( MS ) ( ORCC )
A full hunter’s moon shone brightly as the battered old pickup truck made it’s way through the mountain gap. It was a cold November night, there would be a heavy frost this night. Passing through the gap and starting down the other side of the mountain, the driver could see that the camp ahead was dark. Camping trailers and tents were scattered casually around a central campfire that had been ringed with stones. A coffee pot had been prepared for the next morning and was sitting by the fire that had been carefully “banked up” for the night. No lights were showing. After a long day of hunting, the hunters were all sleeping soundly in their sleeping bags. There was no electricity in the deer camp, it was just too far out in the forest, there was no night light.
The beagles in the kennel were footsore and sleeping soundly as the campfire made an occasional snapping sound. First one beagle then another, began to bark at the sound of the approaching pickup truck. As the truck pulled into the camp, the dogs in the kennel were in full uproar.
The truck stopped by the campfire, idling, with the headlights on, casting shadows into the night.
Getting out of the truck, the driver called loudly, “HELLO THE CAMP” ! The driver’s loud clear voice carried the accent and vernacular of Ouachita mountaineers.
The dogs in the kennel increased their volume in response to the intruder’s hailing call to the camp. A light came on in a camper and the answer came back, “be right out”.
Warming his hands over the fire, the driver appeared to be tired from a long day in the woods. He had several days growth of beard on his face and his cammoflage clothing, blaze orange vest and hat showed the abuse of days in the mountains. He was a large man with a booming voice that carried through the darkness of the camp.
Backing up to the campfire, the large hunter warmed his other side and gently stretched his tired muscles. He had taken the large buck late that afternoon, and had spent the remainder of the daylight hours skinning and dressing the buck.
When the beagles had arrived, coming up the deers scent trail, he had been hearing them for several minutes, and knew by their sound that they were not from his deer camp. As the lead dog arrived at the place where he had taken the buck, the hunter had checked the name on the collar. The owner was from a deer camp over on the other side of Cross mountain, through Bradley gap.
He knew then. He had a tradion to fulfill.
During hard times in the Ouachita mountains, having a good deer dog could make the difference between a hard winter or a comfortable one. Having a deer dog also meant having another mouth to feed.
The tradition was that the hunter kept half of the deer and the antlers. The dog owner got half of the deer. This tradition insured that two mountain familys were able to make the winter in better form.
It was well after dark when the hunter had finished cleaning the deer and prepared half for transport over the mountain, to the neighboring deer camp.
He was careful to bring the antlers, for he knew it would be important to those in the other deer camp. They would plan future hunts on where the big buck had been jumped, where he had ran, and the deers aproximate age.
As the camp’s hunter’s came out to greet the visitor, they “poked up” the campfire, and asked many questions about the deer that had been taken. Comments about the deer’s direction of travel, the distance, how much he weighed and the antler score, flew around the campfire.
Hand shakes, back slaps and congratulations were conferred upon the hunter.
The impromptu campfire ceremony didn’t take long that night, yet, it reinforced a bond of trust that between the camps that would be remembered and upheld for many years.
Driving back through Bradley gap toward his home camp, the hunter thought to himself, “long day, short night, tomorrow’s sunrise will soon be here with another great day of hunting the Ouachita’s” ! “It won’t be long before those Ol’ boys back there bring a half of a deer back over the mountain to our side”.