Shotgun Season

Deer Week has rolled around again. As noted last year in “Blaze Orange,” Deer Week is almost two weeks long — this year it runs from Monday, November 30, through Saturday, December 12 — and it’s not the only time deer can be hunted on Martha’s Vineyard. Archers could hunt deer from October 19 through November 28. Hunters who favor “black powder” firearms get their chance from December 14 through 31.

blaze orange vest

I open my blaze orange vest to reveal my malamute-puppy sweater. Note grown-up malamute’s nose at lower left.

Deer Week, or Deer Almost-Two-Weeks, is the only time deer can be hunted with shotguns. I stay out of the state forest during Deer Week, and avoid large tracts of land where hunting is allowed. Last year a friend gave me a blaze orange vest. I donned it a little sheepishly, having survived all these years without one, but I’m wearing it again this year.

It’s odd to be writing this in the wake of yet another mass shooting, in San Bernardino, California, but after I moved to Martha’s Vineyard 30 years ago, the thing that changed fastest was my attitude about guns.

In Washington, D.C., where I’d lived for the previous eight years, guns were carried by cops and criminals, both of which groups I was wary of. If anyone I knew kept or carried a gun for self-protection, I didn’t know about it. Plenty of women I knew did carry some form of tear gas. When I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, I did some target practice with my father’s .22. I earned several NRA riflery patches at summer camp. As a grown woman, I saw guns primarily as weapons that had been used against people I knew and might be used against me.

On Martha’s Vineyard it wasn’t long before I started meeting people who hunted, and people whose family members and neighbors hunted (and who occasionally benefited from the bounty). Likely as not, they had first gone hunting with their fathers and uncles and older cousins. (Yes, nearly all of them were men.) In the process, they’d learned more than marksmanship: they learned to know and be at home in the woods. What they killed went into the freezer and eventually wound up on the supper table.

They were, in short, neither cops nor criminals. They were friends of friends and people I ran into regularly at the post office or the grocery store. They were neighbors. They weren’t scary.

In the years that followed, and especially as my online world expanded to include a variety of people living in all parts of the country, I noticed that when guns and gun control came up, the city people tended to have a different take on the subject than rural and small-town people. I came to believe that this had much to do with our personal relationship not necessarily with guns but with people who used guns. If you associated guns primarily with cops, criminals, and men violating restraining orders, you leaned heavily toward stricter gun controls and even a ban on personal firearms. If you’d grown up around hunters, knew hunters, and maybe were one yourself, you tended to lean in the other direction. City people are less likely to know hunters than small-town and rural people.

The rhetoric around guns has grown ever more extravagant, and what passes for debate ever more polarized, but underneath it all I do believe there are millions upon millions of people whose experiences and perspectives may be very different but who are still willing and able to take part in a civil discussion. On one hand, guns can do more damage in less time and from a greater distance than any other widely available tool. On the other, the malaise that afflicts this country isn’t going to be cured by a ban on firearms, even if such a ban were desirable or enforceable, which it isn’t.

That’s enough for now. I’m donning my blaze orange vest and going for a walk with the dog.


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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2 Responses to Shotgun Season

  1. Luanne says:

    A very thought-provoking post, Susanna. I have ties to San Bernardino, so yesterday was very tough. But I am torn on the whole gun issue. I used to donate a lot of money to the Brady campaign against guns. But the older I get and the more I see, the more I am wary of getting rid of them altogether for the “good guys.” I just dunna know any longer.


  2. They are out there. Tuesday there were dozens of motor vehicles and even many more hunters dressed in orange in the middle of the day. I encountered half a dozen hunters with a pickup truck blocking the bike path along the Northern edge of the state forest. I asked them to move their vehicle out of the way. They did. There was another hunter sitting in a chair on the bike path near Elias Lane with his shot gun across his lap.

    23 years ago I was the hunting attendant up at Waskosims Rock during shot gun week. It was just a week back then and no hunting at Waskosims. I was there from 6 AM to 10 AM and then from 2 PM to 6 PM. There was someone who would just about every night nail up a tree stand of some kind. They would be gone by morning and I would tear down the stand and haul the wood out of there. They were pretty persistent as the last time they used lag bolts. Always in the same area of Waskosims.


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