No doubt the question I'm asked most often is "What's your favorite Mississippi hunting camp?"

For years, my patent response has always been similar to being asked the question, "Who's the prettiest girl you've dated?" The only correct answer to that loaded question is, "Well, YOU are, honey!"

Up until today, I've always answered this similarly loaded question by responding, "Well, YOUR camp is, Bubba!"

However, I've been asked that question so often that it provoked me to go back into my memory bank and try, if only for myself, to answer it. Would it be the largest camp I've visited like Greasy Bayou with its 22,000 acres of prime delta land? Or would it be Bruinsburg with its top notch members like my longtime friend Clarke Stewart and great buck program where my grandson Miles recently took a Blue Ribbon 10-pointer?

How about 11,000-acre Giles Island with its fantastic quality management herd? Or perhaps a great pay-hunt operation at McKenna Ranch? How about Mystery Hunting Club, which set off a statewide guessing game to name it?

Or perhaps some of the smaller, but no less quality, private lands I've been privileged to hunt like the Atkins clan's spread near Natchez?

The list goes on and on in my mind with no possible way of choosing one favorite - or is there? I've decided the answer to that question is YES!

My all-time favorite hunting camp would have to be where hunting and fishing all started for me in the 1960s around Oxford. It didn't have a fancy clubhouse, or any clubhouse at all unless you count the occasional pitched tent around the roaring campfire. It didn't have any fancy bathrooms either unless you count the folding potty stool with a roll of toilet paper inside a baggy behind the large oak tree. It didn't even have a name.

Our bedrooms were the sleeping spaces nearest and upwind to the roaring campfire that never went out until we packed up and went home. Our drinking water came from a large metal water jug positioned atop a sawed-off stump base; all other water came from the small lake downhill about 50 yards, where we fished and ran trot lines in the summer and shot ducks in the winter.

Our skinning shed was a strong, low limb on the big oak. Sometimes there would be a dozen or more longtime friends huddled around the roaring fire with their hands squeezing a hot tin cup of strong boiling coffee at 5 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Deer and turkey were in short supply in the hills of North Mississippi in those days; any deer with horns was a rare sight, and I once saw a fantastic 6-pointer whose antlers were all shorter than its ears.

We didn't know nearly as much about deer in those days as we do now. That was before the days of Primos calls, videos and tapes. I asked the local druggist, who was considered the best deer hunter around, if deer made any sounds. He shook his head and said, "No, not much. Sometimes they grunt kinda like a goat."

I once found a fresh set of buck tracks, a rarity, and trailed those tracks for several miles, lathering at the thought of what was making them just ahead. Of course, I never caught up with the buck, but later joined all the other hunters back at the bait shop where we all returned to swap yarns. With great animation, I told how large those tracks were and how excited it got me. An older hunter down the counter sipped his hot coffee until I finished my tale. Then he spoke up.

"Boy! When you learn how to get in front of them tracks, then you'll be a real deer hunter!"

After the laughter subsided, I paid for my coffee and slinked out the door.

We didn't have a lot of fancy luxuries at that camp, and we didn't ever take a really big buck. When it rained, we got wet; when it was cold, we got cold; when it was hot, we got hot; when it got dark, we huddled around the fire for warmth and light. And that's when the stories would start, and the occasional pranks like dipping someone's long johns in the lake and leaving them outside so they would freeze overnight hard as a brick.

And being around a lake in a secluded forest, there would always be the snake or bullfrog inside someone's sleeping bag when they slid into it after dousing the lantern. Usually the tent would come down as the victim tore out the flapping door, but it was worth the trouble of re-erecting it just to have a new tale to tell next time, and from this eclectic group of varying socio-economic levels, a former city boy gradually developed a great love for God's great outdoors.

As the seasons progressed, we would squirrel hunt the rolling hills around the lake and quail hunt the bottom lands as well. I learned to love quail hunting and how to work great bird dogs without screwing them up. We dove hunted each fall, and had some great cookouts for each season.

Several years later, my day job took me away from Oxford, the lake and my friends. But it never took my heart away from my all-time favorite hunting camp!

For autographed copies of Mississippi Hunting Camps ($81) or Tales of Old Rocky Hill ($18), mail check/money order to: Bill R. Lea, P. O. Box 321023, Jackson, MS 39232

To schedule a visit to your camp, call 601-502-4720 or email billrlea@yahoo.com.