All about Deer Season Openers

Hunting rules, dates and ways may be evolving, but opening day anticipation has continued unabated. There was a time when deer seasons opened across the West, followed by elk season, then upland birds and waterfowl – some variance 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 big game archery season openers, black powder openers, antlerless season openers, and so on and on. Yet, there remains one premiere opening day – tomorrow – for our statewide general modern rifle deer season. This one attracts the largest number of hunters (right at 100,000 here in Washington) and causes the largest number of pre-opener sleepless nights.

That toss-and-turn excitement builds early. A couple days ago, I watched a handful of men and women waiting to purchase licenses, ammo and other gear at the counter in Bi-Mart. A hunter in camo hauled supplies to the checkout stand up front, while the small group waiting at the counter chattered excitedly about deer and their habits, about the pleasures of making delicious healthful meat, and about family traditions. These were scenes frozen in time.

Then, too, of course, several friends and homeys stopped me around town this week. We did all the normal catch-ups, passed a few words about gardens and projects and pet peeves, and eventually got to more serious business. “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 going deer hunting this weekend?”

One of my more literary-minded colleagues engaged me in a deep and philosophical conversation about one’s innate need for deer hunting. To reinforce his argument, I may have confessed to youthful conniving, feigning of illness and – yes – even lying to get out of work and go deer hunting. For a time-stopping moment, we delved into the deeper meanings of Will 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 for 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 still remember sitting in our under-self-construction house in East Wenatchee, Washington, (on ground now under a giant Costco store) when The Old Man finally told me that I was old enough for deer hunting up the Little Chumstick, out of Leavenworth. I would carry his old J.C. Higgins bolt-action 12-gauge. I’d been shooting birds and rabbits with it for years, but this was the big time; now it would be loaded with slugs and we’d hunt Uncle Ed’s place. I had crawled and hiked those canyons and hills as long as I could remember, and the thought of finally hunting them with my father 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 down-the-barrel bead sight. The taste of the predawn air of that first opener has never left me. 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 me in the deep box canyon.

Over the decades, I opened big game seasons with dads, uncles, cousins and buddies. I have missed very few of them – a couple when I was in the Air Force in Korea, and maybe another in Kansas at graduate school. As my own kids came of age, I watched excitement and anticipation eat away at them the night before their first trips as hunters. I still marvel at the awkward confidence they put on when they first stepped afield with a rifle slung over their shoulder. And I still toss and turn a bit the night before the first big game hunts of the fall.

Tomorrow is the first day of our general deer season. Around 100,000 of our closest friends will be afield at daybreak, in pursuit of the wily deer. Essentially, this means that 100,000 men, women, boys and girls across the state will be having trouble sleeping tonight. Through the entire history and future of hunting, I doubt that can ever change.

Speaking of not changing, hundreds and hundreds of us will find our way to the 30th Annual Hunters Breakfast at the Swauk Teanaway Grange on Ballard Hill Road (signs at SR 970 and Teanaway Road). Many of us will do a morning hunt, refuel on ham, eggs and hotcakes (with homemade apple butter, coffee and orange juice), then head out for the rest of our opening day afield. Busloads of seniors and adventurers from the West Side will be there, too, wishing us all well.

This is an important weekend; Je chasse, danc je suis. (Even Will Shakespeare understood that.)

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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