Clayton: Hunting camps I have known

Luke Clayton
Special to the E-T
This abandoned old building is the Ritz compared to some of the hunting camps Luke has spent time in.
Luke Clayton

My love for building a cabin "back in the woods" began at an early age. Two neighbor buddies and I used hatchets to hack down several sweet gum saplings in the patch of woods beside our farm to construct our "cabin." I remember us taking turns with the dull hatchet to down the saplings.

Once on the ground, we cut them into 6 foot lengths and hacked notches in them to construct a very crude (heavy on the word CRUDE) cabin. We used that little structure as a headquarters for our squirrel and rabbits hunts and even had a little fire pit outside the cabin door for cooking some simple meals of hot dogs and canned chili.

As a young man with a growing family, we couldn’t afford a camper but did spend time camping in our tent. I remember one very cold day back in the late 1970s when I got the idea to take the wife and our two oldest kids to my uncle’s place in very rural Red River County for an overnight camping trip. It was late October and an early cold front blew in during the night. We spent several hours in the cab of my Dodge truck with the heater running!

I later purchased a homemade pop-up camper that resembled an antique wooden river barge. It was huge for a pop-up camper, heavy and pulled like a wooden ox cart. But we had a roof over our heads and thought we were in "high cotton"! The camper doubled as a hunting camp in the fall until if finally simply fell apart.

In the early 1980s, I joined a good friend on a deer lease up in Jack County. There was a huntable number of whitetail deer, lots of turkey and hogs were beginning to show up along the drainages, this was the boon years for quail hunting and the place was loaded with bob whites. My buddy loaned us one of his older campers as headquarters until he and his wife decided to join a hunting club that offered hunting all across the state.

He turned the lease over to me and I promptly invited one of my long time buddies to join me on the lease, which also cut my cost in half. James was a pretty handy builder and asked if we could build a little cabin on the lease. The owner gave his permission and we soon had an 8x12-foot structure constructed on one of the side fences of the property. We wanted to do our camping as far away as possible from where we hunted so as not to disturb game.

The little cabin was constructed from a mix-mash of materials but it was dry and once we installed a little wood-burning stove, it was warm, often VERY warm when we stoked the fire with too much wood! This little cabin served as headquarters for many hunts for several years until the owner passed away and we lost the lease. I’d like to return to the property some day and see if it’s changed. There might be a few scraps of the remains of our little cabin but I’m sure the elements reclaimed our old camp through the years.

I think I still remember every hilltop and creek bottom on the 640 acres. If the land is leased for hunting, it’s a good bet the cost will be way more than the $500 per year back in the early 80s.

About the time I lost access to this piece of outdoor heaven, I was established as an outdoor writer and hunting and fishing opportunities were becoming available to be on a regular basis. For several years, I didn’t have an official "lease" to hunt but began accepting offers to do articles on ranches from the Rocky Mountains to Mexico. But even with the opportunity to hunt different parts of the country, I still missed having a little camp of my own to hunt. An old trailer house served as our headquarters on an east Texas lake for several years.

I later leased a few acres in Trinity County that had an abandoned house that I was allowed to use as headquarters. I moved a little 12-foot camper made in the mid-60s on the place and camped in it while I cleaned up the old house. As it turned out, the place was once owned by my mother-in-law’s grade school teacher. In those days, I would drop my wife off to visit her mother and head to my little camp to hunt deer and hogs. It was a good arrangement that I enjoyed for several years.

I later gained access to a couple hundred acres situated about a half mile from my house. I would use my electric "hunting buggy," to drive to the place to hunt and in the 17 years I hunted deer, hogs and ducks and fished the ponds on the place I learned every inch of the property. But something was missing….. a hunting cabin. A buddy and I built a very nice little cabin in the trees behind my house. I constructed an outdoor cooking pit in front of the cabin and I pretty much had the perfect set up for many years until the land sold and I lost access.

Several years ago, I met a great fellow at a Wild Hog Festival in Ben Wheeler, Texas. We each shared a lifelong love of the outdoors and soon became great friends. I remember my friend’s wife telling him that "you and that guy are going to become lifelong friends!" Women have a sixth sense for such things and she was right on target with that prediction.

In past years, we have enjoyed many hunts on their place in East Texas. My buddy has joined me on many hunts and fishing trips while I’ve been on story assignments from Canada to South Texas. We’ve had an absolute ball sharing the outdoors together. A few years ago, my friends gave me the keys to their property and this past weekend, we moved what will be my last hunting "cabin" onto his land. It’s actually a homemade camper constructed by my nephew, made totally from metal. It will be around much longer than I but I vow to put it to good use during my golden years as a hunter!

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