WHY DO I DO IT ???
Co-workers don’t understand, and even some family members think I’m nuts. I’ve never hunted, and I have gone shooting only once in my 57 years (and did ok, thank you, at 30 yards). I enjoy meats of every kind, but I’m very grateful that some one else does the butchering for me. And yet, every year, I take two full weeks of my precious vacation for deer hunting season in Venosta. I look forward to it with great anticipation, begin planning and freezing the food months in advance, clean the basement and set up sleeping arrangements for up to 9 people— most folks come and go according to their other commitments, my daughter joins us for one week, the daughter of a friend always tries to spend a couple of days, cousins and their children visit, and of course there are grandchildren on weekends.
For two glorious weeks, my house is invaded: boots at the door, hats on lamps, jackets on every chair, coffee cups everywhere. The basement soon looks like a flophouse, with socks and lucky hunting pants hanging from nails to dry, sleeping bags bunched up on mattresses that have seen better days, and open duffel bags spilling their mixtures of clean and grubby clothing onto the cement floor. Every time I want to open the freezer, I have to move a gun cleaning kit or a grandson’s bee-bee gun.
The alarm rings at 5:00 a.m. (my sister calls it “Oh-dark-30” military time). There are no weekends or days off. Somehow, it’s easy: shove feet into slippers, stagger to the kitchen, turn on two coffee machines, then race to brush teeth, comb hair, wash face, and get out of the way for the next person. There are those who spring out of bed (the reality of one bathroom can be a powerful motivator), and those who sleep on until someone bellows, “Get up, boys!!!” Last year, I bought from the Canadian Legion a tape of military bugle calls, and saved it for week two, when everyone was getting a little tired. Reveille at full blast stirred a few bones from the basement, tired though they were.
The hunters have coffee and muffins, cookies, pies or whatever is around, to get started. They talk and laugh and rehash yesterday, plan the new day based on weather and yesterday’s observations, and then they are gone--for an hour or for five hours, depending on where they go and how it turns out. They come and go until dark, and my job is to have awesome quantities of coffee and fuel ready, at the right times.
When weather permits, I leave windows open so that I can listen for gunshots. Even when the weather changes, I keep the woodstove well-filled so that I can open the windows. As soon as I hear vehicles climbing our driveway, it’s time to restart the coffee, and race outside to call, “any luck?” Then I may participate in a celebration, take pictures, admire pins, comment on how big, how fat, how sleek, and make my wager for the “guess the weight” pool.
If no one shot, we still need to know where someone saw a big deer, but couldn’t make out pins or couldn’t get a clear shot, and how many does everyone saw, and where they were. I am the recorder, the keeper of each year’s Hunting Book. These facts provide the raw data for future strategizing, as well as bragging rights.
Once the outdoor formalities are concluded, it’s time to go back inside, and put the final touches on whatever meal is next: besides the morning snack, we have monster brunch and great suppers. I enjoy cooking, and everyone is appreciative: not just the hunters, but also the assortment of relatives, young and old, who come to participate in the festivities. They all make contributions to the table.
I love to walk the bush with the guys, and I have the luxury of choice: On miserable wet days, I see the hunters off, and spend my day puttering around: cleaning up after the latest meal, fussing with supper, baking endless dozens of cookies and buns, and then reading, writing letters, catnapping. Since cousins, nieces, nephews, wives and girlfriends and their assorted children are welcome, I may have company, or the company may join the hunters. Because these guys have been hunting together for forty years, and no one else hunts where they do, everyone is safe in their care. Children in back carriers have been to the top of The Big Ridge. Kids as young as 8 have followed their fathers or grandfathers on The 100 Acres (Winnie the Pooh has nothing on us!!).
When the weather is good, I may go out with the hunters. I have gone pretty much everywhere they go—following experienced hunters, and recently participating by walking routes with my daughter. There is nothing better than walking the Ridge on a fine, cold and sunny day, or running Merritt’s Hill when fresh snow blankets the trees and hisses through dried leaves. On those days, I reset the coffee machines, throw something into the oven or giant crockpot , and dig out an orange vest and hat. The first few times, I was astonished as I followed experienced hunters through apparently unmarked woods for hours, and they always came out where they were supposed to. This is how the now-grown children learned, and how their children are learning: Follow 20 feet behind. Walk when he walks. Stop when he stops. Try to step where he steps. Look behind, ahead, and on all sides. Speak only if spoken to. Softly, softly. Listen—there is a rustle of leaves that doesn’t fit with the wind. Get down. Look where he points, and see a lovely doe descending. Wait for the buck—but that’s for another story.
At the end of the day, there is a warm house, full of good smells and outstanding comraderie. Whether they have shot or not, these guys have a wonderful time.
Everyone eats well, grandchildren sit on laps or race through the house, teenagers pretend to keep up their homework, those who can’t be there phone to ask, “any luck?” The kitchen and living room are full. The stories are usually the same from year to year, but are embellished more and more. There are new riddles and new jokes, not always suitable for younger audiences. Current events are twisted to suit the prevailing sense of humour—debating the ban on pit bulls ends as Rolly very seriously tells about owning an equally vicious pit poodle.
On Saturdays, there is Hockey Night in Canada, but most are snoring before the first period is over. One Monday night, Rick said he wanted to watch the football game at 9:00 p.m. He was asleep in his chair by 7:30. He woke up around 8:30, and said he really wanted to see the first half. He woke up again closer to 9:00 and said he really wanted to see the opening kickoff. Next morning, he said he thought he saw the ball kicked, but was asleep again before it was caught. I’m usually the one who turns off the television, jiggles people’s toes and sends them stumbling off to bed.
In the Hunting Book, we keep track of everyone’s comings and goings, how many deer have been seen each day, who has showered (a shorter list than who has not), whether we’ve had guests, and just for fun, the considerable quantities of food and supplies consumed. Last year, I recorded the following:
16 lbs. bacon, 10 lbs sausages, 15 lbs. ham, 25 dozen eggs, 18 loaves bread, 15 dozen muffins, 21 dozen cookies, 40 lbs. potatoes, 10 lbs carrots, 10 lbs turnips, 10 lbs onions, 10 lbs. squash, 5 lbs. peas, 5 lbs. green beans, 1 gallon canned tomatoes, 1 gallon ketchup, 10 lbs. butter, 36 liters milk, 6 lbs. coffee, 10 lbs hamburger, 7 lbs. salmon, 20 lbs. chicken, 10 lbs. shrimp, 15 lbs pork roast, a whole beef tenderloin, 20 lbs. cabbage rolls, 6 lbs. cheeses, 5 lbs. dry beans, 5 lbs pasta, 2 gallons tomato sauce, 20 liters orange juice, 10 liters tomato juice, 2 gallons fruit salad, an assortment of pickles, relishes, jams & jellies, 28 rolls of toilet paper, 4 air fresheners 1 tube of toothpaste and a bar of soap!!!
Why do I do it? Why is it so much fun? These guys may be great or dreadful to live with day-to-day, but their shared history produces a chemistry during hunting season that is difficult to describe. They all come from the same roots, cherish their family and their history, and are dedicated to hunting the way their fathers and grandfathers hunted. They are skilled in the woods, respect the whitetail to the point of reverence, are thoroughly committed to safety, love to share their history and knowledge with others, and appreciate everything I do. They are funny and fun, and just plain good people. I love summer, but as soon as it’s over, I can’t wait for November.