The deer camp is a special place. It has always been one of my favorites – and the atmosphere the day before opening day is filled with great speculation and gear preparations. When I was young, the elders in our camp spent the night by the fireplace, telling stories, oiling guns and dressing boots. The smell of wood smoke and gun oil mixed with a boot dressing will always be one of the first things I remember when I think of deer camp. But until I was about 14, my only participation in this poignant pre-hunt event was listening. I didn’t have my own gun or any story to tell – and my boots were rubber.
I had rubber boots because money was always tight and my feet grew every year. Mom and Dad would pick me up a new pair of inexpensive wellies from the general store every fall. My feet got cold when I hunted, and instead of dressing boots at night, I treated blisters. However, before my 15th Christmas, I put a pair of leather boots from the Gander Mountain catalog on my wish list, knowing full well that it was a lot of money to spend on a pair of hunting boots … for a child. But I included a note with my list that said, “I think my feet have stopped growing, these boots should last a long time.”
By this time my sister and I knew who Santa Claus was and we received our gifts after the extended family left our home on Christmas Eve. The first package I opened was the perfect size for what I wanted most – and there were my exclusive Gander Mountain all-leather hunting boots. They came with the smell of new leather and the hope of traveling hundreds of miles of hard ground. I put them on and wore them until I went to bed. I actually wore them when we visited family on Christmas Day.
Eleven months later, with all the hunters sitting by the fireplace, telling lies, oiling guns and dressing boots, I was there too. I didn’t say much, I didn’t have to. Those big-priced leather hunting boots said my place was here, then, and forever. For those who are bred to hunt with their feet instead of feet per second, on Christmas morning a pair of good hunting boots is better than any gun. They will help you leave your mark in the wilderness.
Every day this week we will be sharing a new essay in our “Christmas Story” series. You can find them all here.