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Beginner's Corner
Section 2.....Keepin' Goin'

Camp Stories

Missouri Iowa Nebraska Kansas

No, it's not skinning bucks............ Developed and maintained by JP Finn

All comments, recommendations or rebuttals are welcome.

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Camp Stories are the Absolute Truth!
Phil Jose

I chose the title of this article with the utmost of care, picking every word for maximum effect. The effect I hand in mind is to put every seasoned skinner reading this on the floor, either in laughter or dead of apoplexy. With such lurkers out of the way, we'll be able to discuss the subject matter a little more freely.

Have you ever got the feeling that while you're in camp sitting 'round the fire and the subject turned toŚwell, darn near anything, that the speaker might be stretching the point just a hair? If not, please feel free to send me your life savings so that I can keep it safe for you in my checking account. I hope I'm not busting any bubbles when I tell you that you're getting your leg pulled just a bit.

I'm not saying that the guy you're listening to is a liar. (That's something I very seldom call anyone, especially when they're carrying a gun and knife.) No, I'm saying that there is probably some truth in what he's saying, especially at the start of the story. (For example, I do believe that he was out walking in the woods one day.) However, that doesn't mean I'm inclined to believe the part about the four grizzlies coming at him, one from each cardinal point of the compass.

You see, it's a near-fact of human nature to make things larger than life. I like to call the degree to which an individual embellishes their narration their "Big Story" Factor, or their "BS" Factor for short. In their weekday world, their BS Factor might be small, say five to eight percent. A veteran storyteller might have a BS Factor as high as twenty or thirty percent.

However, a strange and unsettling phenomena happens when honest folks dress period-proper, get a whiff of wood smoke, and is sitting amongst a crowd: Their BS Factor grows, often not by the small increments of hundred of percents. No, quite often the BS increases by thousands or even tens of thousands of percents. Now science has yet to account for this and magic is an insufficient explanation. Nonetheless it is a true thing, so beware.

Another factor of the amount of truth in any given camp story is not what is added, but what is left out. It's something I call "Phil's Maxim of Omission." Go ahead and memorize it, there ain't much to it: "Half the truth beats an outright lie any day of the week." Amazingly, I have a story to prove my point:
There's an event that I won't miss that's put on every first weekend in October. It's only about a twenty-five minute drive from my house. This past October, unfortunately, I was pretty well under the weather. Just putting up my lean-to, a five-minute job, pretty well totaled me. To add to my outdoor enjoyment, the weather turned fairly soggy and cool. I decided that turning a cold into pneumonia was carrying historic reenactment a tad past the limit. So that night I asked some friends to keep and eye on my small camp while I went home to sleep.

I came back the next day and mostly just sat around camp. A flatlander happened by. He looked at my lean-to. He looked at me. He looked back to my lean-to and said, "You musta got pretty wet last night."

"Sir," sez I, "I'll bet I slept just as cozy as you did."

Did I lie? No. I just made a quick determination as to which part of the truth was convenient.

Pulling that flatlander's leg was the exception for me rather than the rule. I'm usually the quietest guy around any campfire. That's not a bad thing, really, because while everyone's bloating their BS Factor, they need an audience. I am he. It also has given me a chance to just sit back and observe. Here's one observation worth passing on: It doesn't matter how tall the tale, as long as it's done in a creative and interesting way. There are veterans out there with a 15K BS Factor that can keep your rapt attention while they're looking you straight in the eye, telling you how they had to battle the Rocky Mountain Swamp Fiend with nothing but a dull patch knife. It's an art.

Here's another observation: Just because you're the audience doesn't man that you have to take a passive role. There's an art form just for you as equally important as the storytelling that you should learn to cultivate: That of egging the storyteller on. Smile and nod a lot. Ask a well placed question (Gee, what happened after the sky turned plaid?"). See how far you can push 'em. They'll appreciate the challenge to their skills. You'll get an even better story in return.

Of all the things I've learned from this way of life, I'd have to say that learning the way of the camp story has been one of my greatest pleasures. There's just something about sitting amongst a group of your friends 'round the campfire, a cup of your favorite hot or cold beverage in your hand, listening to the BS Factor rise exponentially.

It's one of those odd sorts of bonds in our odd way of life.

Copyright 2000, Philip Jose.


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