With the firearms season for deer starting tomorrow I would bet that some of you are thinking about seasons gone by. Remembering bucks shot and missed, old friends and cold mornings.
This time of year I still most often think of work. From 1980 until 2009 my deer seasons were spent patrolling the hills of West Virginia trying to make sure the rest of you guys behaved yourselves. That required a lot of work and a bunch of hours.
I can be honest with you now and say that for many of those years I hated to see deer season come. Not because it increased the work load, but because of the way the season seemed to change the community and the people who lived in it. There were things about deer season that were not pretty.
Back in the 1980s, conservation officers in West Virginia did not get any days off the first week of deer season and, depending on your supervisor, you might not get any the second week either. That was a solid two and a half weeks of 16-hour days and I loved it, at least for the first years.
It was an adventure, a time to be out working with guys I liked in the best work environment in the world. We all felt like we were fighting the good fight. Still those long hours could take their toll.
In 1984 I came down with some type of upper respiratory infection the week prior to season. I went to the doctor on the Friday before for some antibiotics and kept on working. Fast forward to Monday the second week and I was back at the doc’s with over 100 work hours and 1,000 miles of travel under my belt, and 20 pounds lighter. He threatened to call an ambulance then-and-there and have me admitted to a hospital if I did not promise to take five days off from work. I took two and my sergeant was not happy about that.
There was no such thing as overtime pay. We received the same pay for working 80 hours as we did for working 40.
But it was expected that you work what was necessary, then a little extra just for good measure. You were told that if you didn’t like it there were a hundred guys in line waiting for the chance to have your job. Probably was true back then. Unfortunately not true anymore.
The larger picture of deer season attitudes can be hard to understand. Did you ever notice how our trees blossom with posted signs just a few weeks before buck season? People who have lived side-by-side for decades, and maybe help each other make hay in the summer, freak out if they see that neighbor step across the property line during hunt’n season.
Where does that come from?
I was always amazed by the guys who would see me on the street in the summer and stop to talk like we were long-lost friends.
Let that same guy see me on his subdivision road the second day of deer season and he might throw a cussing, spit-flying tirade about being on private property and there wasn’t anybody breaking the law in there anyway!
Oh really, then why are you so upset, old buddy? It was enough to make you wonder about the sanity of your fellow citizens.
There is a certain greed and envy that creeps over the community during buck season. People who would not dream of intentionally breaking the law for 51 weeks of the year, good people, willingly commit all manner of unlawful deeds the third week of November, for the sake of a critter with a bone growing out of its head.
Seeing this for 30 years went a long way toward making me a cynical old man. Though I am grateful for having lived that adventure, I am also glad for reaching the point where I could put it all behind me.
It may come as a surprise for many of you to learn that a retired game warden and some-time outdoor writer has never killed an antlered buck. I never had the stomach for it after working so many deer seasons.
But my boy, in the way of boys, wants to shoot a buck. So even though I swore I never would, for the first time in 35 years I will be out there with you guys on opening day, scanning the heads for horns and doing all I can to find success for that boy. We will do it calmly and without any sense of competition or envy over what someone else might shoot.
We will be there for the fun of it all. To enjoy the woods, the sights, the sounds, the smells, regardless of what the other guy, or the game warden, is doing.
Dave Long is a retired West Virginia natural resources police officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.