February 2, 2023

A Real Florida Hunting Camp

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I had the priviledge to go to a place that many have never seen and probably wouldn’t care to see either. I traveled north from Largo, Florida to the Branford, Mayo, Live Oak and Steinhatchee areas. My journey was with friends and former neighbors, who as children, were born and raised in that same area, moving south about 45 years ago looking for work.

I had visited that area about 3 years ago with the same people, who incidently are in their early 80s, but this time we were headed to a birthday party for a brother-in-law who was turning 88. The party was held at hunting camp. I will not say who owns the camp or where it is located but I don’t think it is unlike many hunting camps scattered across the sunshine state.

The hunting camp has been around since perhaps before time and the old buildings showed it. Try as I may to get the newly turned 88 year old to share his stories, we kept getting interrupted. While straining to catch every word from his stories, told in a slow, southern drawl, I could also hear recollections being told from all corners of the cook shack and from around the campfire outside.

Being a Yankee or a Northerner, sometimes it’s hard to blend in and not having spent a great deal of time around native southerners, I still have a difficult time understanding the language.

hunting campThe hunting camp is a classic. The centerpiece to the property is the cook house or cook shack, grub house, whatever you prefer to call it. The cook shack can double as a bunk house at times, depending upon how many have shown up for hunting. Simply roll out your bedding between the picnic tables and go to sleep.

I’m not sure if the building holds up the old brick fireplace or the fireplace holds up the building – perhaps it is a mutual agreement worked out between the two powers.

A sink adorns one corner area of the shack and the water comes from a well high in sulpher content. As you drink it, you can smell and taste a bit of sulfer but if you pour itfireplace at hunting camp over ice and let it set for a spell, it’s not too bad. I’m not sure where the kitchen sink drained to and I didn’t ask.

Decorating the wall around the cook area were old Mason jars filled with assorted canned goods. No one seemed to know how long they had been there or who was responsible but they had been there long enough to collect a good coating of dust and dirt.

There is electricity to the camp and glancing around, it would be an electrician’s nightmare to sort through the wires. I wondered to myself if the little electrons got confused trying to find their way through the wires to light the lights or power the rusty old refrigerator on the far wall.

hunting campMost of the floor was covered with old picnic tables, enough to seat as many as 30 or 40 people – if the building could withstand the weight. I began to envision the masses of hunters over the years sitting around all the tables, each taking up their favorite or “lucky” spot and telling their tales.

From my vantage point, I could clearly see out through the verticle boarding on the west end of camp. Any place the asphalt siding had come off, there were cracks in the boards big enough to “throw a cat through” as the old saying goes.

Surrounding the large oak-wooded lot were several old house trailers, campers, shackshunting dogs and leantos. Some looked abandoned but trust me, they weren’t. Places in two different areas behind and between trailers, were the dog pens where the old man kept his 15 or so hunting dogs. He couldn’t really remember for sure how many he had now.

When hunting season was in hiatus, the fishing poles come out to fish the creek running nearby.

As each member of the family, friend or hunting buddy arrived to wish the man happy birthday, it was with relaxed ease that everyone took up a lawn chair or sat down on an old log and joined in conversations.

There is nothing that can compare or replace the old hunting camp.

Tom Remington