My father often said, a good farmer does not a good hunter make. The converse also being true, that a good hunter is not predictably a good farmer.
Our township had numerous examples of this theorem – farmers who were poor hunters such as my father and hunters who were lousy farmers such as Uncle Harold. Uncle Harold’s basic flaw was his abject devotion to venison, a fixation as had nothing to do with horns as in the modern affliction, rather his want for a regular fare of this Virginia ruminant.
What made this the phenomenon so striking was that Uncle Harold lived and thrived in the day when total max popular of Virginia Cervical bucks, does and yearling fawns in Wisconsin country totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of several hundred thousand, not the million plus of Virginias now the norm. To wonder then whence the fascination of eating venison given the paucity of the fare.
That Uncle Harold was a lousy farmer as noted by his barn perpetually in need of both board and paint, a house whose wood supply lacked both volume and a good cure. Uncle Harold’s oats should have been planted the month previous, same for his corn. His cows were naturally bred, his haymow could have been better supplied, all these faults because Uncle Harold was a superlative hunter.
He hunted deer in most seasons and during the most egregious weather, yet to cite there were agencies that even then disapproved of hunting deer on a year-round basis. Uncle Harold hunted everything, he hunted rabbits, squirrels, grouse, woodcock, ducks, widgeons, coots.
Uncle Harold too hunted creatures wiser people knew were inedible as railroad ties. It wasn’t the smartest prospect to visit Uncle Harold’s house at meal time and not check out beforehand what the menu was, it was usually good odds on the railroad ties. Uncle Harold’s table had a recipe for gopher and deer mouse and coot, not to neglect the starling and the crow. Despite Julia Child’s protestations, there are some ingredients you cannot bury in a stew under a bay leaf sufficiently to camouflage their presence. Coot for one. Crow is another. As for gopher and squirrel, there is that “tastes like chicken” adage.
All this because Uncle Harold was a hunter of the first order, the direct sibling of that hunter/gather guy named Abel that Cain wisely killed off. Seems Abel served crow stew at his house.
The cause of all this is well-known to the NRA, because it isn’t about hunting as much as it is about that odd wild joy of going to the woods with some kind of fatal device attached; spear, bow and arrow, sling shot, rifle. There is not a hunter alive who doesn’t feel this blood bond to the device, the companion spirit of the gun. Ever since David slew Goliath with his sling there has been attached to the woodsman a love-bond with the device, in the last several hundred years something to do with gunpowder.
To my father’s judgment you could either connect your body and mind to the plow or to the deer rifle but not both. It was a life choice, either one or the other.
Our Uncle Harold’s deer rifle was a Winchester .30-.30 caliber, about as classic a deer rifle as ever existed. Scion of the famous Henry rifle, the very one that Sitting Bull possessed and Custer did not, as readily explains things. The gun whose rumored presence doomed the Confederacy, knowing even in the hands of a stupid immigrant army the gig was over. The gun they could load on Sunday and shoot all week. Sue for peace and hope to keep their horses.
My dad’s deer rifle was a rolling block .32-caliber Remington that launched bullets at about 12 feet per second. Might as well throw rocks as try to kill a deer with that gun. In the attempt to escape our farm fate, my brothers and I allied our financial resources and bought a properly dour rifle in the guise of Potterville’s Army surplus store .30-.06-caliber. I trace my tendency to arthritis to that darn gun.
Cost us 10 bucks, the shells another 10. When that .30-.06 went off, it moved any kid brave enough to touch it off backward five feet, whether braced against a fence post or not. The .30-.06 had the recoil of a field howitzer, when all we wanted to do was kill a deer, not blow it to smithereens. Never mind it helped to skip a preparation step for stew.
We knew then what every good hunter knows, that you can’t hunt deer without properly sighting in your gun. To acknowledge that it will actually hit something, not just scare it to death. Meant another 10 bucks worth of shells, at the conclusion of which we were so lame, so disjointed we knew hunting wasn’t for us.
There were farmhouses where the fare as came to the table always had about it the hint of mystery meat. Some critter they arbitrarily decided was edible. Breakfast sausages comprised of feathers, talons and beaks combined with enough oatmeal and cornmeal filler so the end result wasn’t bad, at least not fatal. These farmhouses lived less by the corn market as hunting, there was something patriotic and mythological about these farms.
I remember years when potatoes were cheap as dirt, and selling a load was reason to go to church. Come the holy week of deer season all neighborhood potato sheds shut down to go a-hunting. To the consequence the spud market took off on an antic 10-day supply-and-demand carnival, a buck over current prices, trucks when I wanted them. We shipped out the last bag just as the closing salvos of venison season ended.
True to the commandment our father stated, you’re either a farmer or a hunter. Either a Cain or an Abel, take your pick. As for the .30-.06, I loaned it to another cousin/nephew of Uncle Harold who was less lucky at the venison sport so the warden kept the gun. I gave him the bottle of aspirin as well.