Archaeologists and kindred kind believe that the use of tools became the turning point for the development of the human line of animals.

I thoroughly disagree. When one considers the ancient ceremonial rituals surrounding the tribal hunting and killing of wild animals and the familial camaraderie of returning home to the awaiting clan with the harvest and the final gala atmosphere of the preparation and group consumption of these communally captured foods, I have little doubt that food, not tools, was the turning point for the human line.

Deer camp meals serve to strengthen the bonds of friends and families as they gather around communal fires to consume a meal together.

Deer camp meals serve to strengthen the bonds of friends and families as they gather around communal fires to consume a meal together.

Although we are currently separated by millions of years from the campfires and foods of our ancestors from so long ago, we still celebrate the act of hunting and killing game and the triumphal return of the successful hunter or fisherman to the group by the preparation of the bounty over the communal fire.

The deep, emotional stirrings of our very souls still ring as true around the cooking fire today as they did around the campfires of our brothers of the past.

A half-dozen veteran outdoor writers and deer hunters sat on a bluff 300 feet above a flowing river far below. The sun rose from the east as it has done for eons. Each sipped a hot cup of coffee as the philosophical prose about the beauty of the scene before us passed to and fro. A stomach growled and someone mentioned food.

I slipped from the comfort of my camp chair and walked 50 yards to my truck. There, in a small cooler in the bed of my pickup, I had previously stored the ingredients for a sumptuous breakfast meal.

I broke out my Coleman backpacking stove and quickly lit what became our communal fire. Aromas of cooking sausage drifted toward the bluff and soon my buddies sauntered toward my location to see what was cooking.

Deer steak fajitas are a favorite, quick and easy meal at our annual deer camps.

Deer steak fajitas are a favorite, quick and easy meal at our annual deer camps.

It took about two minutes to chop up an onion, a green pepper and a couple of mushrooms. I added the ingredients to the skillet of sizzling sausage. Less than five minutes later, I tossed a 10-inch soft tortilla shell over the entire concoction in the frying pan.

The shell steamed as it absorbed heat. I flipped it over to warm the other side. Next, I flipped the shell onto a paper towel, slathered it with sour cream, added grated cheese, ladled out the ingredients of the skillet onto the shell and rolled it up.

I had a tight gathering of friends hovering around the tailgate of my truck. Food had brought us closer together.

Wonderful smells awoke me in my tent early the next morning. Another outdoor chef from our deer hunting party plied his trade. Outdoor cooks relish the idea of tantalizing their sleeping buddies with the aromas of their craft, the products of which provide food for both the body and soul.

Good friend Ray Eye steadily worked through his ritualistic preparation of a breakfast on the river bank for which tribes would go to battle.

Salivating members of our clan soon gathered, unknowingly, naturally drawn to the communal fire of the grill where the strength for our souls and bellies for the day simmered and sizzled under the watchful eye of the veteran preparer of killer breakfasts.

Meat is a defining entity of deer hunting camps. Eye gingerly turned the savory red and black stripped venison tenderloins that slowly cooked over the white lumps of charcoal beneath them. An enormous cast iron skillet of white milk gravy bubbled nearby.

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Sharing the responsibilities of preparing killer deer camp meals congeal the bonds of kinship between hunters like no other force.

“Bubbles, bubbles, toils and troubles,” from Macbeth seemed fitting.

Seasoned fried corn shared a grill with curling bacon. Savory left over deer burgers, from the night before, covered a corner of the grill along with browning potatoes. The small table under the tent fly bulged with aromatic foods.

Raisin bread soaked in egg batter sizzled on the grill, under Eye’s watchful eye. Browned on both sides, the French toast joined the spread on the table. Personal orders for eggs finalized the meal preparation.

Incessant chatter rattled the morning air next to the riverside deer camp as our group huddled, once again, around the communal table that nourished both our physical needs and that of our psyches. We were a bunch of happy deer hunters once again.

Killer camp meals not only serve the purpose of congealing a clan, but also serve to attract a mate. I’ll never forget my first date with my wife, Dian. We floated a favorite river in pursuit of smallmouth bass. My inner being screamed to impress this lady of the day with my harvesting skills. The fish did not cooperate.

Fortunately for me, there is more than one way to a lady’s heart. We pulled the boat up onto a gravel bar. I offered my date a cool drink and a camp chair while I prepared Steak Fajitas a La Gravel Bar.

Marinated steak strips quickly provided the intoxicating aromas necessary to woo a hungry lady. The colorful addition of yellow and green peppers and red tomatoes to the mix added eye-appeal. A steaming tortilla, coated with melted cheese and, guacamole and sour cream, made Dian’s eyes twinkle.

My pride as a provider soared when Dian asked for another steak fajita and said, “This is one killer meal on the riverbank.”

That first riverbank meal together began a long and joyful tradition. I serve as the head cook on every camping and hunting trip we make together. We have enjoyed everything from cinnamon apple pancakes to venison pot roasts and fresh grilled trout and steamed crayfish, all in the confines and comforts of our family camp.

Extended family, aka, deer hunting buddies, have been wooed by my sumptuous deer camp meals for years, too, but those guys are not the least bit pretty.

By Bill Cooper

(Bill Cooper can be reached at 573-263-4918 or billrcooper801@gmail.com.)