Faron Teague took aim at bringing back a time-honored deer hunting tradition and hit the bull’s-eye.
Teague runs Indian Trail Archery and Guns, and he and his band of “loafers,” were just sitting around the shop shooting the breeze five years ago when they came up with an idea to give youngsters a fuller hunting experience.
Deer season in the Ozarks has always been big, but it had lost some luster when the Missouri Department of Conversation moved from check stations to Telecheck. Reporting filled tags by phone or internet took away from the time-worn Autumn tradition of seeing deer in the town with a population of 4,950.
So this group of men, who grew up gathering, gawking and chewing the fat at check stations, brought it back to life with what they call Deer Camp.
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“We started this in 2009,” Teague said. “The kids didn’t have a place to show off their deer anymore. We just had Telecheck. This gives them a place to come in, show theirs off.”
Some 47 deer graced the Indian Trail parking lot during this year’s youth season opening weekend. Crowds gathered around each for a glimpse. Details of the hunts were told again and again, along with a few stories. There were a lot of laughs, food, and prizes. It was a festive atmosphere.
“We got hot dogs, chili, donuts,” Teague said. “We give a lot of door prizes away – that deer blind Dave Pace built. Me and a local taxidermist -- he does the work and I buy the material -- we give one of the youth hunters a free mount.”
That’s the grand prize, and it’s coveted. Teague said a girl who won it a few years ago held the mount on her lap for a long ride home to “make sure nothing happened to it.”
There were plenty of trophy bucks worthy of mounting this weekend, and some interesting stories. Putting on the Deer Camp is a lot of work for Teague and company, but giving kids this outlet is rewarding.
“The smiles of these kids’ faces – this is my Christmas present to me,” said Teague, adding that the parents get into the spirit as well. “Oh, they love it. It gives them pleasure to come and look at deer, too.”
Bow hunters in the region reported deer had not been moving much with warm temps and windy days, but a cold front on Halloween provided a lot of tricks and treats for the kids the next morning.
“It was the perfect youth season opening,” said John Gibbs, who hunted with two successful youth. “The first hard frost of the year, no wind. Yesterday it was windy and they weren’t moving at all. It was a perfect morning, a good day for the kids. Now it won’t be any good at all for our opener.”
Gibbs was with Matt Hawkins, 15, and Chandler Gray, 14, as they killed an 8-pointer and a small doe, respectively, only four minutes and 100 yards apart.
Matt Hawkins, 15, was proud of this nice 8-pointer. He and Chandler Gray, 14, put deer on the ground four minutes and 100 yards apart. Gray’s was a small doe, and Hawkins said, “We couldn’t find his deer. He was in a field then he said, ‘I found it’ and just picked it up.”
“We couldn’t find his deer,” Hawkins said. “He was in a field looking, then he said, ‘I found it,’ and just picked it up.”
Gray’s doe elicited this well-worn line from one of the old-timers: “Was there any milk running out of its mouth when you shot it?”
Alongside the doe that will make great meals, there were several bucks scoring around 150 inches, about as good as one could expect in the area. Salem, the Dent County seat, lies in the Ozarks between Mark Twain National Forest and Fort Leonard Wood, an army base left mostly wild. It’s prime deer hunting territory in the state.
Wesley Miller was certainly proud of his 14-pointer, although he and his father, Todd, had seen a larger buck with it on their ranch, but it ran off chasing a doe.
“I seen this buck three times and I said this year I’m killing him. I wished he was a 30-pointer,” Wesley said before getting a bowl of venison chili with corn chips he’d been talking up for a week.
Wesley has filled his tags every year he’s hunted and is a regular at Teague’s Deer Camp. Two years ago he won the drawing to have his deer mounted.
It was the first time there for Jason Blankenship, who’s been serving as a guide for brothers, Aaron and Shawn Pollard since their father passed away.
“We’ve had some crazy hunts with these two,” Blankenship said. “The deer have kind of overrun us, without hardly any trying whatsoever. The last two years, they have both killed a deer within 30 minutes of each other, and 100 yards of each other.”
Aaron, 13, was happy with his doe while Shawn, 15, killed an 8-pointer. Last year, Aaron gut-shot a doe then witnessed some unique whitetail behavior.
Aaron Pollard, 13, and brother Shawn Pollard, 15, once again doubled. Their father passed away and family friend Jason Blankenship has taken the boys out the past two years, and said the deer have kind of overrun them.
“A buck tried to push it up a hill,” he said. “It was almost dead and he tried to push it up with its antlers. He tried to get it to stand up.”
The buck stayed near the doe while Blankenship and Aaron went to get Shawn to see if he could kill the buck.
“They came and got me and we went back to that spot, then another deer ran at me and I shot it,” Shawn said.
“Ever since we’ve been going, I never had so much fun deer hunting in my life,” said Blankenship, who gave a ringing endorsement to Teague’s camp. “We just heard about it this morning. Kind of exciting for the kids to come out, get to show off their trophies for the morning, to hang out and see what everybody else has got.”
Dewayne Baker echoed those sentiments as he watched his son, 11-year-old Preston receive the Deer Camp treatment for the second time.
“Faron’s spent a lot of time, a lot of energy and a lot of money, his own resources, for the youth of the county,” Baker said. “He does programs with bow shooting for kids after school, these youth hunts on the opening weekend.
“It kind of gives the kids something to do. Nowadays you don’t get to go to a check-in station and showcase your deer. So he kind of does that for the kids. They really appreciate that.”
People often ask Teague if the Hunger Games movies, which feature archery, have helped his business.
“No, but I’ve helped the movies,” he replies.
Teague started as a competitive shooter and progressed to shop owner. His shop is site of the National Archery in the Schools Program for Salem students. He’s had 40 state champs and taught kids who have medaled in national and world competitions.
“This is my 38th year doing target archery,” he said. “It’s been my life enjoyment. You can’t really call this work. It’s just fun.
“It’s just a sport I love. This little building here was supposed to be a hobby. I sold another business out just to have a place to shoot, but now I spend more time helping other people shoot. The kids are what’s fun. They don’t gripe, they don’t complain, they come in and shoot and have a good time.
“I’ve actually got more girl shooters than boys. The girls like to rub it into the boys because they’re a better shot, and they’re a lot easier to teach. And some of them hunt, some of them don’t.”
Lydia Schnelly, 11, was inside practicing with one of the dozen of bows made available to youth. Teague said he has more girls than boys in his youth shooting programs.
This was the first year that the boys beat the girls in total number of deer entered. Youth just need a valid deer tag to enter into the prize drawings. All were invited back Sunday night for a dinner and an awards ceremony.
“Every kid walks away with something. Some are pretty nice prizes I’d like to have myself. It was a fun year. We typed up a certificate for each. It was like they were getting college diplomas,” said Teague, who spent all Monday “cleaning chili off of everything.”
Pace, one of Teague’s “loafers,” is state chair of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation chapter and worked with the Missouri Department of Conservation to reintroduce elk south of Salem. He said he’s talked to MDC personnel in hopes of getting other communities to copy Indian Trails’ lead. “This is incredible,” he said. “This should be shot around the state.”
Teague wouldn’t mind. He’s of the opinion that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
“I’d like to see more and more areas across the country do this,” he said. “Somebody said a bank in St. James, Mo., did something like this this year. So maybe we’re spreading a little bit.”