Category Archive 'Pennsylvania'
29 Jan 2018

Christmas in Pennsyltucky

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Teresa Mull, like me, is a native of Pennsylvania Coal Country.

This winter, I went back to the woods. The backwoods.

My homeland is Central Pennsylvania, and I returned there to celebrate Christmas with the family and to help out with the coal furnace during the bleakest time of year (more on that later). Hunter S. Thompson spent a stint of his youth in my native neck of the woods, “in an abandoned coal town” as he put it, and deemed it “barren…[where nobody else] was between the ages of fifteen and fifty.” He wrote to a friend of the region’s “mountains of coal dust, dirty old people, ancient wrecks of houses” and said the experience was like “having a nightmare.”

James Carville famously labeled the stretch of land between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh as “…Alabama without the blacks. They didn’t film The Deer Hunter there for nothing,” while also noting “The state has the second-highest concentration of NRA members, behind Texas.” Others refer to it, both affectionately and derogatorily, as “Pennsyltucky.”

Thompson’s rural Pennsylvania gig was early on in his career, before, I think, his literary licensing and drug use were firing in full force, and I can attest that his descriptions are, even now, spot-on. As far as Carville’s assessment goes, despite being a Democrat, he’s not too far off either. Hunter safety class was a required part of my Catholic school’s curriculum in the second grade. SECOND GRADE. And the first two days of deer season were always school holidays.

Central PA is indeed a forgotten part of the country, with tired, old mountains, dreary weather, a generally pessimistic populace, an overgrown, unkempt natural beauty, and archaic everything. But it’s not completely charmless. It is home, after all.

Returning to Pennsyltucky during the winter months means enduring the Eternal Grey—days you’re not sure are really days exactly; more like sepia extensions of early dusk. One great cloud amasses its forces in early November and lingers over the sun until at least Easter, at which point it habitually snows.

The snow does make the Appalachian dilapidation very pretty, covering rusty, run-down, soggy, boggy, moldy things with a pure, clean blanket of white stuff. It doesn’t last though. Like a Catholic fresh from the confessional, a day or two’s time is enough to gather a layer of grime. Growing up, “don’t eat the snow” was a rule not because animals made it yellow (though they did), but because chimneys pouring out rich, black smoke left a layer of soot on top (and still do).

Hunting is a popular pastime here and camouflage is acceptable year-round and in all circumstances. Camo is seen at the gym (I know one regular who sports camo knee sleeves), at proms and weddings, on cars and in them. Camo, like guns, goes with everything. A billboard greets me on my way into town advertising camo coffee cups (if that isn’t dedication, I don’t know what is). It’s a wonder more people don’t accidentally collide with each other!

Going to the gun store is another popular regional pastime, even when hunting season is still months away. Here you can meet the “bitter” people Barack Obama referenced in 2008 who “cling to guns or religion.” The last time I was at my neighborhood guns and ammo shop, I overheard a gruff customer justify his purchase of another firearm to his wife by saying, “Trump’s not gonna be in office forever,” and then, apropos of nothing, “LIBERAL A**HOLES!”

RTWT

She’s right that the small cities and towns that used to be flourishing are all hollowed out today, their Main Streets abandoned, and the post-WWII brain drain to the cities is still continuing, but Central Pennsylvania is actually a nice place to retire.

The people are friendly. Taxes are low. The scenery is only slightly inferior to Vermont’s. We have the best trout steams in the East. The pheasants have gone extinct, but we have good grouse shooting, and plenty of deer and turkey. If you win the ticket lottery, you can even shoot an elk. And everywhere you look there are Trump signs.

18 Dec 2017

Amish Roofers Working in the Snow

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We had hired a local Amish crew last Summer to install a new steel roof on the 1812 log cabin. Naturally, they finally showed up to work the day following our first six inch snowfall of the season, and even a bit of snow falling that day did not keep them from working.

We are both retired now, so we are finally getting to stay full-time out here at the 300-acre Central Pennsylvania farm we purchased as a vacation place thirty years ago.

Karen’s photos are here.

21 Nov 2017

Important News!

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Daily Call:

The Pennsylvania Senate is advancing legislation to make the Eastern hellbender the official state amphibian, as researchers say its population is shrinking because of pollution.

The bill passed, 47-2, and heads to the House.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the hellbender is an aquatic salamander that can grow up to two feet long, making them the largest North American amphibian. They are nocturnal and prefer shallow, clear and fast streams with rocks to live under.

RTWT

I know the Great Hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) very well, having frequently met up with him on the Loyalsock, and I can testify to his fully deserving the status of State Amphibian.

17 Oct 2016

As Trump is Blowing It…

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drowningrat

I am currently in residence at my farm in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountain in Central Pennsylvania. My neighbor, Bud, just stopped by to visit and chat. Like just about everybody else in these parts, Bud has been an enthusiastic Trump supporter.

Today, though, Bud seemed a bit discouraged by the ineffectiveness of The Donald’s campaign effort. When I inquired how he was enjoying following the campaign contest, Bud replied bitterly: “Who wants to watch a drowning rat?”

12 Jun 2016

Alligator Captured Near Allentown, PA

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LehighGator

Morning Call:

Allentown police confirmed local officials corralled an alligator around 7 p.m. Friday after hours tracking it through the Lehigh Canal. On Saturday morning, the reptile was on its way to a preserve in the Poconos.

Travis Benitez, 18, spotted the 31/2-foot gator while fishing in the canal. The teen said he’s been fishing in the canal since he was 7 years old and “never saw anything like that in my life.”

The gator prompted lots of activity. Police got a call around noon. City officials called for assistance from reptile and wildlife experts and tried to get the alligator to the bank. Keith Galvin of Galvin Wildlife Control of the Lehigh Valley tried to hook the alligator, which he says is a humane way to get the reptile out of the water.

“It won’t hurt him, he has alligator skin,” he said as he tried to capture the gator.

The rescue operation proved to be challenging because of the dense seaweed-like grass lining the water. Also, the alligator blended in with the canal with only its eyes rising above the water.

When a fisherman spotted an alligator in the Lehigh Canal in Allentown earlier this month, it made for a few tense hours as authorities tried to corral the carnivore. Keith E. Galvin Sr., of Galvin Wildlife Control in Upper Macungie Township, eventually was successful in hooking the gator and then turned it over to a reptile preserve in the Poconos.

A plastic crate, typically used to carry a large dog, was ready for the gator once it was corralled.

While Allentown won’t be confused for the Florida Everglades, there have been alligators captured in the waters of the Queen City in the past.

In September 2009, Allentown police, a city fire marshal and animal control officers captured a 6-foot alligator — believed to be the biggest ever found in the Lehigh Valley — sunning itself on the bank of the Jordan Creek

In the Spring of last year, an alligator was sighted in the Monongahela River in Western Pennsylvania.

10 Jun 2016

Last Night

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BearatFeeder
Not unlike the scene just outside our window last night.

Around 10:15 PM EST, Karen and I had just finished watching Vincent Price hamming it up in House of Seven Gables (1963), when our saluki (who had already had his last outside call for the evening) was found peering intently out the window.

Outside the window were three bird-feeders on poles standing in a small clearing and our dog had previously detected an opossum visiting at night to mop up fallen seeds lying on the ground. He had developed a real enthusiasm for that possum, and kept looking for him weeks after the varmint had been last seen.

Last night, though, Uhlan was looking out the window so intently that I suspected his beloved possum had finally returned. Karen went over to the window and looked, and saw that two poles were bent over and two rifled feeders were lying on the ground.

She retrieved the flashlight from the other end of the room and handed it to me. When I aimed the light out the window, the culprit was visible. It was a fully-grown black bear, sitting about ten feet from the house and looking guilty.

This was not the first time that bears had raided our birdfeeders. I had previously vowed revenge, and I had a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson all ready for just such an occasion, sitting on a bookcase near the door, its first two chambers loaded with ratshot.

I reached for the revolver, but soft-hearted Karen intervened on the criminal’s behalf, saying “Don’t you shoot that bear!”

Sigh! What can you do? I’d been looking forward to applying a load of number 12 ratshot where it would do the most good, but wives are wives. I contented myself with opening the door and firing a shot out into the (empty) front field. The loud report and the flame (visible at night) issuing from the barrel naturally made some impression of Mr. Bear, who (as Karen who had been watching, reported) levitated out of the area in great haste.

Previously, one or another bear had absconded with two feeders, which were not seen again or found long afterward totally destroyed. This time, we recovered all the feeders fully intact, and one of them was even still full of sunflower seeds.

People 1: Bears: 0

30 Sep 2015

14 Most Inebriated Pennsylvania Counties

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ArmstrongCounty
Kittaning, county seat of Armstrong County

Only in Our State

Clinton County (County Seat, Lock Haven) comes in first. (Applause!)

Lackawanna (Scranton), Luzerne (Hazleton), Monroe (Stroudsburg), and Huntingdon (Huntingdon) all get in there. Sadly, my native county, Schuylkill, does not even make this list. It would have in the old days. My hometown in its prime had more barrooms than Philadelphia, typically six per block: each corner building and one in the middle of the block on either side of the street.

31 Aug 2015

But Who Decided That a Swiss Army Knife Was a “Weapon”?

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Swiss-Army-Knife

We have gotten used to reading about these little-kid-expelled-from-school-for-possession-of-a-pocket-knife happening in the suburbs of New England or California, but in Pennsylvania?

Recently a ten-year-old female violinist was expelled from the toney Valley School of Ligonier because the young musician was found to be using a Swiss Army Knife to remove broken strings from her violin bow.

Her parents consequently attempted to enroll her in the public school for their local district, but found her admission jeopardized by the report of her expulsion for “bringing weapons onto school property” from the young lady’s previous school.

All this nincompoopery is connected, in Pennsylvania, to a Safe School Act (passed in 1995, and amended in 1997 and subsequently added to) which in the case of a student expelled due to a weapon or drugs being brought on to school property, obligates other schools to apply the same expulsion. The parents are suing on the basis that these zero tolerance policies have inflicted on their daughter a “defamatory stigma.”

TribLive

Centre Daily Times

The Violin Channel

01 Jun 2015

St. Nicholas Breaker Under Demolition

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StNicholasBreaker375
The St. Nicholas Breaker in its operating days.(click on picture for larger image)

The old St. Nicholas Coal Breaker, built 1930-1931, once the largest and most productive coal breaker in the world, is being demolished this year, after sitting idle and abandoned for over 50 years.

WNEP story

UndergroundMiners.com remembers:

The St. Nicholas Breaker, located just out side of Mahanoy City, was constructed in 1931 and began operating in 1932. Half of the village of Suffolk was relocated in order to create room for the largest coal breaker in the world. 20 miles of railroad track were laid, 3,800 tons of steel and more than 10,000 cubic yards of concrete were used. A mile and a half of conveyor lines, 25 miles of conduit, 26,241 square feet of rubber belting, 118 miles of wire and cable and 20 miles of pipe were installed. When they constructed the breaker, they split it into two sides and each side could be operated independently, producing 12,500 tons of coal a day. The coal, once dumped, took just 12 minutes to pass through the entire breaker.

More photos.

st-nicholas-coal-breaker
More recent photo of abandoned breaker.

18 May 2015

Woodcock Chicks

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(photo: Karen L. Myers) click on pictures for larger versions.

A few days ago, my neighbor who does my mowing was cutting in the neglected field above the cabin when he flushed a woodcock, who was obviously a mother woodcock because she landed nearby and began performing the old “I’m-a-poor-injured-woodcock-with-a-broken-wing.-I’m-delicious-and-easy-to-catch.- Come,-follow-me!” routine.

So Bud turned off the mower, looked around, and spotted her four chicks. He then ran down to the house to tell us of his discovery, and Karen went up there with her camera and photographed the brood.

The four young woodcock were admirably camouflaged and Karen reports that they followed mother’s instructions and remained perfectly frozen, with the exception of all the little bright brown eyes which followed Karen’s every movement.

Naturally, mowing operations were suspended and the nosy humans all withdrew to allow Mother Woodcock to retrieve her brood and escort them back into the nearby woods.

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I was quite surprised to learn that woodcock bred on our Central Pennsylvania farm. I can’t recall ever seeing a woodcock outside of hunting season in the Fall. I always thought they bred up in Maritime Canada and only migrated to Pennsylvania.

But the Wikipedia entry says that they breed all the way down to Northern Virginia, and in some cases as far south as Florida and Texas. (!) “Most hens lay four eggs,” the entry reports.


(photo: Karen L. Myers)

11 Apr 2015

Alligator Seen in Monongahela River

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alligator-walking

When Pennsylvanians refer to an “Allegheny alligator,” they normally mean Necturus maculosus, a foot-and-a-half long dark salamander, with external, Christmas-tree-like red gills. But this week there have been two sightings reported of a real six-to-seven foot alligator (Alligator mississipiensis) in Western Pennsylvania’s Monongahela River, the one which joins the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio.

WPIX:

The Southwest Regional Police Department is investigating an unconfirmed sighting of an alligator in the Monongahela River in Belle Vernon, Fayette County.

Authorities said a man on a boat reported that he saw what he believed was an alligator around midnight Tuesday.

He described the animal as approximately 6 to 7 feet long, swimming upstream against the current.

“He saw what he believed to be a log, going upstream about 10 or 15 feet from the shoreline,” Southwest Regional Police Chief John Hartman said. “He took his spotlight out and shined it on the log. He said he saw the head of an alligator, about 7 inches out of the water, two eyes and a tail.”

Upon investigation, police determined that a possible earlier sighting of the animal was made at approximately 2 p.m. Tuesday.

“I didn’t see teeth or anything. I didn’t think it was an alligator or nothing,” said Josh Adams.

Adams said he was applying for a job when he experienced the interesting sighting.

“After I put in my application, I went for a little walk. I seen a little duck and thought, ‘Awe, that’s cool,’ then it went under real fast and it didn’t come back up,” said Adams.

Southwest Regional Police Department is working with the U.S. Coast Guard, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Neighbors said they’re glad authorities are taking this seriously, because they are, too.

But how the heck could a gator survive the bitter cold winter we just had in Pennsylvania?

28 Oct 2014

Local News Highlights National Habit of Overreacting to Fears and Obsessions

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SchoolLockdown
A school lockdown in Connecticut

Regular readers may possibly recall that I am currently blogging from our vacation place/300-acre farm in Central Pennsylvania.

Yesterday, the sounds of low-flying aircraft were heard from our cabin in the morning, and when Karen went into town, late in the afternoon, to get mail from the post office, the small town of Tyrone was buzzing with stories of a shooting in our own neighborhood.

The 10/27 Daily Herald (serving Tyrone, Bellwood, and Surrounding Areas since 1866, but not on-line) reported:

State Police at Hollidaysburg have confirmed a shooting at 260 Van Scoyoc Hollow Road in Snyder Township this morning.

Unconfirmed reports say that a 13-year-old female Tyrone student has been shot in the chest or shoulder at her bus stop near the Tyrone Sportsman’s Club. Reportedly the weapon was believed to be a shotgun.

The Tyrone Area School District went on full exterior lockdown as a precaution.

The school web-site said: “Based on conversation with the state police we have been informed that there is no threat to the school. We are merely taking precautionary measures by instituting the secure exterior lockdown

Due to shooting in the community, which is currently believed to be a hunting accident, the district is currently in a secure exterior lockdown.”

State Police were still investigating the area with metal detectors and ran infrared by helicopter looking for possible suspects around the Sportsman’s Club at 10:30 a.m. The bus stop and a wooded area across the road were heavily investigated.

The victim has reportedly been taken to UPMC Altoona and is in stable condition. State Police and the Game Commission were still on the scene, the shooter was not located and no further information was available at the time of press other that it is believed to have been a hunting accident.

So… What struck me about all this was the craziness of a school lockdown off in the borough of Tyrone, miles away from the scene of a shooting thought to be a hunting accident. This kind of response typifies a contemporary style of “cover your ass at any cost” bureaucratic formalism which characteristically reacts, not so much to threats, as to memes, with preposterous and pretentious brain-damaged forms of completely useless gestures.

I needed, of course, to investigate the facts, so I phoned up the State Police in Hollidaysburg this morning, explaining that I was inquiring about the Snyder Township shooting in my capacity as an Internet journalist.

I learned that what happened was: a 12-year-old girl accidentally dropped a .22 rifle while in the process of putting it away inside her house. The rifle went off, and the girl was struck by a bullet in the abdomen. The young lady is recovering from her unfortunate accident in hospital.

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Oddly enough, some news agency was actually reporting the story accurately this morning:

Police: Girl, 12, shot after mishandling rifle

TYRONE, Pa. (AP) – State police say a 12-year-old girl was accidentally shot in the abdomen after mishandling a .22-caliber rifle in her home.

Police aren’t releasing the name of the girl who authorities first believed had been shot outside her home Monday as she left for school about 7 a.m. That prompted the Pennsylvania Game Commission to investigate whether the girl might have been wounded by a hunter’s stray bullet.

But police now say the girl had grabbed the rifle and was returning it to a safe when it fell and discharged in her Snyder Township home.

The Tyrone Area School District was on an exterior lockdown after the shooting, meaning classes operated normally but no visitors were allowed on school property. The lockdown was lifted about 11 a.m. Monday.

Police were continuing to investigate Tuesday.

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All of which demonstrates the propensity of all forms and flavors of American officialdom these days to react Pavlovianly to popular cultural memes (e.g., “Child Shooting!” — “School Shooting!”) demonstrating a pathologically overly-enthusiastic eagerness to wield authority, deploy personnel and equipment, play with gadgets and weapons, and to act out fantasies in public.

Yesterday, we had two government agencies sending armed men scurrying about the landscape, helicopters searching the forest with infrared, and a school system, miles away, undergoing lockdown (“Sorry, Mr. Jones, you can’t deliver milk for the school lunch today. We’re on lockdown!”), along with a grand search for an imaginary hunter, all in response to a one-party accident that took place inside a private home.

Perhaps we all tend to idealize the past. I could be wrong but, when I think back to when I was young, decades ago, I have a lot of trouble picturing the American adults I grew up among getting into lathers of this kind and responding to emergencies with so much panic and excessive overreaction in defiance of all the facts.

I do think that if somebody came along and said to Sister Daniel, the principal of St. George School in Shenandoah back in 1960, “Hey! you better lockdown the school. There has been a hunting accident over in Brandonville.”, Sister Daniel would have said, “What are you, some kind of a nut?”

25 Jan 2014

Now Living in My Outhouse

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Eastern Screech owl (Megascops asio).

I noticed that the one remaining door on our unused, and long-neglected, outhouse had become open recently. Yesterday, when returning from running an errand, Karen found the culprit who obviously somehow opened that door. It was a Screech owl, who has evidently taken up residence. Karen managed to grab a photo with her cell phone, and put our new neighbor’s picture up on her own blog.

That outhouse was used once briefly a very long time ago, when a major storm knocked out the power for days and days. No power, no well. No well, no flush toilets in the house. My father, at one point, repaired it and had it in excellent order. But we had not visited the farm for over a decade until recently, and a lot of the outbuildings need repairs and a fresh coat of paint.

02 Dec 2013

Opening Day of Pennsylvania Deer Season

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My father, cigarette butt in mouth, Mauser rifle in hand, poses with a nice buck at his farm in Locust Valley. Very damaged photo is labeled “Nove 1947.”

We’re having a very traditional, cold (low 30s), snow on the ground, opening day of deer season here in Pennsylvania.

It has been possible to hunt deer legally with long bow, crossbow, and muzzle-loaders for varying periods since late September, but today is Pennsylvania’s national holiday: opening day of rifle season for bucks. This morning the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania fields the sixth largest army in the world, some 750,000 rifles, coming in right behind Russia in numbers (though generally better armed).

The Opening Day of Deer Season (first Monday after Thanksgiving) and the Opening Day of Trout Season (the Saturday closest to April 15th) are sacred dates in the Keystone State’s calendar. Just as the Christian Church is traditionally full of lukewarm members who attend Mass only at Christmas and Easter, the sporting community is similarly full of participants who collect guns and tackle and who read Field & Stream, but who actually go afield only on opening day.

Opening Day of Deer Season was a de facto holiday for boys in my high school. We were not officially excused attendance, but everyone knew that at least half of the male population would be missing that Monday, and since boys were skipping school with their father’s blessing, there was nothing officialdom could do about it.

Deer were just beginning to come back to the nearby woodlands when I was a boy. Before WWII, it had been necessary to travel to the deep woods, the tall timber, of the few remaining wilderness fastnesses of the Poconos, of Sullivan or Potter County to find deer. Today, of course, deer are suburban pests, thriving everywhere in the East, and they’ve been joined recently in their return by the black bear and the wild turkey. In New England, moose have been showing up in the suburbs of Connecticut and Rhode Island, and I like to think it’s only a matter of time before we have Woodland Bison again.

Karen and I luxuriously slept in this morning, and we heard no gun shots, though our woods are undoubtedly full of hunters. Looking out at the morning fog brought the memories flowing back. I remembered tossing and turning, eyes closed, but unable really to sleep with the excitement of the upcoming hunt.

I remembered being officially awakened at the unprecedented hour of 3:30 AM; the elaborate preparations, laboriously dressing in countless layers of insulation; the unshaven men brewing the coffee and making baloney sandwiches; then the long-awaited appearance of the totemic hunting rifles, gleaming with fresh gun oil; the distribution of hunting knives, binoculars, flashlights, and aluminum hand-warmers inside which a metallic mesh soaked in lighter fluid smoldered flamelessly away for many hours.

Deer hunting always involved a drive of half an hour to an hour to a special forested location where our relationship with some farmer provided the privilege of hunting access. Deer hunting, the opening day variety, consisted of taking up ambush positions along some pole line or timber road or fire trail which the deer could be expected to cross at first light when they would be returning to the mountain after feeding in the farm fields all night.

We would stumble into the woods by flashlight in the dark, being positioned by the hunting party leader, and then we’d get to stand, shivering, hands in pockets, waiting for daylight, listening for the sound of large animals approaching, for an hour and half or so.

If you were lucky, just as it became light enough to see, you’d hear them coming, and a small group of does, accompanied by a buck lurking behind, would come slowly into view, giving you time to line up your shot. More commonly, you’d hear a tremendous racket while it was still dark and a group of deer you couldn’t really make out would charge past you.

Occasionally, after dawn, you would hear a rifle shot. If you heard a single shot, you would figure that it was 50-50 whether he’d got that deer. If you heard BOOM! followed after a short interval by one more decisive BOOM!, you knew that someone had killed his buck. If you heard BOOM!–BOOM!–BOOM! and BOOM!–BOOM!, you knew your idiot uncle with the pump gun had missed again.

There was a serious chance of a shot at a buck at first light on opening day. We used to joke that all the bucks then assembled at the Trailways Bus Station, and went on vacation to Florida thereafter. What really happened, of course, is that deer in general, and bucks in particular, on finding their woods invaded by armed humans, went totally nocturnal, and took care to pass through pole lines, timber roads, and fire trails while it was still pitch dark. There they snoozed away the daylight hours, deep inside the densest thickets of buck laurel they could find.

You generally had about as good a chance of getting a shot at a buck after the morning of opening day as you did of winning the lottery.

But there was an answer, I discovered a few years along in my hunting career. The answer was, after opening day, to drive deer with the gang from the Brandonville Fire House. It did bucks no good to hide deep the laurels and the greenbriars, if along came a line of hunters spaced 50 feet apart, hollering, stomping, and blowing horns.

I later fell in with an even crazier gang of deer drivers from Aristes who made a practice of driving straight through the roughest country in Northern Schuylkill County. We used to drive right down and straight up the sides of mountains. We’d go right through narrow, untenanted valleys solid with laurel. I was a teenage boy, and consequently always a driver. Standing posted at the end of the drive was a privilege of the old men. So I didn’t get a lot of shooting. But it certainly was a lot of fun.

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