- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

WATERFORD, Va. - Never mind the whitetailed bucks and does that thrive in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Most of them are just fine, even after the first shots were fired yesterday during the opening day of the Virginia deer hunting season. Those that didn’t make it will provide nourishing venison for months to come.

Try to remember what my physician, Howard Haft of Waldorf, says in reference to red meat. “If you feel you must have red meat, make it venison — it’s far better for you than beef.”

That out of the way, let’s get to the good part: Jim Riley’s deer hunt opening day breakfasts — which definitely would not be recommended by the good doctor.

Riley, who manages the rolling Loudoun County farmlands of an absentee owner, easily could earn his keep as a cook. He fixes delectable greens, venison steaks, turnips, fish, ham, beans — you name it — with equal zeal. But it’s the breakfasts that I’d missed the most.

There was homemade scrapple, or ponhaws, as the Amish call it. To be sure, a batch of eggs sizzled in a pan on a wood-burning stove. And what about the bacon and sausage patties, mountains of them, with buttered oven-toasted bread? (You throw a couple of slices on top of the stove, and when it smells like it’s burning, it’s done, ready for the buttering.)

Ah, those wonderful breakfasts. Yesterday’s was no different.

Then it was off into the woods before first light arrived. One of the fellows wanted to stay along a hedgerow, waiting for the deer in the fields to return to the woods. Others wanted to be atop their tree stands, 10 or 15 feet off the ground. A fellow like Riley just wanted to sit in his truck and wait until daylight arrived. He scanned the hillsides with binoculars, instantly recognizing the flick of an ear or a tail, the giveaway signals that deer give off without even realizing it.

Riley eventually left the truck, loaded his 30.06-caliber rifle, shouldered it and disappeared along a forest margin.

The hard report of a single rifle shot soon told the story.

At the same time, down in St. Mary’s County, Marylanders celebrated the start of yet another Canada goose hunting season. The Maryland firearms deer season won’t begin until the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Some of the boys that we fish with now and then were huddled inside freshly dressed shooting blinds tucked between winter wheat field margins. There was Francis and Mike and some of the other lads, blowing on store-bought goose calls, honking to still gullible geese that could be tricked this early in the year.

Wild geese, those fresh arrivals from the North Country, as well as the local birds known as resident geese, all would learn to stay away from certain fields if there was an excessive amount of shooting. However, with only one goose allowed a day, excessive shooting wasn’t going to be a big problem. The boys got their birds relatively easy.

Once the cold days of January are upon us, the birds will be so wary they will think twice before lowering their landing gear even into a field filled with real birds, never mind a couple dozen plastic imitations.

Look for Gene Mueller’s Outdoors column every Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: gmueller@washingtontimes.com.

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