When I see deer on the roam and know that Thanksgiving is here, I remember that hunting season is upon us.
Many of the men on my mom’s side of the family go deer hunting every year. Even one of my cousins, who now lives in England, makes the journey home and heads right into the woods as soon as he’s back on West Virginia soil.
I learned while I was growing up that hunting is a big deal in the Mountain State. My Dad worked for the Department of Highways, and his role as a supervisor in the design division got rough every year because so many guys wanted time off so they could go hunting. Even my uncles in the mining industry had to contend with absenteeism because so many men wanted to go hunting. Like high school and college football, hunting is almost a religion around here.
This fact was driven home even more during my first reporting job. I was working for a weekly newspaper in Kanawha County when a new publisher decreed that we would not have any more “dead animals” in the newspaper. As you can imagine, this idea didn’t fly very well. Half of the pictures the public sent to us showed a proud hunter with buck. A lot of the guys were teens, so they were often showing off the results of their first hunt, their first trophy.
I think we changed that policy pretty quickly.
While I’ve never felt the desire to go hunting, I can understand the excitement and the pride behind it. I can still remember as a little kid the time when my Uncle Curt brought a good-sized buck to my Mawmaw’s house. Calls went out to family and friends, and soon a day of butchering was underway.
My sister, Karen, who learned about nature by watching “Bambi” and similar cartoons, was a bit upset, but I was fascinated by the amount of meat that one buck yielded. People came to Mawmaw’s all day with Styrofoam meat trays and left with them filled to capacity. I learned that hunters and their friends can save a lot on their food bills. Back in college, I knew a guy who stocked up on winter meat by going hunting. One buck would keep his freezer filled up until spring.
I’ve never been fond of venison — too many people I knew referred to it as “eating Bambi” — but I have made exceptions. I once covered a Super Bowl party in Tazewell and sampled some barbecued venison that was good. I can see developing a taste for it.
When you realize how much planning and equipment go into hunting, you can also understand why it’s such an economic stimulus for the state. Hunters purchase many of their supplies and new equipment the week before hunting season. While they’re traveling to and from their hunting destination, they need gasoline and food. Out of state visitors add more to local sales. Remember my cousin who comes all the way from England to visit while hunting season is underway.
All the equipment, preparation and skills also help non-hunters like me understand why it’s such a popular sport. It involves firearms — a staple of our local culture — and being outdoors, another mainstay of Appalachian culture. And the sport involves another type of hunting — prowling the stores for just the right gear and learning the best techniques.
It’s also a tradition in many families. Years ago, I was covering a legislative seminar at the main lodge in Pipestem State Park when I suddenly found myself in a daycare. Some of the attendees had brought their children. I was asking directions when one little boy — he couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old — came up and announced that he wanted to go with me. Why? He wanted to look for deer. I promised him that I would let him know if I saw any and left. Of course, I spotted one almost immediately. One of the women watching over the children carried him outside so he could see that buck. We had a good perch on a balcony, and the grazing buck seemed unaware of us. He stared at it for a long moment, then looked at me and said earnestly, “My daddy could shoot that!”
I’ll bet his dad could have bagged that buck without any trouble. That little boy was, I’m sure, starting to count the days when he could venture into the woods and track down a trophy of his own. He’s probably an adult by now, and he’s likely bagged a few buck himself. I wish him and all the other hunters out there good luck this year. Every buck they take is food on somebody’s table, memories for a family, and one less buck that might crash into my car.
Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at email@example.com.