Category Archive 'Deer Hunting'

15 Sep 2018

Urban Liberal With a Gun

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Urban beta-male Oliver Staley decides to dip a liberal toe in the cold, masculine, right-wing waters of the field sports, getting himself taken out as an “apprentice hunter” deer hunting with a shotgun in Northern New Jersey. His goal? Becoming a “liberal hunter.”

I wanted to become an all-American man. So I learned to hunt. …

I’m painfully aware of how much I conform to a stereotype of a Northeastern liberal. I’m a journalist. I drive a Subaru. I recycle assiduously. But I also bristle at being pigeon-holed and having my identity determined by my demographics.

There were other factors behind my desire to start hunting—my eagerness to find a new outdoors challenge; my desire to engage more physically with the world. And if I’m honest, there’s also an element of mid-life crisis, an urge to shake up what about I know about myself and what others think of me. But at least part of the impulse stems from a frustration with America’s polarized political climate, and how uncomfortable I am with the orthodoxies and Shibboleths of our warring tribes. …

I’m not so naive to think that taking up hunting would necessarily make me more convincing. But it would give me more confidence in my own convictions. It’s easy to argue for strict gun laws when you don’t own one; defending a position that imposes personal hardship is more difficult, and makes the stance that much more credible.

Of course, it’s possible to be a liberal hunter. I even know a few—mostly fellow journalists in western states who every fall disappear into the woods in search for deer or elk. Hunting doesn’t belong to conservatives anymore than hiking belongs to liberals. But demographic shifts over the last half-century have made cities liberal bastions, and left rural areas deep red. Hunting and gun culture have become synonymous with conservative politics, to the extent that the National Rifle Association, an organization once primarily devoted to hunting and shooting safety, has become a de facto wing of the Republican Party.

But perhaps the solution, or the beginning of the solution, to America’s gun problem will come not from further entrenchment into our positions, but more crossing over to the other side. Maybe the solution isn’t just more conservatives willing to consider gun control, but also more liberals learning how to hunt.

RTWT

18 Dec 2016

Archibald Rutledge: A Christmas Deer Hunt

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Sporting Classics reprints an old-time account by the great Archibald Rutledge of a plantation Christmas deer hunt, South Carolina-style… with hounds.

On the plantations that I know, deer hunting on Christmas Day is as natural as a Christmas tree, or kissing one’s sweetheart under the mistletoe.

After breakfast we gather on the plantation porch, and I smell the yellow jasmine that is tossing her saffron showers up the tall white columns. In the flower garden two red roses are blooming. In the wild orange trees beside the house myriads of robins, cedar waxwings, and a few wood-thrushes are having their Christmas breakfast. A hale, dewy wind breathes from the mighty pine forest.

The whole landscape, though bathed in sunshine, is still fresh with the beauty of the morning. Now the negro hunters come ’round the side of the house, leading our horses, and followed by a pack of hounds. A rather motley crew they are, I think, for few plantations can boast of full-blooded stag-hounds; but they know their business. What they lack in appearance they supply in sagacity.

There is, I suppose, no grander sport in the whole world than riding to hounds after deer; and this is a sport typical of a plantation Christmas. It is almost a religious rite, and it never fails to supply the most thrilling entertainment for visitors. Indeed, I do not know exactly what the rural South would do without deer hunting as a diversion. Even in the cities, when distinguished guests arrive, the primary entertainment always provided is a stag hunt.

continued here.

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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