As the sun sets on Sunday, Dec. 2, the regular big game hunting season will come to a conclusion across most of the northern zone wildlife management units.
For many sportsmen and women, the date will signal the successful completion of another year of outdoor adventures. Whether a tag was filled during their annual fall forays is often inconsequential.
At times, too much emphasis is placed on the "take," with little regard for the "give." However, those who return to forest and field every year typically understand the rewards.
Hunting camps come in all shapes and sizes, but there is always a common theme: They each provide an escape from the modern world and a return to slower, quieter pace of life.
(Photo — Joe Hackett)
Certainly, there are benefits of the wild in the harvest of fresh venison, turkey or other game. These are the tangible contributions of the hunt, the physical aspects that are readily obvious.
But for hunters who fail to fill their tags, there remains an equal measure of benefits that are rarely considered, except by those who share them of course.
Surely there are physical health benefits that are achieved through long hours of hiking, climbing and occasionally dragging. There are also the important skill sets required for the necessary organization, orientation, planning and preparation of the hunt, as well as the details of communication.
But for the human psyche, any amount of time spent in a natural environment is far more valuable than a comparable duration of indoor time, with the exclusion of course of the time spent in camp. In fact, the camaraderie and regular tomfoolery of camp life is possibly one of the most overlooked aspects the sporting life.
It is an experience that provides great stress relief, offers fine companionship and delivers a host of other positive benefits, including personal responsibility, punctuality and of course, compassion, communication and freedom.
Hunting camp is a most unique location where men can become boys and boys can become men. I've often considered penning a book about the process. I'd title it "Everything I know, I learned in camp."
It is a sad fact that less than 8 percent of the nation's population continues to participate in an activity that can sharpen your senses, steel your resolve, improve your memory and hone your hereditary predatory skills.
In the process of sharing such skills and activities - which include the truly concrete matters of both life and death - there is a unique change that comes over a person. It comes in the form of a new reality that is achieved only when we are far removed from typical human interactions.
It is a process that has been described as the "freedom of the hills." I recall reading a wonderful tale on the topic in "Honest Essays on Blood Sport" by David Petersen and Richard K. Nelson, which detailed a story of a noted physician who was visiting an Adirondack deer camp for the first time.
"He was not a hunter; it was all new to him. As he stood by the cabin door one evening, watching hunters dress deer while their companions offered unsolicited advice, listening to the good laughter and easy talk, the doctor turned to his host with a look of sudden comprehension and said, "Why, these men are free!"
Freedom is likely the greatest reward hunters receive in return for their time in the woods. For many, it is the only such opportunity they have available throughout the entire year to shed the worries and responsibilities from their shoulders.
But for the lucky few who continue to live by the sporting calendar, seasons are defined by the outdoor activities present, rather than by some simple dates printed in an appointment calendar.
In the process, the seasons are always taking on new realities as weather patterns fluctuate, forests change and time passes more swiftly than before.
In the grand scheme of things, there remains only one consistent tenet, and it can only be found in camp.
So, I'll likely be off soon to stow away the sleeping bags, patch the roof, seal up the cracks and rodent-proof the place. Then, I'll watch the coals glow in the stove and begin planning for the next season's adventures.