A Day in the Woods.
I hunt. I go out into the woods with a firearm because I am looking to put venison on my table. Do I need the meat? No. I like the meat. I use what I harvest; all of it. I have a great Venison Sauerbraten recipe that I have served on Christmas Eve at our family gatherings, for the last 40 years.
Why do I hunt? I get ask this question quite often. I did not grow up in a “hunting” family. Yes, I knew people that hunted; I even had some great uncles on my father’s side of the family that went deer hunting, but I was never a part of that. I was brought up as a fisherman. My grandparents on my father’s side had a place in the Thousand Islands, and when I was young we would spend many weekends chasing bass, pike, perch and sunfish around Goose Bay and the St. Lawrence.
My other grandparents had a place on Keuka Lake and if we weren’t up in the Islands fishing we were fishing and playing on Keuka Lake.
I was also a Boy Scout. I did manage to earn my Eagle Scout award [with a lot of “encouragement” from my mother], and through scouts, learned to love the outdoors. We would camp out, even if it was just the woods behind the house, at least once a month, year around, in all types of weather.
Back to hunting. When my wife and I decided to get married and we were informing her family, I was told that “You can marry my daughter, but to be truly part of this family, you need to come hunting with us”. Well, that was kinda scary. You see, I married into a close-knit Italian family. For them, every year after Thanksgiving dinner all the men would pile into the pickup trucks and head to the cabin in Short Tract, NY for some deer hunting. There would be 15 -20 armed Italian men ranging in age from 16 to 85 heading to the Southern Tier, no matter the weather.
The first year we were married I told my wife that I didn’t want to leave her, and received a horrified look. Her response, “Of course you are, that’s what the guys do, and that’s when we go shopping!”
So off I went. The only blonde-haired, blue–eyed guy anywhere around. I had never shot a gun, didn’t know what to expect, but expected the worse. I was shown the fundamentals of gun safety, informed of the “Rules of the Camp” and placed under a tree before dawn, in a couple feet of snow. I’m thinking this isn’t a good start.
Then I just started to listen and observe. Wow. I got my first deer that year, and I was hooked. It’s not about shooting a deer; it was about looking a nature a little differently. Being a Boy Scout, I knew how to handle the weather, and the outdoors, but I had a lot to learn about family, friends and the hunting camp experience that binds those that experience it into lifelong friendships, not to mention the stories that come out of it, that get told, retold, exaggerated and laughed at. It also about remembering those that you started this journey with and the hope that yourself will become part of those stories. It becomes part of the family’s oral history.
I have been doing this now for 40 years. I have brought my son’s with me as soon as they were able to spend time with the guys [some things Mom and Grandma don’t need to know], to experience nature, family, and yes, the cycle of life.
I spent opening weekend of the 2019 season at our hunting camp. Opening day I was in the woods, at my stand at 5:45 AM, waiting for the sun to rise. I was still there at 5:00 PM for the sunset. I spent the whole day outside waiting, watching, listening, and contemplating. I saw plenty of deer, but nothing I would harvest, due to various reasons. I have learned patience. I have seen a fox chase a mouse and catch it in a snow bank. I have seen a flock of wild turkeys become startled and take to the air in a thunder of wing beats. I have seen an Owl silently gliding across the top of the grass looking for its next meal. I saw a glorious sunrise and sunset as only Mother Nature can provide, and so much more.
I know now that these last 40 years at the hunting camp are important to me and I come away richer for having spent the time. On the other hand, maybe it’s just my wife trying to get me out of the house and from being underfoot while the holiday preparations and shopping are going on.