All About Opening Days & Food Traditions

It’s time. A week from tomorrow, general deer season opens. It’s a big deal; we are immersed in family traditions around openers from the first moment we show a spark of interest.

As families, we review safe handling rules for the tools we will take afield. We make sure they are clean and sharp and ready to go. We sort our gear and clothing, and talk about how the weather will affect the season ahead. We purchase our licenses and permits according to prevailing rules and family-favored businesses. All the while, we anticipate the meal or food which sends us out the door knowing that the critter we seek will give itself this day. Oh, yeah, we gather foods and snacks and drinks for our packs; sustenance for luck and alertness out there.

I was fourteen when I was first invited to hunt deer on Uncle Ed’s place, up the Little Chumstick out of Leavenworth. I remember having a tough time sleeping, with visions of the buck deer which would give itself to me so that I could help feed my struggling family. I remember being terrified that I might somehow screw up in front of my father, The Old Man, and my uncle. More than anything, though, I remember the breakfast Aunt Evy fixed before we headed out for each opening day from that one on—ham and eggs and pancakes. I loved the pancakes and savored them long enough for The Old Man to get cranky and remind me we were burning daylight. I don’t remember that we got so many deer, but I remember many great family times.

I was twenty-one when my mom and step-dad Ray handed me the sourdough starter I still use today. I made breads and rolls that went with me on every hunt for decades. At mid-day, I’d find a watching spot and sit. Slices of that sourdough, chunks of salami I made from last year’s deer or antelope, a slab of sharp cheddar cheese, and a handful of pear or cherry tomatoes—all washed down with fresh cold water—made every hike in wild country worth the walk. It is still a great tradition.

I think each family has its small rituals and traditions for season openers, but there is more. Beyond special hunting/pursuing openers, we have traditions to identify specific times of year or the state of our lives. We can and freeze vegetables and fruit to hold the coming winter at bay. We count other moments or stages as incomplete without a specific location or person. Our rituals evolve as we grow and change, but they are always important.

Buddy Rick Doell and I were barely voting when we fell into the most compelling tradition of our outdoor lives. In the fall of 1964, a year after we met at Lowry AFB, we stumbled across an old man’s diner. We had partnered up for our hunting and fishing, and were on a dark-thirty drive to deer hunting in Colorado’s South Park. Full of ourselves and thoughts of big bucks and successful hunts, looking for a quick bite, we rounded a bend and saw the lights of the diner.

The old wood-slab diner sat alone on the outside of a carved-out turn on the west side of the road down Crow Hill. It had a clean, well-worn linoleum counter smoothed by the sliding of a million plates of eggs and sausage and flapjacks. The tall, lean old-timer behind the counter had cooked every plateful. Somehow, he cooked while a hand-rolled smoke stayed lit, hanging in the farthest possible corner of his mouth. “Well, what’ll it be boys?”

And so it was for years; our place, our tradition, our own “Now yer fed, boys, so go get ‘em!” The diner was a required stop for every fishing and hunting adventure we had. In 1969, things changed. The old man went to his reward, Rick split his helmet in a motorcycle accident, I went off to grad school and they built a bank on the diner’s hallowed ground. We were never the same after that, but any mention of the old timer put us back in a safe and sacred time.

This whole thing has me thinking about openers and food traditions…and pancakes. Violet Burke’s husband and boys were avid hunters, and they always had friends joining them for opening day of deer season. She told me once that she fixed breakfast for whoever showed up—she just expected it. Then, somewhere around 27 years ago, the Swauk-Teanaway Grange was struggling for a future and she suggested a big breakfast on the opening day of deer season. The rest is history, as they say.

A week from tomorrow, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. the social event of the season happens at the Grange Hall, 1361 Ballard Road West, off highway 970. Follow the signs, pay your eight bucks (half that for kids) and celebrate a real opening-day tradition.

I look forward to The Hunters Breakfast. The ham and eggs will be great, but I love the pancakes. With every bite, I’ll be hearing The Old Man growling, “C’mon kid, eat your #%&?! pancakes. We’re burning daylight here.”

It’ll be opening day.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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