Michael A. Sawyers
Finally, on Dec. 7 about 11 a.m. my fall hunting season became complete when I heard the swans flying in some invisible part of the sky above Dan's Mountain. It warmed my soul on a cold, windy day as I cradled my father's 30-06 and hoped that a buck, even a little buck, would show.
I like little bucks, though I know that bumps hard against the modern day love affair with antlers. It probably speaks as well to the number of decades I have hunted deer and the memory of annual Allegany County buck harvests that required only three digits.
I like putting a bullet through a buck on a cold, windy December day with swans in the choir loft. I'm sure that's not the politically correct way of putting it, but those who have done it know what I mean and likely genuflect at the thought.
To those who haven’t done it and who just shuddered, it’s more sacred than you know.
I haven't tagged a bullet buck since 2010, though the shaft and the broadhead have made up for that deficiency quite nicely.
Still, it is the centerfire rifle and the 150-grain bullet upon which I was reared when my mentors, all gone now, described the path to venison success. Taking a buck with a rifle's projectile links me not only to the mountain and the animal, but to those red-and-black plaid men with Model 94s, sharp knives and worn boot soles.
Many of them were just years removed from World War II and, in a way the rest of us could not fully comprehend, cherished the time in the West Virginia or Maryland mountains toting a 30-30 rather than an M1.
Peter Barrett, the honored veteran editor of hook and bullet words, was asked a couple decades ago what was the biggest difference between hunting in the 1950s and the 1990s.
"Warm, dry feet," Barrett said. What a practical answer.
A hunter can't enjoy the romance of an oak tree's bark or a freshly removed deer liver when his toes are numb.
Would Jedediah Smith have appreciated Thinsulate and GoreTex when he was trying to find his way through South Pass in Wyoming in the 1800s? You bet your sit parts, he would.
Although I hunt with bow and arrow more nowadays, there is something about the rifle season, as we call it, that brings me home. For one thing, I know I can reach out and touch an 8-pointer at 90 yards whereas when holding the stick and string I could only watch, grunt, bleat and rattle in an effort to bring the buck into range.
I tried that with three different and equally lovely 8-point bucks in West Virginia this year. They looked my way, considered the options and made — from their points of view — the appropriate decisions.
And, no, I didn’t see them again when I toted my Model 99.
I’ll be honest and tell you that I like bow hunting the most. But, I get more excited during rifle season.
It’s the distance thing again. I get pumped when holding a lever- or bolt-action repeating arms because in most cases, unless there is a lot of brush, I know that I can take a shot at a buck almost as soon as I see it.
With the bow, one must wait for the angle and distance to align correctly. Often, of course, it does not.
It is the gun seasons — rifles in Almost Maryland and shotguns in the lowland part of the state — that are the most efficient management tool used by the Maryland Wildlife & Heritage Service. Firearms make more deer dead in a shorter amount of time than any other method. That’s why, obviously, the bow season lasts almost six months and the boom season only two weeks.
Soon we’ll be getting some harvest numbers and that’s when all the fun coffee-break discussions will begin.
Contact Outdoor Editor Mike Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.