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The buck stops here

In early October of 1945 then President Harry S. Truman received a desk plaque as a gift from a friend from Missouri. The small placard read “The Buck Stops Here”, a phrase which would go on to symbolize Truman’s time in the nation’s highest office.

According to the Harry S. Truman Library, the plaque “was made in the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma. Fred M. Canfil, then United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri and a friend of Mr. Truman, saw a similar sign while visiting the Reformatory and asked the Warden if a sign like it could be made for President Truman.”

The phrase “The Buck Stops Here” stems from the alternative to the old saying of “passing the buck”, or pushing the responsibility off onto another person. It’s said the term “pass the buck” was derived from frontier saloons where a knife with a buck antler handle was often used as a marker of who was to dealnext. If a player didn’t want to deal he could pass the move, or pass the “buck”, on to the next player.

Not that anything about the card game story or President Truman’s desk ornaments has anything to do with my line of thinking, except that the phrase came to mind when I started thinking about deer hunting … and I think the “buck stops here” plaque story is an interesting bit of our history.

Now to the real topic I wanted to discuss. Deer season for bow hunters is already underway. For those of us who only hunt deer with firearms, we have only six weeks until we’ll get our chance. That’s right, only 42 days by my calculations, give or take a day or two depending on when you’re reading this commentary.

How close rifle season is hit home for me this past Wednesday as I was driving home in the late afternoon from a rained-out tennis match my daughter was to play. After a quick stop at Wal-Mart I headed up the highway for home. It was cool, drizzly and there was a misty fog settled in the hollers. I rolled the window down on the truck and sniffed the air, and it smelled exactly like deer season.

I immediately called one of my brothers to see if he was planning to join us at deer camp this year. That’s when we realized we’d be gathering in at the farm for the annual “opening weekend family only” deer hunt and food fest in a few short weeks. The conversation quickly turned to what deer sign I’ve seen in recent weeks, what we might fix for meals, and how long we’d each be able to hunt after opening day.

If you deer hunt, or know and love someone who does, than you’ll likely be making similar preparations in coming weeks. Anyone who has ever experienced it knows that “deer camp” is a completely separate event from “deer hunting”. I mean, I can go deer hunting anytime during season by simply putting on my camo and blaze orange, grabbing a bow or gun, and walking into the woods and sitting down.

But deer camp is a celebration of deer hunting. It’s about gathering in a day or so before season starts and swapping stories and lies as we catch up on each other’s families and unload the ATVs, unpack the weaponry, get some meat on the grill or in the stew pot and make that first pot of camp coffee. Deer camp is a time to sit around and tell stories of past hunts while you hone your hunting knife on a whetstone, discuss bullet ballistics, and review pictures from the game cameras posted around the property.

Deer camp is also a time to talk strategies for the pending day’s hunt, try to pull a few jokes or pranks over on any newbies in camp for the first time, and stuff yourself with copious amounts of chili, pork and beans, beans and cornbread (all jazzed up with jalapeno peppers, hot sauce, too many onions, junk food and beverages) … you see a theme here, right. Part of deer season is about eating foods you’d get in trouble for eating in such quantities back at home.

For us deer season is also about multiple generations gathering for one weekend a year to hunt and live together on one piece of property. Most years we also kill a few deer. Of course, who kills the biggest deer, and who kills the first deer opening morning are also talking points for that weekend and several years to follow. Then all too soon the weekend comes to a close and we head home and spend the next few days processing venison and getting it packed away in the freezer for the next several months.

In coming weeks I hope to share some of your stories and memories from deer camps past and present. Call me at (573) 756-8927, or email me at, and tell me your favorite deer camp story, recollection or memory. I’ll include them in this column in coming weeks as we approach that great weekend in November.

Doug Smith lives in an old house, drives an old truck, tinkers with old tractors, is married to a young woman, hunts and fishes often, and can be found on any given day wearing his Buffalo plaid flannel jacket and matching Elmer Fudd hat (… and ranks deer camp right up there with Christmas morning, his birthday and Thanksgiving dinners.)

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