Telling tales around the campfire is a time-honored tradition. LARRY WOODY

The campfire crackled, an old dog stretched and yawned, and tales were told under a pale harvest moon.

If there’s anything more relaxing than joining a band of buddies at an old-fashioned deer camp, I haven’t found it.

If you could bottle it you’d make a fortune. It clears the mind, calms the nerves, sooths the soul.

I attended an annual one awhile back at the cabin of Steve Selecman near Catoosa. How wild is the area? Cousin Jerry Hedgecoth, a retired TWRA officer who lives across the hollow, routinely shoos bears and wild hogs out of his yard.

Speaking of bears, I sampled my first one at the cookout. Jerry’s wife, Carolyn, who could make mouths water over an old hockey puck, served some roasted bear ribs. I thought she said, “spare ribs,” and ate several. Delicious.

Steve’s brother, Bill, and I grew up fishing, shooting quail and hunting arrowheads. When Bill was a teenager, he was clearing stumps when a copperhead bit him on the finger. A half-century later, the finger remains stiff, but it doesn’t stop him from being Crossville’s premier dentist.

How tough is Bill? He once pulled one of his own teeth.

Bill and his cousin, Tom Thurman, a retired Nashville deputy district attorney and our boyhood running buddy, camped on the Tellico River one weekend when we were teens. We envisioned a fried-trout supper like the ones in Outdoor Life.

One hitch – we couldn’t catch any trout. We drove to a nearby village and bought a package of baloney.

There were some empty seats around the campfire. Ben Selecman, son of Mark – Bill and Steve’s brother – died two years ago when he slipped on a boat and stuck his head while assisting an elderly lady.

Shortly before, Ben had wed Mattie Jackson, daughter of country music star Alan Jackson. In tribute to his dad-in-law, Ben wore a big white hat at his final cookout and grinned good-naturedly through the barrage of bridegroom ribbing.

Ben was an assistant district attorney in Nashville, bright, good-humored, one of the finest young men I’ve ever known. Suddenly, with a beautiful young bride and his life ahead of him, he was gone.

Good memories help us get through bad times. Another log is chunked on the fire and someone begins a new tale:

Two brothers – my future uncles – were out hunting when they stumbled onto a moonshine still. The ‘shiner wasn’t around, so they decided to sample the brew. As they sipped, one idly poked a big bubble in the mash barrel. It didn’t pop, just bobbed back up. It was a dead squirrel. They didn’t sample any more.

Then there two hunters who were chased by a hungry bear. Finally, one wheezed that it was useless – he said they couldn’t out-run the fast-closing bear.

“I don’t have to out-run the bear,” replied his buddy, “I just have to out-run you.”

Ah, deer-camp memories.

Longtime outdoors columnist Larry Woody is a three-time winner of the Tennessee Sports Writer of the Year award and is the author of several books, including “Along for The Ride.” Woody covered NASCAR from the early 1960s until late 2007 in addition to SEC sports, minor league baseball, the Tennessee Titans and the Vanderbilt Commodores.

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