New York State has a long deer hunting season, that starts with bow and muzzleloader seasons, after which comes the regular firearms season.
Son-in-law Matt and Grandson Maximus are avid hunters, going back several generations in the hamlet of Buel, five miles north of Engleville. It’s been quite a while since I stalked deer with a gun, and I’ve moved on to a new hunt. With my camera.
I’m a catch-and-release fisherman. Except for a couple of shore dinners while camping up north at Forked Lake, I measure, photograph and release the fish I catch. I decided that since I’m past the game-taking stage in my life, I’d start a new thing: “Shoot and release”. It’s unlawful for members of a hunting party to be unlicensed, so I have my big game tags on my back as we pursue our quarry. However, my Nikon is the only thing I shoot with.
Opening day I joined the lads and a couple other hunting buddies, Mike and Jeff, and we went on a couple of deer drives in Buel. Push-hunting, or driving, is a method that calls for a couple of members of the party to take a stand at advantageous spots, while the “drivers” start along the opposite side of the area (typically woods, swamps, marshes and the like) and we make noise and hoot as we drive the deer out towards the shooters.
After a couple drives in Buel, we headed to daughter Kerry’s farm, where Matt and Max have box blinds. These are raised stands enclosed by walls. We spent a few hours in the blind, until dark, without seeing any deer. Max got himself a good nap, though.
The day after opening day, Max got his buck. He and his Dad were at Kerry’s, and Matt drove the swamp towards Max. A fine 6-point buck was Max’s reward. It was a beautiful deer, in good health, with no sign of ticks.
As the only unarmed member of the hunting party, I’m always a driver, or “pusher”. I get some great exercise and see some trails and terrain that’s new to me. The hunting party is actually glad to have me, as fewer and fewer folks pursue hunting these days. Back in the when, there would be a dozen guys assembled for some big drives. Sometimes the group would take more than one deer in a single drive.
I’m a little conflicted in the sense that I myself don’t kill things, and also I love all of nature and all its creatures. Thanks to Disney and The Yearling, many of us get emotional over seeing a deer killed. Thankfully, my over-sized human brain is able to understand the concept of overcrowding. There was a time when predators would take their fair share of deer, and there were no fields full of corn or pumpkins to feed them. Nowadays, deer get plenty to eat, and have power line right-of-ways and rear easements to wander through safely. If we don’t take responsibility for reducing the deer overpopulation, they’ll all suffer with starvation and rampant spread of diseases. They’ll also run out in front of your car or even occasionally crash through a picture window into someone’s living room.
For me, I’ve taken to joining the hunt to spend time with my grandson and favorite son-in-law (okay, so he’s my only son-in-law, but still…) in the great outdoors in all weather. It’s a fine adventure for an old Armchair Zen grandfather, and I am easily mesmerized by the many photo opportunities that present themselves. Alas, I’ve yet to “shoot” a good deer on a hunt.
Mostly it’s about taking game, but nearly as important is the camaraderie of the hunt. Jeff arrives with “tomato pie”, very popular in Utica, from which he hails. Between drives we’ll talk about the deer we saw or didn’t see, yesterday’s drive, tomorrow’s plan. We recall names of those that hunted before us and have since passed on. Max’s grandfather Mert, Mike’s cousin Ken (they say don’t mention Ken Jones locally, he was a real character. Loved or hated, no in-betweens). A neighbor stopped to ask where we were hunting and if we had permission, and after a couple of well-timed name-drops, the neighbor was glad to have us nearby. And “Yes!”, she said, she’d be glad to get some venison if we were successful.
So, another year of trucks lining the roads on weekend mornings, guys walking around armed like soldiers, and the sound of shotguns and rifles ringing out through the hills. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a good respectable sport, and we are responsible sportsmen, and we have some great times out in the snow and mud of November.
Until next year!
Take care and keep in touch,