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Reader: Deer hunting a tradition

So it’s deer season again and folks are, predictably, arguing the politics of guns and hunting. That whole argument assumes that hunting is all about killing an innocent animal. But is that true?

During the 1960s my brother, Bud, and I graduated from pop guns to BB guns to gunpowder. We began deer hunting as 10-year-olds with our respective single-shot shotguns and “pumpkin balls.” When we each reached 13, Dad thrilled us with our own anachronistic but venerable Model 94 Winchester 30-30. Yep, John Wayne’s gun; the pinnacle of weaponry in my mind!

Monday morning of Thanksgiving week we’d rouse before daylight, load up with Dad and our gear and visions of trophy bucks, and off we’d head to Uncle Hubert’s farm on Taylor’s Ridge.

Uncle Buzz and Cousin Dave both had Winchester 30-30s as well. Cousin Danny and Uncle Hoy each had the ubiquitous aught-6, and with a telescope sights no less! Ohhhh, fancy, beautiful guns! Sometimes other friends or relatives would participate and it was always thrilling as a kid to hear their stories of wars, of cutting timber, of building Route 2 through “the narrows” or building the “stacks” at the power plants, etc. Those hard-working, generous, decent men built our nation. They worked hard, played hard and instilled in us a sense of patriotism, decency and work ethic that inspired us to successful careers of our own.

Back then we rarely saw deer and even more rarely shot any. Usually the younger of us would “drive,” meaning we’d walk the hillsides through all the underbrush and briars hoping to oust bucks to run in front of the older guys strategically located “on stand” on points and clearing edges. I’d invariably be cut up and bleeding with ripped clothes, but nonetheless enthused! I remember “jumping” a doe once in a while, but I don’t ever recall running out a buck in front of anyone. But I was there, taking part, making memories!

Dad took his first buck in 1971. I was 9 and Bud was 11. Bud took his first buck a couple years later, and I took mine on Thanksgiving Day 1975. It was my 13th birthday. Mom and Dad gave me my own 30-30 the previous night. We were all thrilled at our first respective buck and we all got them mounted.

In my case, we’d hunted all week with no success. That morning, Uncle Buzz tracked a 9-point around the hill toward me. The old buck, staying just ahead of Uncle Buzz, walked right in front of me. My hands shook as my brand-new Winchester barked fiercely. We took pictures, weighed, field dressed, and checked him in. It even ended up in the newspaper! We enjoyed the resulting venison for months. With every bite I relived that exciting, life-changing morning out on Taylor’s Ridge!

Uncles Hubert, Buzz and Hoy, Cousin Dave, Dad… they’re all gone now, only memories remain. Nobody farms the old Taylor’s Ridge place, part of which is actually paved now. At night it’s strangely illuminated with gas-industry lights.

Bud and I, both retired now, often talk of the old times. I visit an old friend nearly every Thanksgiving Monday. We sit around most of the day, rifles on our laps, sipping cold coffee and sharing tall tales. Oh, if a hapless buck gives us a broadside and an engraved invitation, maybe one of us will lift a rifle. I still use that same old Winchester 30-30 exclusively. I’ve thought of Dad, Bud, Uncle Buzz and the rest with every shot I ever made with that old carbine.

No, hunting isn’t just about killing an “innocent” animal. It’s not about politics or being offended. It’s about tradition; it’s about memories; it’s about family; it’s about friends. It’s about … life as a West Virginian.

Bill Hinerman, JD, MPA

CDR, JAGC, USN Ret.

John Marshall

Class of 1981

Charleston

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