Deer Season

Deer season began this past Monday. We used to call it “deer week,” but now it runs two weeks, no hunting on Sunday.

Deer season actually began on October 21 and continues through the last day of the year. Archers can hunt deer from October 21 through November 30; December 16 through 31 is for hunters with black-powder rifles. When people around here say “deer season,” they usually mean “shotgun deer season.” That’s when we non-hunters stay out of the woods.

Pine Hill Road

Pine Hill, the better traveled part

Monday morning Trav and I saw three hunters on Pine Hill. All were wearing blaze orange vests and caps. Blaze orange doesn’t occur naturally in the woods. (Bittersweet berries come close, but they’re small). One hunter stood at the side of the road. Even the two back in the woods were easy to spot.

Pine Hill is a barely traveled, mostly dirt road that’s frequently on our morning walk route. The stretch of it between Porter’s house and the Boucks’ is only passable by walkers, bikers, and horseback riders (and cross-country skiers in season). On one side it’s bordered by woods that back up to a huge open pasture that no livestock currently graze in. Hunters aren’t supposed to shoot within 500 feet of an inhabited dwelling, and on this stretch of Pine Hill it’s easy to keep your distance.

Dead deer in the woods

Dead deer in the woods

Deer are always bounding though the woods around here. On November 9 we found a dead deer about 25 feet off the road. Well, OK, Trav found it: deer are well camouflaged in the autumn woods, so I might not have spotted it if Trav hadn’t suddenly started pulling in that direction. Did it die of natural causes, or was it maybe hit by a car? It could have been wounded by an arrow and escaped the archer. Trav was on his Flexi, so I couldn’t get close enough to tell how it might have died — not without risking a pitched battle to get
Trav away from the carcass.

My father taught me to shoot with his .22. He nailed a tin can lid to a board: that was my target. Eventually I managed to hit the lid, but I never hit the nail in the middle. At summer camp I earned a bunch of National Rifle Association (NRA) badges, but not nearly as many as my brother. I haven’t shot a gun since I was about 14.

In 1969 I became a city girl. I learned to be wary, very wary, of guns. Cops carried them. I was a marshal (as peacekeepers were called in those days) at many demonstrations. One of the marshals’ jobs was to keep the fringier elements on our own side from antagonizing the cops. These fringier elements, virtually all of whom — like the cops — were men, thought that getting your head cracked by a cop radicalized people. I don’t think they really believed this. I think they just liked to make things go boom. I saw cops go overboard with billy clubs and tear gas but never with guns. After the shootings at Kent State and Jackson State in May 1970, however, we knew anything was possible.

Guns were used for breaking the law as well as enforcing it. Guns were used for holdups and break-ins and settling disputes. People were wounded, people were killed, and over the years I knew quite a few women who were raped or robbed at gunpoint. Guns inspired fear, guns caused harm. This wasn’t hard to understand.

After I moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1985, my view of guns started to evolve — “expand” may be the better word. I was meeting lifelong hunters and people who had hunters in the family. (Yes, some women hunt, but the overwhelming majority of the hunters I’ve met socially or seen in the woods are men.) They dressed and eventually ate what they shot. During my horsegirl years (1999–2010) I’d ride pretty much anywhere during archery and black-powder seasons. Archers and antique rifle enthusiasts tend to be acutely aware of their surroundings. They have to be if they want to hit anything. By sound and sight they can tell a horse from a deer.

No way would I venture into the woods, especially the state forest, during shotgun season. I heard enough stories, I saw enough empty beer cans in the woods when it was over. But the hunters I saw last Monday morning didn’t worry me. I didn’t recognize them, but they looked familiar. I’m pretty sure they were local.

In the almost three years I’ve been on Facebook, gun control has come up several times, most spectacularly after the school shootings at Newtown, Connecticut, almost a year ago. My Facebook friends are a fairly diverse lot, and what I’ve noticed is that their opinions about guns and gun control diverge most clearly not along liberal vs. conservative lines, or blue vs. red state lines, but along urban vs. rural and small-town lines. Rural and small-town people, I suspect, are much more likely to either use or have friends and kinfolk who use guns to put food in the freezer. For city people, people with guns, whether cops or criminals, are far more likely to be hostile. Different. Not like them.

There’s more to it, of course. The NRA, which seems to represent the interests of firearms manufacturers at least as much as it represents those of hunters, recreational shooters, and amateur enthusiasts, is pumping millions of dollars into misinforming and scaring people. It’s not hard to scare the white guys who are already convinced that “government” and/or people of color are going to hunt them down if they don’t have guns at hand.

Gun control advocates often don’t know what laws and regulations are already on the books. They don’t distinguish between shotguns and assault rifles. Some of them seem to think that anyone who owns any gun for any reason is an irresponsible jackass.

Their opponents meanwhile are insisting that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” But guns kill people in ways that other potentially lethal weapons don’t. It’s much easier to kill someone with a gun than with a knife or a garrote. It’s easier to kill from a distance. It’s easier to kill on impulse. It’s easier to kill by accident. People who attempt suicide with a gun succeed more often than those who use pills or a knife.

WCTUAside: Based on no evidence beyond reading and thinking and listening to women talk, I have this hunch that for some women gun control is a way of controlling the excesses of male behavior. Like the crusade against booze in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The big problem wasn’t alcohol, it was what men did under the influence of it. Prohibition didn’t improve male behavior — quite the contrary. Will stricter controls on guns do the trick? I’ve got my doubts.

What’s the solution? As usual, I don’t have one. Just keep in mind, when talking about guns and gun control, that in our various mind’s eyes the people carrying the guns aren’t the same. For some it’s the National Guard at Kent State. For some it’s criminals invading their home or their neighborhood. For some it’s the hunters along Pine Hill — who also, like as not, might be volunteer firefighters or EMTs.

And for some, of course, it’s “all of the above,” plus the child who gets hold of an unsecured pistol and kills someone else, or himself. That complicates things greatly — but it also makes possible the kind of discussion that searches for solutions instead of drawing lines in the sand.

Trav is real. The deer isn't.

Trav is real. The deer isn’t.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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4 Responses to Deer Season

  1. Nick Mosey says:

    Thanks Susanna – I too know (or knew – one has died) good people in CT, & it was one of them (tap the memory & the floods come – I’ll post something on Peter in FB when this comment is done) who gave me the understanding of the hunting bug. My association of “Hunting” was of course rich arrogant assholes (US spelling) riding over crops wearing silly clothes & demeaning the peasants who had the temerity to scrape a living growing said crops. I got from Peter an appreciation of the skill and patience, and the sense of “living off the land” and being part of the environment which lies behind. “Insecurity is a part of the national character” is a bit of a revelation & explains a lot – arrogance as a mask perhaps. It is clear that it is the symbolism which I don’t get – understandably because this is programmed in during “formative” years.

    “what’s being threatened is their idea that their brand of Christianity is synonymous with the USA.” may be the key – the sense of what being American is, as represented by Christianity & “Freedom”. This prompts some self examination – & what is my sense of being British/English and/or American. (A bit late to include Australian in the mix maybe). Results later – again maybe FB post.

    Thanks very much for intelligence & thoughtfulness. After battling a blocked drain this is most therapeutic.


  2. Nick Mosey says:

    The rural/urban distinction does I think make sense, but over and above that there is a US/rest of the (developed) world difference, which is deep and radical. I say this with a perspective of 40 yrs in UK and nearly 26 in US. The reverence (this choice of word is considered & deliberate) with which very many (non city & mainly male) Americans regard their guns is perhaps the largest unbridgeable gulf between myself & the psyche of my adopted country. 20 years’ citizenship has not narrowed this crevasse of incomprehension.


    • Hard to generalize about the whole country, but I think a deep, deep insecurity is part of the national character. Because all of us have been torn away from our origins in one way or another? Hence the whole question of belonging — from me and Martha’s Vineyard to the whole ugly and ongoing phenomenon of nativism/xenophobia. In good times it goes partway underground, but in unsettled times it thrives, especially among men who are shut out by class, region, etc. After 9/11 it went crazy. After Obama was elected president, ditto.

      The guys I know who hunt love hunting and love being out in the woods, but they seem pretty rational about their guns (at least as rational as they are about their trucks and cars :-)). Elsewhere there’s this huge symbolic value that I don’t understand. Similar, I think, to the symbolic value of Christianity in pretty much the same quarters: it seems less about Jesus and spirituality than about something essential that’s seen as being threatened. No one’s trying to take away their guns, and no one’s trying to take away their Christianity — what’s being threatened is their idea that their brand of Christianity is synonymous with the USA.


  3. David Whitmon says:

    I was circling the state forest on the bike path early afternoon the first day of shotgun season. I saw over 100 hunters, two large groups and a few smaller groups. I stopped and chatted with some of the guys. They were excited and getting their deers. Earlier I was on the West Tisbury Rd bike path returning from Edgartown and there was a pickup with one of those trailer hitch fold down platform racks with four deer on it. Since that first day I have been around the state forest on the paths in my travels a number of times and I’ve only seen two hunters. I’ll be curious to see the numbers and weights of the deer brought in.

    About 15 years back I was a part of Search & Rescue and worked with a lot of great men and women. One fellow brought in a scapular from a deer skeleton he had come across in the woods.
    This scapula had an arrow head embedded in it. A razor sharp, three bladed arrow head. The arrow head had pierced the scapula but not passed all the way through. The thing is that the bone had grown to the point of almost completely encapsulating that arrow head. Who knows how many years that took to happen. All but the movement of the shoulder kept that deer from being taken down the day it was shot. It must of suffered but I bet that the hunter trued their best to track that deer to no avail.


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