipated times of the year with lots to do to get ready for the season, from sighting in the rifle to formulating a plan for the opening weekend to scouting the woods and observing deer runways and patterns. Once Labor Day is over and the air turns crisp and cool, deer camps in the area begin to come to life. More than just a sport, deer hunting season is a management strategy regulated by the State of Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department, which works to monitor and balance deer numbers in an effort to keep deer habitats stable and productive. Too many deer would lead to disease, starvation, and damage to our forests and landscapes. 

Deer hunting season was a big deal when I was growing up on the farm in Northfield.

My father and brother were both hunters—our farm consisted of fields, pastureland, and forest—the hunting was good and deer were plentiful. The rifles came out of the gun closet and targets went up a couple of weeks before the start of the season to make sure the sights on the gun were accurate. With rifles sighted in and oiled up, the opening day was anxiously awaited. In the days leading up to deer season, I remember going with my father to the top of the field where we might see a dozen or more deer grazing just before dusk. I was just a young girl, and trying to make out how many points a buck had in the twilight of the evening was such fun. I felt so proud when my father told me what a fine, sharp eye I had. A rush of adrenaline burst through both my father and I when we spotted a buck mingling among a herd. Once the season started, like magic, the deer disappeared from the fields and took to the woods. 

On opening day, well thought-out plans were put into action. My father had good luck hunting in the maple sugaring woods and was always where he headed to. Everyone knew exactly where in the woods they wanted to be on opening morning. Of course, there were the spruce forests, the back pasture, and the adjoining properties which were sizable tracts of land. These were all open to hunting as not a lot of land was posted back in those days. Neighbors and friends of my father and my brother looked forward to coming to our farm to hunt. My father had a herd of cows to milk and a barn to clean. He didn’t always get out as early in the morning as he would have liked, but my brother pitched in to help lighten his load and get him into the woods a little sooner.

For us, deer hunting was a good time filled with wonderful memories of family, friends, and neighbors. The crackling wood cook stove always kept our large kitchen toasty warm and the coffee hot. Mid- to late-morning hunters came out of the woods looking to warm up and gather around the kitchen table to exchange stories about the events of the morning hunt. My mother was famous for her filled cookies she made during deer hunting season; the hunters loved them. They were a substantial cookie filled with raisins and or dates sandwiched between two sugar cookies. I think of filled cookies as being a man’s favorite. They were perfect for cold, hungry hunters.

When I reached high school, my father taught me how to shoot and bought me a deer rifle. I didn’t know any other girls who hunted, but I was eager to taste the excitement of hunting up close instead of observing the excitement of the season from the sidelines. My father always believed I was a hunter at heart, but I don’t think anyone else did. I was in my early 20s when I shot my first buck. It was opening weekend and there was a couple inches of fresh snow on the ground from the night before. I was very slowly making my way among the hardwood trees on the farm beyond ours when I spotted a six-point buck ambling slowly off the top of the mountain. He was in a world of his own which is often the case when a buck is in rut, and I was downhill from the wind so he didn’t pick up my scent; it was a perfect scenario. I was so nervous, but with shaking hands and a pounding heart, I took aim. Could I bring myself to squeeze the trigger? I did. 

I made my father proud that year. We loaded the deer into the back of the farm truck and headed to the nearest weigh station in town. It’s customary to leave the tailgate down to display your deer for all to see. My brother made me a beautiful gun rack out of the antlers and butternut wood. I felt like a celebrity for the remainder of that season, and the venison never tasted so delicious as it did that year.

As much as I loved being in the woods and feeling like a real hunter that momentous day, I quietly decided to myself that I would not take aim again. I have hunted since then and carried a rifle, but I just don’t take any pleasure in the actual harvest. For this reason, I can’t claim to be a real hunter. It’s been pointed out to me that hunting and harvesting an animal in the wild rather than raising an animal in captivity for meat is a lot fairer, and that’s a point well taken. It’s a serious act taking an animal’s life for food and one that I don’t take lightly, whether it’s an animal raised for slaughter on the farm or one hunted in the wild. I feel richer for experiencing the sacredness of a successful hunt and the shared comradery.

The act of hunting summons a long, forgotten primal instinct within us by elevating and amplifying our sense of sight and sound. Something mesmerizing and fascinating happens when our ears and eyes tune into our surroundings, and we become one with the woods. I have not forgotten the feeling of hunting on a cold fall day when the trees are bare of leaves and the landscape is painted in varying shades of gray. I remember sitting motionless against a tree, just me, my breath, and the woods while all bundled up in plaid hunting wool.

“There’s no other place most whitetail hunters would rather be than at deer camp—whatever form that might take—during deer season in deer country.” (Deer and Deer Hunting, 2019) A story about deer hunting wouldn’t be complete without a glimpse into deer camp. There are a number of generational hunting camps that have been passed down from father to son in the central and upper valley regions of Vermont. These camps hold powerful emotional attachments to those who own and hunt from these rustic establishments that are often located in remote places. 

I recently had the pleasure of talking with lifelong hunter R. William Pemberton. I am touched by his love for Vermont, his love of hunting, and his love of mankind. Pemberton, a World War II veteran and a truly delightful man, wrote a documentary about his deer hunting adventures and living the deer camp life. Reflections on Deer Camps/Bull Run East Chronicles is a wonderful book filled with deer stories and photographs spanning a course of over 50 years of hunting in Roxbury, Vermont.

Pemberton was born in 1926 in Greenport, Long Island. Growing up where produce farming and fishing were the mainstay, he speaks of his youth with appreciation and admiration. “I can’t say enough about the village. I learned so much there. There was every nationality that you could think of and everyone got along. Very, very nice people.” After the war, Pemberton studied at Norwich University and became enamored with Vermont. He met a woman from Northfield, fell in love and married her.

In 1956, Pemberton came to Vermont to hunt and built a jointly-owned camp in Roxbury with his brother-in-law. This camp wasn’t in the woods and that bothered him. He explained he felt that “a camp should be a place in the woods that would be hard to get to but would give one peace and quiet.” One day in 1964, while hunting on the mountain, Pemberton took refuge from the rain in an old sugarhouse. This abandoned sugarhouse fit his camp criteria perfectly. Determined to make it his base camp, he finagled a deal with the owner, and his dream of a deer camp in the woods came to fruition.The next year, he and his family spent their vacation repurposing the sugarhouse into a camp. 

Pemberton knew that he wanted to live and raise his family in Vermont. In 1966, he relocated his family from New York to Northfield, Vermont. He and his wife Winona raised four children and enjoyed many years of happy times at their camp on the mountain in Roxbury. Over the years, there have been many renovations and improvements made to the camp, but as always, it remains a camp in the woods as Pemberton originally desired.

The introduction to Pemberton’s book sums up what it was like for him being at hunting camp. “During the over 50 years of my deer camp history, I have indeed met fellows that want to discuss only the amount of deer they have harvested. To me, this is not the main intent of deer camp. I say this, not that I am ashamed of my conquests. My total enjoyment at Camp has been the fellowship extended by all to each. To see and hear the conversations about different items was a great education to all. The comradeship, the conversations, the food, and whatever really makes a deer camp.” In the section “Time for a Change”, Pemberton reflects on his years at the camp and comments with the future in mind, “The whole story was great, but I realized that being in my 90s, I could not continue ownership.” In 2017, the camp was deeded to Pemberton’s son Michael and his wife Bonnie. In a card of appreciation, Michael writes how much the camp means to him. In closing, he says, “As you know, it is in good hands and will remain so for as long as—well a long long time.” 


Deer Camp Cookies

My Grandmother was Pennsylvania Dutch, and in searching for a filled cookie recipe, I discovered that these cookies are a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch creation. I may have found a family recipe connection that I didn’t realize had existed. I wish that I had my mother’s, and very likely my grandmother’s, original recipe. This recipe yields a cookie very close to what I remember. They will surely please the deer hunters on your list. I used raisins for the filling, but the option is yours. Enjoy!

Makes sixteen cookies.

Ingredients

For the Filling

1 ½ cups raisins, finely chopped (you may use a combination of ½ cup each of figs, raisins, and dates if you prefer)

1⁄2 cup sugar 

1 tbsp. flour 

1⁄2 cup water

2 tsp. lemon juice

For the Cookie Dough

1⁄2 cup butter 

1 cup sugar 

2 eggs

2 Tbsp. heavy cream 

1 tsp. vanilla 

2 ½ cups all purpose flour 

¼ tsp. baking soda 

½ tsp. salt

Directions

Mix fruit, sugar, flour, water, and lemon juice into a saucepan. Cook this for about 5 minutes on a medium heat until the ingredients are blended well. Set aside.

Mix the butter, sugar, and eggs together. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix to form dough.

Chill dough for at least 1–2 hours. In small batches, roll out the dough into thin layers and cut with a round cookie cutter. Place about a tablespoon of the filling mixture into the center of half the circles each. Top with another circle and pinch edges together.

Bake at 350 degrees on a greased sheet pan for 16–18 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Let cookies cool before digging in.

The wooden guides are 3/8 of an inch thick —

A helpful tool for rolling out cookie dough uniformly.

The large bench scraper works great for

loosening any dough that sticks.

One thought on “Deer Camp

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  1. A great article by Margaret Osha, thank you to her and you folks for publishing. Happy Holidays.🦌

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