Outdoors in Maine: Deer camps create a fellowship that's tough to match

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It’s only one five-letter word followed by an exclamation point, but most military air crewmen hope they never hear it or have to say it: “Eject! Eject! Eject!”

The next sounds heard by Capt. Vernon Burke and 2nd Lt. Leroy Vestar most likely were the rush of fast-moving air and the welcome pop of a blossoming parachute.

On May 24, 1954, after becoming lost in heavy weather near Chamberlain Lake and flaming out from fuel exhaustion, the two air force flyers from the 57th Fighter Interceptor Squadron in Presque Isle, came down safely in the woods after “punching out” of their F-89C Scorpion fighter jet. The crewless aircraft plummeted to earth not far off the Telos Road northeast of Chamberlain Lake and disintegrated. You can see pieces of the jet today in the woods where loggers have cut around the debris.

As fate would have it, an old logging camp a stone’s throw from the crash site survived the explosion and flying shards of aluminum, gears and bolts. Today, that “cutter’s camp” is a classic Maine deer camp proudly calling itself “The Senator Motel.” One of the founders of this deer camp was the late State Senator Jim McBreairty, hence the name. (The camp outhouse has a sign designating it “The State House.”)

On a spectacular early October day, while bird hunting in the north woods, my son and I stopped at the Senator Motel for a social call. The current camp honcho, Marvin McBreairty from Brewer, warmly welcomed us and offered a guided tour of their most treasured woods getaway. After introducing us to some of the boys, Master McBreairty walked us through, complete with hunt stories and a running commentary of their trophy wall.

Tours of Maine deer camps are always memorable, and, if you are lucky enough to get a tour guide with some age on him, heart warming.

If you belong to your own deer camp, visits at other camps touch a chord. The stories and the sense of fellowship between the plywood walls is palpable: you can feel it.

McBreairty, who worked on the railroad, is chalking up his 58th year at this camp. He traps as well as hunts, and he talks like an organizer who manages camp affairs, making sure that bills are paid and members pull together fixing roofs and paying dues.

Blood cancer almost ended McBreairty’s deer-camp days a number of years ago. He speaks with understandable emotion when he looks back on the battle, and all the good people and funding organizations that coalesced to keep him alive. He credits a stem cell transplant with giving him that precious second chance at a life that he clearly embraces with every new day.

The Senator Motel is just one of thousands of remote deer camps that hold their own stories and precious memories. Visiting these camps always brings me back to George Augustus Bixby’s classic poem, “Palace in the Popple”:

A man can live for a solid week

In the same old under-britches

And walk like a man and spit when he wants

And scratch himself where he itches.

I tell you, boys, there’s no place else

Where I’d rather be, come fall.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine guide and host of a weekly radio program, “Maine Outdoors,” heard at 7 p.m. Sundays on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network. He has authored three books; online purchase information is available at www.maineoutdoorpublications.net.

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