Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Guns of August

If it’s mid-August, then it must be time to go kill something.

Here in South Carolina, we have what seems to be the longest hunting season in the known universe. In fact, I think the only sporting season that’s longer is the NASCAR racing season. So now all the fellas that I see driving around in muddy pickups with dog boxes in the back, dressed all in Mossy Oak camouflage every day can actually put them to use.

Granted, I am not a hunter. I’m a gun owner, yes, but I don’t hunt. I’m a strong advocate for responsible gun ownership and the right to own firearms for protection and sporting; I’m just not a hunter myself. I can shoot an animal, yes, but I’m not up for the gutting and skinning and gore and guts and blood. Not me, no way. Ewww.

The deer hunting season here starts on August 15th and runs to January 1st, at least in my section of the state. (South Carolina is divided into 6 zones for hunting laws.) By contrast, back in Maine, where I used to live, the deer season is pretty much November 3rd through November 28th. That’s four weeks as opposed to 4 months, no hunting on Sundays in Maine as opposed to every day here, and a limit of one tagged deer per season per permit in Maine as opposed to pretty much an all-you-can-shoot buffet down here.

In Maine, you don’t hunt deer with dogs the way the locals here do. Around here, guys set loose a batch of hounds to drive the deer to where other guys wait in ambush. In Maine, you only do that with bears. The dog helps find the bear & I guess keeps it occupied while you shoot it. I dunno. Of course, no one I know locally goes looking for the 3 or 4 bears remaining along South Carolina’s coast. And then after the hunting, comes the next several hours of trying to find your dogs. Many a Saturday afternoon I’ve watched frustrated guys along the side of the road on 17-A looking for lost dogs, some with receivers trying to track the dogs with radio collars, and others just yelling in hopes a dog will wander out of the woods.

Most guys I know don’t so much hunt as they do sit, and by sit I mean spending hours on end sitting in a tree stand, drenched in sweat and soaked in a mix of store-bought deer piss and Deet to mask their scent and keep the bugs at bay while they swig a 12-pack and hope that in the rare event a deer wanders past, they’ll be sober enough to aim properly. That’s how one of my former coworkers hunts, and under no circumstances would I even think about joining him. Thou shalt not drink and shoot.

To me, that’s not what deer hunting is about. Shouldn’t a hunt be just that, a hunt? A stalk, finding the quarry, and then setting up the shot; it’s a bit of a skill and a bit of an art. There’s no skill involved in sitting stationary waiting to shoot something. Hell, you may as well just set some bear traps and check them every day to see what comes along for the same effort. Land mines are just as effective but tend to ruin the meat and antlers, especially on these undersized deer they have around these parts. Picture a Great Dane with antlers. The deer in other places I’ve lived, like Kansas and Maine, were notably larger. Plus, we had moose up north. If you’ve never seen a moose, it’s a large, rather dumb and ornery cross between a deer and a brick wall. As a nifty trade-off , though, we gots gators here. A moose can stomp you, sure, but an alligator will straight up eat your ass sooner than to look at you.

Now that it’s hunting season, please be careful as you enjoy the woods. There are an awful lot of people out there who really shouldn’t be allowed to carry a loaded weapon. If you like to walk in the woods, or take your dogs for walks in the woods, wear some orange and get an orange vest for your pet. Else wise, some overzealous twit with a Winchester 30.06 is likely to mistake you for a deer without checking first. It happens all the time. Hell, the Vice President of the United States shot his buddy in the face while hunting a couple years back. That dude’s a heartbeat away from the Presidency and he shot his buddy’s jowls fulla birdshot pellets.

Just a couple weekends ago hiker on Sauk Mountain in Washington was shot and killed by a bear hunter. Go here and read all about hunting accidents nationwide:

I heard a story once about some guys from New York who were spotted going through the toll booths in New Hampshire with what they thought was a deer strapped to the roof of the car but in reality was a farmer’s goat that they’d shot and never knew the difference. I’ve heard the urban legends of farmers who spray paint COW in orange on the sides of their cows so idiots who shouldn’t get a hunting license don’t kill their livestock thinking that the first large animal they see with horns is a deer. I know it's an urban legend but remember kids, urban legends often have a base in fact. Two hunters in Montana did indeed shoot and field dress an animal they later found out was a stray llama when the guy they took it to for processing refused to do it.

Dude, unless you actually know what you’re doing, and can stay sober, stay the hell out of the woods and don’t handle firearms. And if you’re headed into the woods between now and the first of the year, keep an eye out for stray buckshot and bullets....and idiots.

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