The deer camp is all about friendship and camaraderie, but also equipment.
During those few precious weeks of November and December, the deer hunters come to dust off in our garages everything we don’t use at other times, except maybe for the turkey hunting camp.
Experienced campers have everything they need, but never everything they want. If you’re looking for items to add to your kit or if you’re new to hunting camping, here’s a list of some items you can’t live without.
Above all, you need a dry place to sleep. A tent is the most basic and portable shelter, and it’s incredibly versatile. Todd Craighead, host of the “Outdoor Oklahoma” TV show, keeps a large wall tent erected in its place during the muzzleloaders and modern weapons of Oklahoma deer season. It usually doesn’t descend until it rots, then Craighead replaces it with an identical one.
For those with more spartan needs, there are many smaller tents that are much cheaper and easier to handle. For years I have used a three person dome tent with an air mattress and a sleeping bag. I switched to a teardrop-shaped motorhome that I park under a large awning big enough to house my four-wheeler and other gear.
Rugged hunting camp roads take a toll on campers, so most hunters use worn models that will not be badly harmed by further abuse.
Elite campers build mobile cabins. There are a few on my lease, including a new one that Mike Romine has built from random materials he has acquired over the years. We all know guys like that. They bring home a pile of scrap lumber or metal roofing with the intention of making it into something someday, and it stays there until they die.
Romine is actually using her accumulated jetsam. His now-adult grandson’s sandbox forms the base of the hut of what is essentially a tiny miniature house. It has electrical outlets galore. As for the camp huts, it is a palace.
When the deer season is over, Romine can put it on a trailer and take it home.
A stove is a must. You need it for cooking, making coffee, and heating water for washing hair, body, and kitchen utensils.
Without a doubt, a two-burner propane stove is the most user-friendly and efficient version. Simply insert the propane fitting into the stove, attach a propane cylinder, open a valve, and turn on. It’s totally problem free.
There are also single burner butane stoves, but butane does not flow well in cold weather. If you don’t have a warm place to store your butane cans, it will barely ignite.
Traditionalists prefer stoves that burn white fuel. These are available in 5,000 and 10,000 BTU models per burner. Fill the tank, pressurize the tank, light and adjust the burners. Over time, the gaskets need to be replaced and the varnish removed from the lines. Still, they work great, and we love them. Modern versions also run on unleaded gasoline.
If you have access to electricity, an electric hot plate is another alternative.
Artificial lighting brightens up the ambience of a hunting camp and allows you to walk around without tripping.
Lanterns are the traditional way of lighting the camp. White gas lanterns are the most traditional and will burn through the night with just one tank of fuel.
Propane lanterns are easier to use. A propane cylinder usually lasts me two nights.
If you have access to electricity, LED lighting is a great alternative. LEDs require very little power, so you can run them for a long minute without draining a deep cycle battery. If you have a generator, so much the better.
Hanging lanterns are a challenge in remote and primitive hunting camps. There are no street lights like in official campgrounds, so you have to improvise. Chain hangers are limited to how high you can climb a tree. I use Coleman retractable lantern poles. You can elevate them above eye level which eliminates glare.
After use, it boils down to a compact unit that fits in a small bag.
You don’t need a generator, but you want one. You know it.
For camping, you want an inverter generator. It’s small and quiet enough that you can have a conversation in a normal voice alongside another.
Inverters are available from many manufacturers at many outlets, including Honda, Yamaha, Polaris, and Predator. Mine is a 2,200 watt Westinghouse unit that will run a refrigerator or 5,000 BTU heating and air unit. Much larger and much smaller models are available.
With an inverter, you can power all your sensitive electronic devices. A conventional generator is subjected to surges that can burn out sensitive electronic components, and they are also very noisy.
No camp kit is complete without an ax. It is useful for removing tinder from logs, and also as a hammer for hammering tent stakes and for other rough tasks.
The shears are another must-have part of my kit. I use them to cut saplings and branches.
A machete is good for tasks too small for shears and hatchet, like removing heather from the camp area, or for making a trail to a private area in a thicket.
A cast iron skillet is needed for breakfasts and stir-fry dinners. I also have a stainless steel pot and pan with copper bottoms for cooking beans, corn on the cob, boiling seafood, and making sauces.
For meals, enameled metal plates are ideal for camping. They are durable and easy to clean.
For utensils, I use a Coleman four-person stainless steel serving set that rolls up in a neat little package. For backcountry hunting and canoe camping, I use a Case Hobo – a knife, fork and spoon that forms a large pocket knife. I got mine at the NAPA store in Malvern.
The rope is an essential part of the camp. A camp kit should have a generous length of braided climbing rope and a spool of small diameter braid. They are useful for lashings, clotheslines and hoists.
Rope is inexpensive and reusable as long as you take care of it.