This past week marked the 35th gathering of the Grapevine Ridge Deer Hunting Club, and by all accounts it was a rather successful convocation.
The group – primarily consisting of my wife’s family – has been coming to Meigs County to deer hunt for at least the past 35 years, but in all honesty the hunting takes a back seat to the camaraderie and fellowship.
One of the hunters is my wife’s younger cousin whom I will call Joe. Joe has beautiful long hair which any supermodel would envy, and his hair probably comes to the middle of his back, but at six-foot-five-inches tall sporting a beard and built like a college football player, it’s far more likely that he would be mistaken for an extra on Duck Dynasty than for a girly man.
Opening morning reveals this scene, the crew is up and getting ready to hit the woods when Joe has a hair emergency resulting in Mary putting two long braids in his hair ala Willie Nelson. After the braids were installed, he was ready to go.
Later that same day, after lunch, we are getting ready to hit the woods when yet another one of the younger hunters proclaims his phone isn’t charged yet, and then waits for it to charge a little longer before heading into the woods.
I told them in just that one day I had seen two things I have never seen before: a hunter running late getting into the woods due to a hair emergency, and charging cell phones postponing the afternoon hunt.
It’s a good thing that Joe is a good-natured young man because I ribbed him all day long over his hair, but he got the final laugh after bagging a decent 8-pointer early the first afternoon, which of course he promptly checked in using his freshly charged smart phone. In fact, Joe also used his phone to assist his grandfather in checking in a deer earlier that day.
It’s all just another example of how things change.
Reflecting on the past is the domain of old guys, I know that, but I am also getting to the point in life where I have seen some changes and so has the “hunting club.” I use the term hunting club very loosely; there are no by-laws, monthly meetings, rules or membership fees; it’s pretty much a casual family gathering that just happens to involve firearms and food.
The hunting club – it doesn’t actually have a name – is now into its third generation; the young men who come now are the grandchildren of the first generation of hunters. I entered into the picture about 22 years ago when I married into their extended clan, which was actually one of my better moves, so I have witnessed some of the traditions and changes first-hand.
Over the years hunters have used a variety of firearms during the deer gun season: smoothbore shotguns with rifled slugs, rifled shotguns with sabot slugs, caplock muzzleloading rifles shooting patched round balls, scoped in-line muzzleloaders and even the occasional handgun has been used to tag deer.
Mary’s uncle, who has been hunting the same area for the past 35 years, uses an old .45-caliber Kentucky-style muzzleloading rifle which has proven lethal to the local deer population.
In the “old days” the first generation of visiting hunters would walk into the woods where their homebuilt so-called “permanent” deer stands were placed; in time those stands killed the trees they were placed in and fell down, but the names of the areas remain – the “Old Man’s Stand,” etc. Those stands were replaced with store-bought stands and eventually with permanent, roofed blinds. To the best of my knowledge, this past deer gun season marked the first time that none of the hunters used a tree stand.
In time, walking into the woods or dragging out a deer on foot was replaced with a Honda 200 Big Red three-wheeler. Big Red lasted for years ferrying hunters into the woods, and it dragged or carried countless deer from the field; in time it was replaced with four-wheelers, but it is nice to know that Big Red continues running in Ross County to this day.
Another tradition is the meat wagon, a little cart modified to tow behind an ATV and used to carry deer from the woods; the bouncing meat wagon makes distinctive rattles and creaks as it goes, and the sound carries a long way signifying someone in the party has had a successful hunt.
There have been plenty of other changes over the years, changes in clothing and firearms, laws and regulations. The old barn with the meat pole has been torn down; deer now hang from underneath a second-floor garage deck
However there are some things I can count on: the hunters visiting a local dairy farm to talk with the farmer, a big delicious Monday night feast, lots of fellowship and getting caught up with life events that have taken place during the year, and planning out the future hunt.
The third generation of hunters is now at the age where they will start producing the fourth generation; Lord willing there will still be land and hunting opportunities for them as well.
Ohio’s deer gun season continues next weekend, Dec. 15-16 from one half hour before sunrise to sunset.
Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District and his column In the Open generally appears every other weekend. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at firstname.lastname@example.org