Thoughts from a Hunting Journal
I still carry those licenses from the first couple of years. I hold them every once in a while and cherish them. They are pristine, almost, not filled, no tags torn off. I only hunted deer back then, and the seasons and management were much different than today. The deer did not seem as abundant nor as willing to be seen as they do today, especially in NJ. There was only a doe "day" and a week long buck season. Between work and school, archery season did not count, Dad fit ducks and pheasants in between work shifts, of which there were many. That left that one week for deer camp. Schools in NJ (and in the shadow of NYC) frowned upon hunting and there were no sick days or school closings allotted for hunting. I realize there are still mythical places where family traditions and hunting rites live on and are accepted even by the local board of education as viable, important tools in the growth of a community and it's children. Where I came from, and the timeframe I grew up in, that simply is not the case. (Perhaps it is a contributing factor to our current social situations?) And so a week a year it is, with school and work, at best two weekends and maybe a day during the week.
Our deer camp was a small "farm" in northern Jersey that backed up against some public land. My father worked with the old man and, as with most deer camps, traded some chores around the homestead for permission to hunt. During the year we would periodically stop in and check on the old farmer and his wife (Ann & George) and lend a hand with any chores that needed to be done. He had a single calf and a flock of chickens. His garden was huge with an additional cornfield. The occasional bear would visit and come knocking on the kitchen door. This little farm was the base of operations for more than one urban hunter and we spent more than one night sharing the living room floor with several hunters.
There was a Christmas party and a couple of unforgettable Fourth of July picnics where one of the other hunters (I believe his name was Cliff) brought a truckload of Macy's-quality fireworks. We dug holes in the ground for the spectacular mortar shells and were awed by the massive shower of sparks that followed that evening. The early '80's (1982, 1983, 1984) were a magical, romantic time for me and my early hunting life. Nothing could replace the memories of that little place - the picnics, the living room floor, the seeming feeling of camaraderie.
During those early years, the hunting wasn't all that successful but it matter not at all to me. I spent alot of those seasons shivering on a rock or tree stump listening for deer. My father would make circles around me trying to drive the deer toward me. Often I would fall asleep from the boredom and silence, or I would play air guitar with the butt stock of my shotgun, or simply daydream. A couple hours would go by but it always ended the same, with my dad saying, "Did you see the deer go by?"
I only half-believed then and I still only half-believe now. The real truth was he tried to keep my interest even though we had not seen anything. He'll never admit it but his laugh and smile give it away. The amount of deer, or other wildlife, we saw back then was never important to me and the fact I drifted off to sleep was nothing. The importance was in the early mornings before the sun rose, bumping along in the old Chevy on our way to the woods. It was the time spent with my dad and his hunting buddies, being let into the secret club. It was the feel of that old side-by-side 16 gauge. Nowadays, it is just plain illegal and improper to allow a 10-year-old to sit alone in the woods with a gun, but back then, to me, it was pure magic and a solid foundation for the future.