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Best time of the year

November through January is the best time of the year.

“It’s Christmas in November, December AND January,” say my fellow outdoorsmen.

From small game in late October  to archery for deer, to the current bear season and then rifle season for deer next week, and then trapping season, it’s nonstop action.

With the nonstop political drama and annoying ankle biting behavior of certain partisans representing themselves as news reporters, we can all use a break. I have been enjoying a break. Friends and family hanging out together, eating together, hunting together, and then hanging out again in comfy relaxation, it’s really an unusually best time of the year.

Under no other circumstances can or will so many people take off from work, drive long distances, and see old friends, as we do now. Maybe a big high school reunion will draw in a lot of disparate people from far and wide. But we do this hunting bit every year.

Santa brought us snow early. The better to hunt and track in. The better to hover around a warm fire from. Thank you, Jolly old Chris Cringle!

Everyone enjoy your winter!

 

Bear and Deer Seasons in the Rearview Mirror

The old joke about Pennsylvania having just two seasons rings as true today as it did fifty years ago: Road construction season in the Keystone State seems to be a nine-month-long affair everywhere we go, a testament to how not to overbuild public infrastructure, if you cannot maintain it right.

And the two-week rifle deer season brings out the passion among nearly one million hunters like an early Christmas morning for little kids (I doubt the Hanukkah bush thing ever took off).  All year long people plan their hunts with friends and relatives, take off from work, spend lots of money on gear, equipment, ammunition, food, and gas, and then go off to some place so they can report back their tales of cold and wet and woe to their warmer family members at home. These deer hunts are exciting adventures on the cheap. No bungee jumping, mountain cliff climbing, jumping through flaming hoops or parachuting out of airplanes are needed to generate the thrill of a lifetime as a deer or bear in range gives you a chance to be the best human you can be.

Both bear and deer seasons flew by too fast, and I wish I could do them over, not because I have regrets, but because these moments are so rare, and so meaningful. I love being in the wild, and the cold temperatures give me impetus to keep moving.

One reflection on these seasons is how the incredible acorn crop state-wide kept bear and deer from having to leave their mountain fortresses to find food. Normally animals must move quite a bit to find the browse and nuts they need to nourish their bodies. Well, not this year. Even yesterday I was tripping over super abundant acorns lying on every trail, human or animal made.

When acorns are still lying in the middle of a trail in December, where animals walk, then you know there are a lot of nuts, because normally those low-hanging fruits would be gobbled right up weeks ago.

After still hunting and driving off the mountain I hunt on most up north, it became clear the bear and deer were holed up in two very rugged, remote, laurel-choked difficult places to hunt. Any human approach is quickly heard, seen, or smelled, giving the critters their chance to simply walk away before the clumsy human arrives. All these animals had to do was get up a couple times a day, stretch, walk three feet and eat as many acorns as they want, and then return to their hidden beds.

This made killing them very difficult, and the lower bear and deer harvests show that. God help us if Sudden Oak Death blight hits Pennsylvania, because that will spell the end of the abundant game animals we enjoy, as well as the dominant oak forests they live in.

The second reflection is how we had no snow until Friday afternoon, two days ago, and by then we had already sidehilled on goat paths, and climbed steep mountains, as much as we were going to at that late point in the season. With snow, hunting is a totally different experience: The quarry stands out against the white back ground, making them easier to spot and kill, and snow tracking shows you where they were, where they were going, and when. These are big advantages to the hunter. Only on Friday afternoon did we see all the snowy tracks up top, leading over the steep edge into Truman Run. With another two hours, we could have done a small push and killed a couple deer. But not this year. Maybe in flintlock season!

And finally, I reflect on the people and the beautiful wild places we visited.

I already miss the time I spent with my son on stand the first week. He was with me when I took a small doe with a historic rifle that had not killed since October 1902, the last time its first owner hunted and a month before the gun was essentially put into storage until now.

And then my son had a terrible case of buck fever when a huge buck walked past him well within range of his Ruger .357 Magnum rifle, and he missed, fell down, and managed to somehow eject the clip and throw the second live round into the leaves while the deer kept moseying on by. When I found my son minutes later, he was sitting in a pile of leaves where the deer had stood, throwing the leaves around and crying in a rage that we needed to get right after the deer and hunt them down. The boy was a mess. It was delightful to watch.

I miss the wonderful men I hunted with, and I miss watching other parents take their own kids out, to pass on the ancient skill set as old as humankind.

It is an unfortunate necessity to point out that powerline contractor Haverfield ruined the Opening Day of deer season for about three dozen hunters by arriving unannounced and trespassing in force to access a powerline for annual maintenance in Dauphin County. We witnessed an unparalleled arrogance, dismissiveness, and incompetence by Haverfield staff and ownership that boggles the mind. I am a small business owner, and I’d be bankrupt in three days if I behaved like that. Only the intervention of a Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildlife Conservation Officer saved the day, and that was because the Haverfield fools were going onto adjoining State Game Lands, where they also had no business being during deer season.

Kudos to PPL staff for helping us resolve this so it never happens again.

Folks, we will see you in flintlock season, just around the corner. Now it is time to trap for the little ground predators that raid the nests of ducks, geese, grouse, turkey, woodcock, and migratory songbirds. If you hate trapping, then you hate cute little ducklings, because the super overabundant raccoons, possums, skunks, fox, and coyotes I pursue eat their eggs in the nests, and they eat the baby birds when they are most vulnerable.

 

An outdoor lifestyle, halfway through the season (to hunt is human)

Most of the readers who visit this blog are not outdoors folk. Feats, exploits, and the inevitable tales of woe, cold, and misery from the field would naturally bore, or at best morbidly fascinate, the non-hunter.

Nevertheless, here we go, for the first time here, on a midway retrospective of a singular hunting season still unfolding.

Hunting for most hunters is a way of life literally built into our genes. We do what humans have done since the rise of Homo Sapiens upon Planet Earth: Hunt animals that we eat, wear, and admire. While the Pleistocene ended only 20,000 years ago, it is marked by the full arrival of adept hunter-gatherers who had spent tens of thousands of previous years perfecting their lifestyle.

Humans have been hunters and gatherers for 100,000 years, or 60,000 years, depending upon how long one believes Homo Sapiens has been human.

We have been agrarian for what…10,000 years at the most generous definition of the sedentary lifestyle, but closer to 5,000 years for most humans.

After that, the most modern, most technologically advanced, most “civilized” humans have lived through the Industrial Revolution (400 years), the Technological Revolution (150 years), the Information Revolution (50 years and ongoing). Combined, that’s a total of 600 years out of a total of 60,000 years.

At our core we are all hunter-gatherers. Scratch our civilized surface, and right underneath we are all spear-toting, skin-clad hunters.

To hunt is innately human. Hunting makes us human.

In other words, although many people today look at our current effete, energy-intensive Western lifestyle and think of it as being the peak of human civilization, some of us see this civilization as becoming complacent, detached from the reality of natural resource management necessary to support this modern lifestyle, hypocritical.

When someone believes it is morally superior to have an assassin kill their meat for them than to kill it themselves, you’ve got an unsustainable logical break. Similarly, people want “the government” to protect them, and they want to prevent citizens from protecting themselves, and those same citizens cannot hold the same government accountable when it fails.
Western civilization is full of this weak thinking. In my opinion, Western society is becoming hollow, a shell, full of contradictions.

The hunting lifestyle is a powerful antidote. It is a dose of reality inserted into a cloudy drugged up dream.

So far, this season has been marked by time afield in the most beautiful places in several states with long time friends, new friends, my young son, other kids, and by myself. Like our Pleistocene ancestors, the feeling of the pack on my back and the game-getter in my right hand is about the most natural and satisfying feeling possible.

A number of deer have fallen to various firearms, a Fall turkey, a colorful pheasant; there’s a bunch of photos commemorating the times for the results-oriented. My best moment was late at night, checking a trap with my boy, and finding a large bobcat. There for about four hours, it had really no taste for humans and represented the wilderness in all its wildness.

Catching a bobcat is a real achievement in the world of hunting and trapping, and I confess it was with great mixed emotions that we dispatched it and brought it to Butch at Blue Mountain Taxidermy. Even if a bobcat is again in one of our traps during the short bobcat season, we will release it. One is enough for a lifetime.

One bobcat trophy represents a lifetime of time afield, or 60,000 years.

Historic Harrisburg gets an A+

Annually, in mid-December, Historic Harrisburg arranges a tour of historic homes around the city.

In the interest of showcasing our wonderful city, participating private citizens open the doors to their homes to utter strangers, who, for the modest price of the ticket, can walk through at their leisure.

Yes, there are docents, volunteers who stand guard over privacy and valuables, but nevertheless, strangers in abundance are in your home. Homeowners exhibit grace and panache, some swilling their umpteenth glass of wine, yes, but they maintain decorum and patience through a six-hour tour that would put me over the edge within an hour. Maybe less. Well, for sure less.

It’s an impressive commitment to place and pride in community displayed by these homeowners. In fact, the tour is a big statement about the sense of close, shared community we all share here in Harrisburg. Although I have lived in a bunch of different places, I have never seen anything like this tour, or this shared sense of belonging. Again: Absolute strangers are in your home, hundreds of them, and it works really well. It is an unusual arrangement. I like it.

Today’s tour was of homes mostly in Bellevue Park, a grand island of landscaping, natural contours, natural areas, and spectacular homes. My grandparents built a beautiful home in Bellevue Park many many decades ago, and I grew up going there for holidays. Summer visits involved playing in the large in-ground pool with my cousins and eating huge amounts of delicious food prepared by our grandmother, Jane. Winter holidays involved eating huge amounts of delicious food prepared by our grandmother, Jane, and then walking it all off around the park, followed up with playing pool in the basement.

My memories of Bellevue Park are long, distant, and misty-eyed. My grandparents were loving people, and we kids felt their love. Oh, how one longs for the simpler days of youth, with innocence and guileless smiles, statements of affection truly meant. Being in Bellevue Park today was like taking a time machine trip back 40 years. In a way, today’s tour was an expression of the same guileless, innocent sharing that we had as kids, but today was between and among adults and families who have previously never met one another.

Trust is the by-word for today’s Historic Harrisburg tour.

As it turns out, many of the older residents whom I met today recalled my family, and recounted trips they had taken with them, pool parties they had enjoyed there, John Harris High School events and teams they had played in together, and political events where the pool evoked then-fresh images of “Mrs. Robinson” and her lifestyle. And I met quite a few former colleagues and acquaintances, themselves taking stock of these updated homes for their own renovation plans, or providing valuable assistance as volunteer docents.

Isn’t that something. Community may always be where you find it, but one place it never disappeared from is Bellevue Park, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. One other similar historic neighborhood I have seen is Squirrel Hill, in Pittsburgh.

It is also important to recognize the many gay men and couples who have ventured further out of the city’s center to bring revitalization to some of the park’s older homes. If there is a ‘down’ side to tolerance, it is that gays are moving ever farther from the urban cores where they have traditionally played a pivotal and leading role in the fight against urban blight by rehabilitating decayed neighborhoods. Now, gays are recognized as exemplary and desirable neighbors in traditional family areas; their colorful sense of style and personal flourishes are valuable, and are just not going to be replicated by anyone else. Surely not by me or my fellow knuckledraggers. Bellevue Park is now home to a large number of gay men. I won’t say it is a gay community, because it is not. It is simply a community with many gay people in it, and it is a great place as a result.

Thank you and an A+ to Historic Harrisburg for a fine afternoon well spent with my wife, who doted on every kitchen, every light fixture, every antique stained glass window, who relished meeting every single person today, and who left the going ga-ga over the omnipresent quartersawn oak all to me. Yes, there was tons of beautiful quartersawn oak in every home. That is pretty much all I remember. Oh, that and the old friends.

Burst pipes? You were in good company

Ten days ago, weather across the country was bitterly cold. Polar vortex, solar lull, regular winter weather…seems there’s a bunch of possible causes. One defining characteristic of that week-long deep freeze was the amount of burst pipes across the country, and around central Pennsylvania. Our home had burst pipes, and a property I manage had burst pipes, and the plumbers at both jobs told me they had spent days from six in the morning until late at night working on nothing but burst pipes. The big box stores were either short on or out of key plumbing components, which caused further delays in getting homes and businesses functioning again.

Which is all to say, I have never heard so many creative reports about where families washed their clothes and dishes. Many went to neighbors, friends, or nearby families. Some went to churches. Some used water from nearby creeks. As damaging as that freeze was, it only bolstered people’s spirit and resolve to carry on, and it cemented a feeling of community and caring among many people who normally just say “Hi” to each other coming home from work.

I found that refreshing.

Good luck today, deer hunters

Like many Pennsylvania families today, ours went afield for the morning. My son, having watched an enormous buck run past us in the early morning dark, minutes before shooting light, decided his feet were cold enough and it was time for him to head in.
None in our hunting party got a shot off, yet, but we are gearing up for an afternoon drive, usually productive.
Good luck today, deer hunters! Hunt safely!

Hunting season is here, and I’m not

Hunting season, around these parts, is an all-consuming month of shooting star-like proportions and beauty. All year we wait to hunt bear and deer, with our packs on our backs and our rifles in hand. Wild areas that haven’t seen a human in a year suddenly welcome one, two, maybe three long striders. And that’s where I’ve been the past month, living in tents in wilderness areas, climbing up cliffs, playing cat and mouse with deer that either walk in front of your car or fall to my bullet, and which provide clean, healthy, sustainable nourishment nonetheless.

With old friends and new, I’ve had some exciting adventures, learned some new things, and had opportunities to reflect on life and career topics. Hunters Sharing the Harvest received one of my deer, with a $15 donation for the processing, and two friends are splitting another deer I took. A third deer I harvested I’m splitting with a friend. Over the coming month, I’ll dole out venison treats to friends and colleagues, sharing nature’s bounty. Along the way, thirty pounds of flubber have disappeared from my torso, and my kids tell me I look like their dad again. Friends tell me I look ten years younger. That feels good.

More to come after this frenetic month ends next weekend. Until then, keep yer powder dry.