- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 26, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It may not be quite the same today as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, when the opening of the deer season might as well have been a state holiday, but it’s still a special day for many. In parts of the Midwest and South, factories and businesses still close, high school classrooms empty out and country roads are as crowded now with cars and pickup trucks long before sunrise as deer hunters head for the woods.

Opening day is as uniquely American as Independence Day and Thanksgiving and is likely to stay that way if folks like Steve Plaster, of Lebanon, Missouri, have anything to say about it. Plaster’s father arrived in Lebanon in 1968, loved the area and the bird and the deer hunting there. He had, as Plaster put it, a pickup truck and about $200 to his name but put down roots, started a small propane business, grew it and eventually sold a successor company for more money than most of us will ever see. Throughout his life, Plaster’s father knew that he was there not to make money, but to enjoy the area. He bought a farm and then another, and by the time he died, he had amassed nearly 4,500 acres that his son now manages for deer and turkey hunting.

Whether hunting on private land such as Plaster’s, or with permission from owners on land leased for the purpose of hunting, or on the millions of acres of public land, Americans can pursue the same dream. The sport they pursue puts billions of dollars into businesses that provide the equipment they need to pursue their quarry and generates jobs and tax revenues for rural communities all over the country. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that hunting is responsible for more than 680,000 jobs. Any doubt about the willingness of the deer hunter to spend money to put venison on the table need only visit a Cabela’s, Gander Mountain, Sportsman’s Warehouse or Bass Pro Shops to find acres of sporting equipment designed for the deer hunter.

When I was a boy growing up in Wisconsin, deer hunters and hunters in general were men. The deer camps of the last century rarely accommodated women, but that has changed. Young boys back then took to the field with their fathers, grandfathers or uncles to learn to shoot, hunt and really appreciate the outdoor world. Today, a youngster is almost as likely to be taken into the field by his mother or an aunt as women have taken up the sport in great numbers in recent decades.

The feeling that a young or older hunter gets when he or she bags that first buck is hard to describe. The long wait in a stand followed by movement in the brush as a buck materializes seemingly out of thin air gets the adrenaline flowing like few other things. If the hunter overcomes the nerves that can result in what’s known as “Buck Fever” and brings down that first deer, the feeling of elation and accomplishment is unmatchable.

Virginia and Maryland are today virtually overrun with whitetail deer, but that wasn’t true in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The deer population had been decimated during the Depression as families scrambled for food and whitetails were reintroduced to Virginia from Michigan, where they continued to thrive. I still remember a friend telling me how excited he was growing up on a Virginia farm in the 1950s, when his father called him out one morning to see deer tracks in the snow.

The men and women who pursue them today are fortunate they have made so dramatic a comeback in the years, even if it does pose problems for suburban gardens. The comeback of the deer population, like that of the wild turkey and other species, is traceable largely to the efforts of those who care about them, pursue them in the field and woods and contribute to the effort to maintain their numbers and health in the wild.

They are hunted today during special, often-earlier seasons with primitive firearms or by bow hunters, but it is the firearms season that kicks off right after Thanksgiving that occupies the daydreams of the deer hunter during the rest of the year. Whether successful or not, it creates memories to be savored and passed on.

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