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NELLIE - This town is no larger than many of the others in Coshocton County, be it Warsaw, Randle or Blissfield.
They are hard scrapple towns populated by blue-collar, dirt-in-the-fingernails folk who take pleasure in small town high school state championships of one form or another. And these good people have a decided taste for the flavor of hunting.
Especially if that genre’s relish is garnished with anything related to white-tail deer.
It is rough-hewed country, too. The hills climb steeply and fall with the same incline into narrow slits that anchor somber valley floors. Most of the hillsides are lathered in forests, luckily in many cases made up of acorn-bearing-food-rich white oaks.
That is good because Coschocton County is always playing king of the hill with neighboring Tuscarawas County for the leadership in Ohio’s 88-county race for the state deer harvest top spot.
Last year Coschocton County easily scored first place with 9,633 animals harvested while Tuscarawas County had to accept the also-ran trophy with 9,010 deer taken. Positions are being reversed this year, however, as the to-date deer kill in Coschocton County is 6,011 animals while it’s 9,820 deer in Tuscarawas County.
Yet no matter where the counties vie for first place honors each gets the nod by the state’s deer hunters as must go-to destinations. And lucky are the few folks who have managed to stake a claim to a piece of deer-hunting nirvana. Credit one very good stroke of luck to the Schmid family of Thompson Township.
More than 40 years ago the Schmid’s won what would eventually become a deer hunter’s Super Lotto prize. That acquisition fell into their collective lap long before the white-tail deer surprised everyone by taking root in Ohio with a population greater than the number of people living in either one of four states.
“My father wasn’t a hunter. He just wanted a quiet place for a vacation spot,” said Dave Schmid, a retired truck driver who serves as the family’s chief camp magistrate.
Like the family itself the hunting locale is a humble affair. No unique nameplate hangs over the spacious one-room cabin. You won’t see an “At The End Of The Road Camp,” “Big Buck Camp,” or “Trophy Quest Camp,” sign stuck anywhere though each of these monickers certainly would apply. Nope, it’s just “The Camp,” plain and simple and true to form.
“Welcome to our paradise,” said Schmid’s son, Paul, a personal trainer who operates his own business (www.healthyoutdoorsman.com).
That part is also true. Even in the stark nakedness of winter this place speaks of a quiet repose. Nestled into between the cleavage of several tall hills the 90-acre Coschocton County property tilts what seems to be westward. The plot of land is also caked in a ragweed field that has an one-acre or so fishing pond sunk into the earth.
“It’s got a lot of really big catfish,” Paul said.
An opportunity to test that claim hopefully will come at a later date. For now, at the beginning of Ohio’s four-day statewide muzzle-loading season, my goal was launch a .45-caliber bullet from my Knight rifle and hope it squares up with an animal. That way I can have the deer processed for my daughter’s family freezer.
The Schmids and I would not be hunting alone, which is a good thing. The more the merrier when you’ve got a hunting linchpin as secure as is The Camp.
Frequently joining in the hunts and the associated festivities are Ron McLelland and his teenage son, Ian, both of Kirtland Hills, along with Dan Jones of Cleveland.
The two men prove particularly useful. Both are skilled craftsmen who help keep The Camp’s superstructure in working order. Importantly too, each owns a go-almost-anywhere ATV; a necessary vehicle for clambering up the hills’ sharp cants and along the narrow trails hacked from the woods.
Every camp member had stories to tell and recollections to ruminate on. That’s part of camp life, especially when you’re dealing with a cabin as impressive as the one the Schmids’ built.
Jokes were told, and as often as not at the expense of another camp member. That included Jones who poured an uncountable number of muzzle-loading widgets and do-dads in his belief they would make camp life more simple and hunting more successful.
“Money is no object for Mr. Gadget; not when he has to have one,” opined the elder Schmid when Jones emptied his bottomless muzzle-loading possibles box.
As for the four-day season’s opening round, well, that was a tough go, particularly for a noted deer-hunting reserve with the reputation of Coschocton County.
Ian, Mr. Gadget and Dave didn’t see any deer during their morning stint. Paul saw two animals. I reckon that if my notes are correct, I spied one doe. Unfortunately for me but fortunate for her, the doe was engaged in a good trot at a distance of perhaps 125 to 150 yards with more than few sticks of oaks between us.
Ron, on the other hand, said he saw about 20 deer. Among them was a group of seven does and fawns. As these things so often go in hunting, Ron happens to be a horn-only hunter, not even caring for the flavor of venison. Stands to reason that the guy who least desires to shoot just any old deer is the one person who has the best chance.
But really, it didn’t matter when everyone reassembled back at The Camp for a lunch break. No one complained any. Nor did it have much impact when we all mustered for
the evening roll call after a three-hour unsuccessful late afternoon hunt.
Come to think about it, you couldn’t count any long faces the next morning either when the only person who didn’t turn over in their sleeping bag was Paul. That’s because after viewing the thermometer’s reading of near zero degrees the group thought the wiser of leaving the cabin’s insulated snugness. We all wanted to kill a deer though not so much to take a stand in such bitter cold.
Except for Paul, a health nut who bundled himself up, climbed the closest hill and came back down two hours later; chilled, hungry and with a taste for bragging how he saw six deer.
That’s the way camp life comes and goes, of course. It is part of the ebb and flow of memories forgotten and new ones formed and stored for future recollection and subsequent lies.
It had been the better part of 10 years since the last time I took up with a group of guys and enjoyed a stint in a genuine hunting Mans’ Cave. My hope is that it won’t take be long until the next opportunity arrives.
I had almost forgotten that the best part of camp life isn’t always about the killing but about what comes bundled as the total package. The Schmids understand this detail most of all.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn