Article contributed by J. Wilcox
Putting the plans together had been hectic; it was, after all, my three former college roommates and I trying to organize a last-minute trip. For myself it would be one of numerous logged squirrel hunts, but for my friends it would be only their first or second. This was a particularly special occasion because it would be the first time I would take us out as a complete group. The pressure was on me to plan a successful trip, so I spent my lunch breaks of the preceding week deciding on where we would set up camp and where on the property we would hunt. With the week at a close, our spot roughly decided, and gear packed, we were ready to take on the hunt. Off work and on the road, we weaved through the hilly terrain that follows along the Kentucky River. Getting out of the truck and starting our ascent, I already felt the pressure of letting down the group as what appeared on a quick view of the topographic map to be a steady incline hike ended up being a full ridge climb to the clearing where we would camp.
On our way up I didn’t hear any complaints or discouragement, but rather motivation to keep climbing with each step. After a false ascent and a slip or two we had made it to the top. What we found was well worth the trouble, a beautiful opening of lush high grass encapsulated by a dense tree line. With our last fading bit of sunlight we threw up our tents, got our gear inside and a bottle of Woodford Reserve on ice. Feeling sufficiently settled in, we set out on a last light scout. What we found on this new territory was an immense amount of growth even for a rainy Kentucky spring, old oaks and an abundance of unpressured woods gave promise, and with that we had our two core hunting areas plotted for the early morning. With business at a close for the night and our guns stored away, our attention shifted to gathering fire wood and some sitting logs for an evening around the morale boosting blaze of fire.
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With the flame at full force and the bugs subsequently at bay, camp food preparation came into full effect with main courses of hot dogs or ramen with a side tuna packet. What followed was an experience I will never forget. The next 3 hours were filled with laughter and conversation that for some reason trumped the discussions of similar fashion in the comforts of other deer camps. The taste of shared suffering already endured elevated every sense and moment; bringing out the beauty of every facet the woods had to offer. As a result the noodles had never tasted so good and the tunes of everyone from Led Zeppelin to Willie Nelson had never lifted my spirits in a way those melodies did that night. It was not the sips of bourbon that evoked these emotions, but it was surrounding myself with close friends and sharing with them the beauty of nature by means of chasing wild game. With the night winding down and our eyes growing weary we spent our final moments looking up at the stars uninterrupted or dulled by city lights. Catching the occasional shooting star, it had resonated with us that this camping experience was nothing like that of pitching a tent on a campground, but throwing ourselves out into the dense wilderness, a mile away from the truck and at an elevation that nobody within ten counties around would be interested in trekking.
As the sun rose and our alarms sounded we slowly arose to the warming hums of animals sounding off the morning. As I was the first to emerge from the coziness of the tents I was responsible for getting water to a boil for our morning coffee. Sitting around the remains from the previous night’s fire we sipped on some instant Spanish coffee and reminisced on the experiences shared the day before and planned the approach we would take to the woods that day. As we split up and dug into our chosen plot of woods we found few flurries of tails and awfully still tree limbs. The silence of the woods persisted and the action I had hoped for on the hunt had not come to fruition, all had been skunked but me registering just one harvested squirrel. It’s when we were all together again that my fear of disappointing the group had been completely discredited as smiling faces and stories of the day in the field poured out. Without even having to mention it they had got it; a hunt is not based on the number of kills registered on the day but the number or memories and lessons taken from the field. Though this group of guys didn’t kill enough to feed an army, let alone ourselves, but we were not starved, because we had filled our hearts and minds with experiences only one can experience in the wilderness.
This hunting trip had been the start of something great; something that now will be a bi-annual camping and hunting trip followed by fishing, wild game cooking and many more great memories. Where we lacked in tales of killing squirrels we made up for with stories of Chris’s first big largemouth, bare handed frog gigging under the cover of darkness and a sense of venture and freedom of the outdoors that carried with us the entire weekend. What came of camping were memories that would have been lost in the monotony of the comfort of a bed, a hot breakfast with drip coffee and a simple drive to the property. This experience will be something I never forget, and I am assured that hunting and camping are meant to coexist as they naturally have for thousands of years. It is important to strip it down to the basics at some point and leave behind the cabin on the farm for a tent pitched in a field.
About the Author
Justin calls a quaint little town in Northern Kentucky home, and like most hunters his general outdoor education came from his father. He has refined his skills and knowledge through a devotion to reading on the subject. From a very young age Justin developed a passion for fishing and hunting alongside his father, the shared suffering made each catch or harvest that much more of a triumph and accomplishment. It is this appreciation for the outdoors that has remained with him during his four years away at the University of Cincinnati. In those years, Justin began not only preparing, but also processing his own wild game. Whether it’s squirrel, venison, or crappie Justin will always love sharing the experiences and food of the wild with those in his life.