Thoughts from a Hunting Journal
There were a good number of years lost between those early days and my next turn as a hunter. I forfeited alot of time afield to pursue school and sports and, to a lesser degree, girls. I foolishly let time slip by without making time to be in the woods. As a family, we still camped occasionally, until my parents bought a house in the Poconos. We water skied and casually fished but hunting was on the sideline.
In 1990, with the end of high school near, and my eighteenth birthday come, gone, and behind me, I started my walk in the woods anew. I applied for and obtained my firearms purchase permit. I bought, with money saved from several jobs I held, a Ruger 10/22 and a Mossberg 500 combo shotgun, both for $199 each. I let out on my own with a tent and a packed car and toured the campgrounds of New England. And, most importantly, I didn't go deer hunting. Instead, my brother and I chased pheasants. The season was longer and the action faster, and the access better. I was outside again and hunting.
Small game season was something to plan for, pack for. I set up a hunting box for my gear, collected maps of management areas, and began driving all over NJ in search of hunting grounds. I drew maps, took pictures, and hiked miles, looking for spots to hunt. The search for places to hunt small game became a safari in itself. Finding and mapping a new spot was almost more important than finding animals to hunt. Fishing and camping helped find new spots, as most of my public fishing spots were also on gamelands. And so I became a fisherman by way of hunting.
In that return to hunting, the group was small, my father, brother and I. We hunted pheasant along the Delaware River from the Gap to Milford, PA. A tangled mess of briars broken occasionally by a cornfield. The strip of WMA's was along the Old Mine Road, a sort of forgotten road back in time with only one lane and dozens of dirt tracks spewing off of it, leading deeper into the woods. The bird hunting was okay in those years but it came with a price. The parking lots were crowded, as were the primary fields, the ones the stocking trucks could easily navigate. Many of the hunters were yahoos with itchy trigger fingers and untrained house dogs. The horror stories are many but easily overlooked. Some were quite memorable, however. The hunter that beat his dog senseless for not coming to heel and wanting to hunt with our lab instead. The hunters that left their beagle in the parking lot because he wouldn't run rabbit. The near brawl in the field with the two men that shot at us through a thicket at a hiding bird and then sent their dog to fetch the downed bird after it flushed and we shot it. There was the guy who shot the perched bird out of the tree, ten feet above us and our parked trucks, fifteen minutes before opening day. And the numerous pellet showers we took during water breaks in the middle of the fields. The stories go for a long while but they bring smiles now and no regret or anger. For in those same fields, I have seen the "elusive" New Jersey black bear, cuddly as ever. I have watched eagles soar above the Delaware and have laughed with friends.