Deer Season Openers

There is something universal about anticipating the opening day of “hunting season.”

Time was when deer seasons generally opened first across the West, followed by elk season, then upland birds and waterfowl. There was some variance in dates from state to state, but each season had its set time, and deer was nearly always first. Today, in efforts to manage both people and big game in various places and conditions, we have archery season openers, black powder openers, antlerless season openers, one upland bird season, then another, and waterfowl here or over there, and so on and on. Even with all the adjustments and fine tuning of local and prescriptive seasons, there is still a “general” season opener.

Here, that is our statewide general modern rifle deer season. It remains our premiere opening day. It happens Saturday, and attracts the largest number of hunters (something over 100,000 in Washington) and causes the largest number of pre-opener can’t-wait sleepless nights.

That toss-and-turn excitement builds early. Over the past week or so, I’ve watched men and women lined up to pick up licenses, ammo, orange vests and caps (and the newly-approved blaze pink clothing) and other gear at the counter in Bi-Mart and other retailers across Kittitas and Yakima counties. As one drops supplies on the checkout counter, others wait, chatting excitedly about deer and their habits, about the pleasures of making delicious healthful meat, and about family traditions. These are scenes frozen in time.

Then, too, of course, friends and homeys stop me around town. It always starts with normal catch-ups, a few words about gardening season ending, current projects or pet peeves, then we get to the serious business of the season. “So… Where ya heading Saturday morning?” “Found a spot with any nice bucks?” “Thought about that area up the Umtanum? (Or Teanaway? Or Colockum? Or…?)” Literally translated, this is “Are you hitting the deer opener?”

It’s universal. As my Hucklings came of age, I watched excitement and anticipation eat at them the nights before their first trips as real hunters. I still feel the awkward confidence they put on when they stepped afield for the first time with a rifle slung over their shoulder. I would tell them that I remembered how it felt, but the truth was that it never left me. I still toss and turn the night before an anticipated opener.

Somehow, it was only yesterday that I was sitting in our newly-self-built house in East Wenatchee (now under Costco) when The Old Man finally told me that 14 was old enough. I would go deer hunting with him and Uncle Ed up the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth. I would carry his old 12 Gauge J.C. Higgins loaded with slugs, and we would hunt the canyons and hills on Uncle Ed=s place. I had hiked that ground since I started walking, and the thought of finally hunting it with my dad and my uncle was too delicious for words. I could hardly sleep the night before, tossing and turning with intermittent dreams of big bucks stepping out of the brush and into my bead sights. The taste of the predawn air of that first opener is still in my mind. We made no deer meat that morning, but finally I had stories of my own to share over lunch about the big buck somehow getting the slip on us in the deep box canyon.

Over the years, these pre-opener days have also sparked a number of philosophical discussions. For example, one of my favorite homeys, a literary-minded colleague, has a time or two engaged me in a rich, deep, and philosophical conversation about the nature of my need for deer hunting. Caught up in a moment’s discussion, I may have confessed to youthful conniving, feigning of illness and – yes – even lying to get out of work and go deer hunting. At one time-stopping moment, we delved into the deeper meanings of William Shakespeare’s classic question “To be or not to be?” (There is no doubt in my mind that Will was a deer hunter, but not likely for white-tailed or mule deer.) Then there is the René Descartes (or somebody, no doubt) classic proof of existence: “Je chasse, danc je suis” (“I hunt, therefore I am”). This has been my mantra since childhood.

I am not alone. On Saturday, 100,000 or more of our closest friends will be afield at daybreak, in pursuit of the wily deer and food for the winter. A good many of those men, women, boys and girls across Washington will struggle with sleep for the next few nights. It’s universal.

When Saturday finally arrives, hundreds of us will take a break for the 32nd Annual Hunters Breakfast at the Swauk Teanaway Grange, south and east of Cle Elum. It is on Ballard Hill Road (signs at SR 970 and Teanaway Road). Many will do a morning hunt, come refuel on ham, eggs and hotcakes (with homemade apple butter), have a little coffee and orange juice, then head out to the rest of the day afield. Busloads of West Side folks will be there, too. The Hunters Breakfast is an icon – a tradition.

In two weeks, Friday the 25th, the annual Free Elk Hunters Breakfast will happen at PSE’s Wild Horse Visitors Center between Ellensburg and Vantage. In company with DFW folks and members of co-sponsor. 100-year-old Kittitas County Field & Stream Club, hunters will swap ideas, hopes and stories over a variety of eggs, sausages, potatoes, biscuits, pancakes, fresh fruit, coffee and juice – a newer tradition.

I love opening days. They are important; Je chasse, danc je suis. (Even William Shakespeare understood that.)

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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