It is the first day of December as I write this, and all of a sudden it is wintertime! We are in the second week of the deer firearms season here in the Mountain State, and the serious hunters got some snow on the ground they have been waiting for. Here at my satellite office, the Turkey Track Lodge, it is 28 degrees and the wind is what you might call brisk.
I have decided to keep working and not pursue the whitetail buck today. Sacrifices have to be made.
For those of you out there who follow this column regularly, and I really appreciate all seven of you, you know at this time of year I usually take stock and see what is going on during deer season. The first week of the season was fast and furious for yours truly as I was lucky enough to get to hunt with Makayla and Jesse Scott for a couple of days.
Again, those of you who tune into these pages know of Makayla, the spitfire of a shotgun shooter I have written about before. Makayla is now 18 and has a wall full of shooting trophies and medals, is a writer of some note in the shooting world, is a brand ambassador for CZ-USA firearms and started the first Scholastic Clay Target Program chapter in the state of West Virginia. Oh yeah, did I mention she organized the building of a trap and skeet field in her own backyard so young shooters would have a place to be introduced to the sport?
For all her busy schedule in her shooting career, Makayla is an enthusiastic hunter, and her 10-year-old brother Jesse is following in her footsteps. I was looking forward to going hunting with these two — but was feeling the usual pressure when guiding of being able to put them on game.
We had a great two days of hunting. I really enjoyed being out there with these two young people. Maybe being around young hunters keeps you young. Jesse and Makayla each took a fat doe deer that will put a lot of free-range protein in the freezer for their family. I'm sure their dad, Telford Scott, appreciated it!
Jesse taking his first deer was quite an event. He was very excited, and as I watched him and his sister celebrating in the late dusk, it brought a flood of emotions and memories to me.
Do you remember your first deer? I can, but to be honest it seems so long ago that a lot of the wonderful memory, the day you longed for as a young hunter, seems to have escaped me. Right after Jesse took his first deer, I learned that another young man I know, Bradley Sheets, also downed his first deer this week. Bradley is the grandson of a good friend of mine, and from what I hear he was as excited with his first deer as Jesse was.
You can take only one first deer. You will do this only one time. This day, this wonderful day, finally comes. Then it is gone just as fast. You have some venison in the freezer, and if it is a buck, you have some antlers — size does not matter — and hopefully you get some good pictures.
I have thought about these two young men a good bit this week, how each reached this hunting milestone at a young age. What will the hunting landscape look like for them as they get older and continue down the trail of a hunter? I would be fibbing if I didn't say there are some obstacles in the path that mean the future of hunting is not completely bright.
The number of active hunters is low, though this could improve and there are many programs in place trying to recruit and support new hunters. While hunting is often misrepresented and maligned in much of society and culture now, there are signs that some of the younger crowd is making noise about being interested in the taking of game for eating healthy. This is a good thing.
Access to hunting land is extremely important to the future of hunting, and it seems to me that for the time being, we are in surprisingly good shape. Most states have a lot of public hunting land, and it is often underutilized. There are some dark clouds on the horizon, but there are also some chances for sunny days on the hunting trail.
To Bradley and Jesse, congratulations on that first deer. Store it up in your heart and treasure it. I wish for you two guys all the best, and I very much hope you have a long and successful hunting experience. In truth, I envy you guys: It's all ahead of you boys, and the sky is the limit of what you can make of it.
Treasure every day in the woods, rain or shine, and I hope someday you are telling your grandkids some of these very same things.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.