Today was the first day of deer season, and this year the wild ones won. The hunters came back empty-handed tonight. No real surprise, since it was rainy, drizzly, foggy and generally miserable all day. Tomorrow, maybe their luck will change.
I admit that I am uneasy about hunting. We rely on venison as one of our staple meats, but the getting of deer is never something I get excited about. For that matter, I don't like hunting of any kind. This is one area that shows my foreign-ness to mountain culture, I guess. Hunting has been part of the culture here since before white faces every roamed these hills. A necessity for survival then, somewhere along the way hunting became a sport, and the quarry was the game. People no longer relied on wild meat for sustenance; they raised beef and pork. For many the taste for wild meat left their palate, and for some of those, the aim of hunting became not the getting of meat but winning--which in this sport means bringing down the quarry. For many others, the goal became to spend time in the woods, to observe nature, to learn the ways of wild things.
There is a culture around hunting today that is much like a holiday--there are special clothes to be worn, special supplies to be purchased. The colors for this holiday are camouflage and bright orange. The costumes are Carhartt and Timberline and Rocky and other brands I don't know. Paint is smeared on faces. Guns are taken from cabinets, cleaned and sighted for the big day. Stores face an onslaught of shoppers looking not for gifts but for ammunition, licenses, gloves, buck scent, sleeping bags and food.This holiday has its own food, of course--jerky, bread, bologna, beer, coffee, snack cakes, chili and more bread.
Much like Christmas, there is activity far into the night before the big day, and stealthy movements in the wee morning hours. No sleigh bells, though--the muffled roar of four-wheel-drive exhaust and four-wheelers echo from the still-dark hills as the hunters get into position. There are no bells at daybreak either--the tolling on opening day is the salvo of shots fired as the first bucks of the season are spotted and downed. Late in the day the revelers drag homeward, spent from their day's activity, full of stories of adventure, humor, and ones that got away.
Tomorrow the hunting gets more serious for my guys. Today was all about getting a buck. Tomorrow will be more focused on just filling the freezer. I will be glad of the meat even as I quell my uneasiness about how it is gained. I have lived in these mountains for almost 40 years now, and still this is one part of life here that I have yet to come to terms with. I doubt I ever will. But I will cook the meat and be thankful that we can still provide such healthy fare for ourselves; I will thank the hills and the deer who roam them for providing for us once again.