This is the final article in a Banner series on hunting.
BENNINGTON -- This past deer season was my first one out in a long time, and while I'll likely go again next year I'm coming to remember why I stopped hunting to begin with.
It's a pain in the butt, to be honest. I see why people get fed up with it, and if I had not grown up in a family of hunters I would not have taken up hunting to begin with. A lot of people with more experience and knowledge than I possess have written about why the state has been selling fewer and fewer hunting licenses from year to year. Is it shifting demographics? Lack of access to huntable land? Are people just too busy? I can't float a better answer than anyone else, but I can tell you my experience.
I started hunting when I was young, following my father who preferred rabbits and ruffed grouse to deer. I remember pretty vividly the first time I saw him shoot a rabbit. I let out a barely audible "no" before he fired, and why that didn't turn me into a vegan right there I doubt I'll ever really know. We raised pigs and chickens, so maybe from an early age I got used to the fact that things died so I could eat.
At any rate, my father hunted, my other family members hunted, and most of my schoolmates hunted, so I got my hunting license at age 11 and that same year I shot one ruffed grouse, and a rabbit.
After that year, I can't recall having shot anything. You will hear in hunter's safely classes about there being five stages, or types, of hunter, an early one being the guy who's just out there to bag game. The pinnacle of this supposed progression is the "sportsman," the guy who's in the woods just to be there and enjoy himself. Smug this may sound, and be, but I went straight to that "sportsman" stage pretty quick. I liked being out in the woods when the leaves had turned, and I liked even more being deep in the woods up to my waist in snow with my father as we listened for the dogs while they chased rabbits.
I didn't care if we shot any rabbits or not. Come deer season, I preferred drinking coffee in the house, talking with friends and family and getting ready to go hunting over the hunting itself.
The first thing that dented my hunting habits was high school. More homework, new friends, and competing interests such as sports and video games all added up to less energy for being out in the woods every day after school. When I met my girlfriend, there went my weekends.
I grew up in the isolated part of a town about the size of Readsboro, and I can corroborate the tales of those who say there is less open land on which to hunt. It's not just posted land that limits hunting, it's also people who see an empty patch of woods or field and decide it would be a nice spot for a house. Possibly their second one. I'm not decrying that, but more houses means fewer places to hunt safely, and in the time I lived in that neighborhood I estimate there was a net increase of six or so houses. And yes, a few posted their land.
I didn't hunt at all in college despite attending school in the same area I grew up around. I had other things to do, other interests. Drinking alcohol with friends, playing video games, all manner of evil things that are destroying society as I write this.
So, do you want to hunt? It's easy.
Step one, take and pass a hunter's safety course. The Department of Fish and Wildlife's website can help you find a free class or take it online. You can also have study material sent to you at no cost.
The class is not difficult. Children routinely take and pass it. I can't speak as to how difficult it is to fit one into a modern work schedule. I was 11 when I took mine and free of such concerns, but I have heard no complaints.
Step two, get a gun. All my firearms I got as combination birthday/Christmas gifts or in exchange for months of chores. If you want a good rifle for deer hunting, you're looking at spending anywhere from $200 to $500. You can spend much more than that if you'd like, but don't forget ammunition, some types of which have become scarce. The last time I saw .30-.30 bullets for sale, they were priced around $26 for a box of 20. Keep that in mind for when you target practice, and practice you should because if you're going to shoot an animal you should be able to do it properly.
And if you find a decent, free place to target practice around Bennington, please email and let me know where it is.
Deer hunting starts with pre-season scouting. You should know where to go before opening day, which means a lot of hours in the woods looking for food sources, shelter, and deer trails. This is fun on its own, but I recommend making friends with a hunter and being mentored. Kevin Hoyt, a local deer hunter, was nice enough to help me out and I've chronicled our misadventures in previous entries to this series.
Once you have a hunting ground secured, put the cart before the horse and make a plan for what to do with that dead deer you'll be taking home. Many hunters hang their deer for a few days to improve the meat's quality. They also butcher the deer themselves and store it for the winter. This is easier for homeowners than apartment dwellers such as myself, and I had planned to talk to my landlord and neighbors before hanging a deer up out back, but I was able to arrange for another spot. As for the meat, I'm sure a few people I know would not be opposed to storing it in their freezers in exchange for a few cuts.
Ultimately I had to worry about none of this, for the deer eluded me once again.
The state and hunting advocates all push for getting children involved in hunting, and it's no mystery why. I grew up with it, yet keeping with it was and is a challenge. I can imagine hunting looks quite inaccessible to an adult who did not have those childhood experiences.
So what did I learn from all this? That the world does not appear to be going the way of the hunter, so I'll do it for as long as I can while hoping I'm wrong.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.