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Slug Country

Erin Cox with Winchester heads to Killbuck, Ohio, to witness the historic path of Winchester paved with treasured relics. After dialing in her Winchester shotgun, Erin heads to the woods with Nikki Boxler. Meanwhile, Chris Keefer and guest Scott Kirchoff look to end the season with a sweet high note.

A thick slab of fatback bacon sizzles on a well-seasoned cast iron griddle. A trusty Model 94 30-30 waits for the sunrise at the front door, alongside a notched up .270 and a walnut-stocked 30-06. The woods are still quiet, but the camp is starting to wake to the sound of hot grease, and the sweet smell of early morning at deer camp. Behind the spatula is an artisan of sorts. A specialist in the nuances of rustic dining. A seasoned stove operator who wants nothing more than to follow up the bacon breakfast with a backstrap supper. It’s The Camp Cook, and every deer camp has one.

Slug Country

The Camp Cook’s skill isn’t gauged by traditional measures. It’s not about the flawless grill marks on the dime-store steaks. It’s not about the perfect salt to rice ratios or the beautiful golden perfection achieved on every single flapjack. It’s about the willingness to beat everyone to the punch. Always first to belly up to the flame in order to feed the hungry hunters. Always first to stop on the way to make sure camp is stocked with the essentials. Never forgetting the fact that the best stories are told together, over a plateful of something hearty and hot.

Without The Camp Cook, the fireside fare would be reduced to cold beans and pasty oatmeal. Every deer camp needs someone to take on this important responsibility. The truth is, if The Camp Cook wasn’t dedicated to replacing camp-goer calories, no-one would be. Hunters would survive for weeks on beef jerky, pistachios and potato chips. It’s not that these aren’t all important staples in the diet. Camp wouldn’t be complete without the junk food bin and the sandwich bags full of tag-along treats. But it’s The Camp Cook who gives hunters the fuel they need to grind it out on stand. It’s The Camp Cook who rewards with a hot meal after a hunt well done…Or offers condolences with a pile of comfort food as the down-trodden recall the one that got away.

You can spot Camp Cooks from 40 acres out. They wear their badges with pride. The signs are there for all to see. Chances are, the Camp Cook is somebody’s aunt or uncle. They spend most of deer season with a dirty kitchen towel strewn over their left shoulder. Thumbs and forefingers are wrapped in bandages by day two, from a mitt-less grasp on a hot Dutch oven. Their “special seasonings” are guarded at all times. The label is peeled off of the bottle, sold to all at the table as the Cook’s own secret recipe. We know it’s probably just lemon-pepper, but we play along anyway. There’s a persistent bead of sweat crawling from The Camp Cook’s hairline when the cook top is hot, and a crooked smile every time the specialty is served. An old Winchester hat with a frayed bill is worn proudly, and a lucky t-shirt has seen its share of splatters from the pan.

The Camp Cook is as resourceful as they come. A high-dollar stove top isn’t needed. Neither are world-class ingredients. A five-star casserole can be built with a wet match and last night’s leftovers. With no more than a bed of hot coals the Camp Cook will turn Hamburger Helper into something that tastes like you should have made a reservation (it’s the lemon-pepper). Tiny propane burner or stainless-steel professional range. The top of a hot wood stove or a classic hickory-fueled barbecue pit. It doesn’t matter. The Camp Cook will use whatever is on hand to make sure the hunting family is fed.

Plenty of things make deer camp special. Your favorite rifle. Spent brass from a good day in the woods. Stories, card games, and laughs. But it’s the people who make it something worth coming back to year after year. It’s the people who keep the tradition alive and well. The Camp Cook is one big piece to a centuries old puzzle. One character in a down to earth cast, focused on taking care of the hunters. It may not be considered gourmet. But nothing quite compares to the feeling you get from a specially prepared dish from your favorite Camp Cook.

Watch the related Winchester Life episode.

Chris Keefer
Chris Keefer
Chris loves to chase big game in Alaska with brother Casey and spends a ton of time doing just that. When not there or in the planning stages of the next hunt, he enjoys a sunny day round of golf back home in his native Michigan.

As co-host of Winchester Life, he feels it his responsibility to help you find your own definition of the outdoors. He takes this responsibility very seriously and will take the rest of his working life fulfilling this quest. He can go from adventurous woodsman to sharp-dressed dinner guest in no time at all.
Nikki Boxler
Nikki Boxler
Nikki Boxler grew up on a large dairy farm in Western New York and continues to reside there today. This setting has shaped her love of the outdoors and is how she developed a passion which drives her to spend as much time hunting and fishing as possible. For her, hunting is not about the kill, it is about the experience, the memories, the moments and having fun. Her most memorable adventures take place not only in the woods but also around the grill. Nikki thoroughly enjoys her role as co-host of Winchester Life.