Gone Huntin’

If you happened to notice numerous cars pulled off the road upon your return from Thanksgiving break last Sunday, do not fret. There was no mass breakdown. Last Sunday, the 27th, marked the final day of the rifle season in the state of Vermont. Living in Burlington, one is probably unaware of this phenomenon. Yet each fall, usually around the first snowfall of the year, Vermonters trudge faithfully into the woods in the hopes of bagging that big buck.

Hailing from southern/central Vermont, I am very aware of the hunting craze. I am not a hunter and I have never taken a hunter’s safety course. But every fall I am subject to endless stories about deer camp, failures, and successes. How big of a rack? How much? Can I snag some of that venison? These questions are commonplace this time of year, and trust me, the successful hunter never tires of hearing them.

Each deer-hunting season has three distinct parts: archery, rifle and muzzleloader. Rifle season lasts 16 days, this year from November 12th to the 27th. Archery season is more prolonged as it runs for three weeks in October and one week in December. Muzzleloader season runs during the same time as the late season bow hunting. The latter two seasons have a much lower success rate and a lower turnout. Rifle season is by far the most popular with Vermonters and out-of-staters, as more than 85,000 licenses were issued last year.

As Vermont goes, hunting is as quintessential as maple syrup, skiing, or Ben and Jerry’s, and in some ways even more so. It goes back to the founding of the state, when Vermont was a colonial frontier. It may not fall into the realm of “sports,” but it is one of the oldest forms of sport. One of the most endearing pictures of growing up in Vermont is seeing brothers, cousins, fathers and sons trudging through the woods and fields in the first snow of the year, blaze orange hats bobbing up and down.

Hunting is also one of the things Vermonters get really passionate about. Vermonters would never elect a governor who would take away their gun rights or curb their hunting privileges. Hunting and Fishing commission meetings are front-page news all over the state. Any change in the rules is proposed and revised, proposed again, amended, and debated before passing is even considered.

In the end, it doesn’t come down to quantity or ease. It’s about the ritual: freezing your ass off on the cold mornings, the waiting (sometimes in trees), nights at camp, and of course the occasional glory. It’s generations of fathers bonding with sons, enjoying the outdoors. And yes, it’s cars pulled off the highway just enough so you don’t hit them.