THIS PAST FALL and winter, Camp F-Troop hosted 5 hunting trips, all well-attended by enthusiastic deer, bear, and small-game hunters. But we welcome non-hunters and non-fishers, too, and always have, especially at our March pre-spring retreats and our boating and camping expeditions in the mid-summer. Lots of men, women, and children attend every year, not for a chance at a big buck or a wild trout, but just to enjoy the great outdoors.

Marky D, our Camp Concierge, is our number one non-outdoorsman regular. He loves to “go up to the mountains” to snooze on the front porch, spot deer at night, build campfires in the afternoon, enjoy a few cold beverages in the evening, and just relax in the peace and quiet of the big woods. Recently he organized an adventure at camp with a few of his “good old boy” buddies. 5 of us attended, and we not only relished the camaraderie of friends at leisure time but also made some excellent connections with the outdoors.

Mark and I arrived in late afternoon Friday and stowed our gear and sat down at the kitchen table in front of the big picture window that looks out on at the back yard and the woods. It was just before dark, and we stared at the trees and the slope of the lower mountainside without speaking, as camp attendees often do. Then, without turning my head toward Mark, I whispered, “deer.”

Mark looked and looked but did not see anything. “Flip the light off,” he suggested. and in that moment, the glare of the inside light ceased, and the grounds outside illuminated under the darkening sky and the light of the moon on the ground. Our deer was a large doe, crippled in the back right leg, the matriarch of a small clan, we later discovered. We wondered aloud about the crippled leg for a moment but then I whispered “deer” again. Another mature doe appeared, following right behind. and then four yearlings, one after the other, all tracking along the same trail, at close range. Each deer, six of them in all, stopped at the small clearing behind the campfire location and looked both ways before meandering by. Mark had rarely before watched close-up cautious deer movement like that. It was a memorable scene.

Donny P arrived later that night and – in the morning – made breakfast for us – eggs, sausage, hot peppers, and muffins. We needed to fortify because we had plans, a 3-mile trek along the river to a certain destination, for the rest of the morning. We hopped into Marky’s van ands drove through town to a hiking trail that we had heard about but never visited before. We walked south, downstream, right along the Allegheny River on an old, abandoned railroad bed, with a steep mountainside climbing high above on the right and the big river roiling brown and deep on our left. Across the river sat dozens of houses and camps and local businesses – you could see them easily across the waters – while on our right appeared nothing but the steep hillside and the woods. It was a pleasant contrast to the eye.

A mile and a quarter later, we arrived at our destination, Grove Run Falls, a beautiful waterfall ten feet high and twenty feet wide, on a small trout stream in the big woods. The waters ran fast and clean and beautiful and we stopped and admired and took a few snapshots.

Back at camp at noon, Ned F arrived for his first-ever trip to Camp F-Troop, and right behind him came a surprise. Rocky G., a camp regular since 1985, and a devoted hunter and also my ex-nephew but now a resident of Florida, although he still makes the trip a few times per year on hunting season, pulled into the driveway. He grinned at me and yelled, “Hey, Ex-Unc! I just flew in for the weekend and came up to visit camp!” Another ironic fact: Rocky and Ned were old friends who had worked together for years, and they arrived at camp one minute apart. Those two led the social hour that night for sure.

Donny P made lunch, and then Marky built a roaring daytime fire. Nighttime fires are great but day fires above the snow are best, and Mark kept his going for hours. We took one road trip, ten miles upriver just to view the big woods of SGL 86, and we spotted a bald eagle right above us perched in a tall sycamore. You never know what you’ll discover up at camp.

DON FEIGERT is the outdoors writer for The Herald and the Allied News. His latest book, The F-Troop Camp Chronicles, and his earlier books are available by contacting Don at 724-931-1699 or dfeigert@verizon.net. Browse his web site at www.donfeigert.com Or visit Leanna’s Books at the Shenango Valley Mall.

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