The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 23, 2012

Hunting camps about relaxation, camaraderie

Point Blank column

By John Blankenship


It’s a time for celebration. And the appearance of Orion the Hunter in the late night skies is nature’s calendar proclaiming another hunting season is under way.

The first week of bucks only season has arrived, and a November moon casts its beam between the breaks in drifting clouds to shine down on hunting camps across the land.

Hunting camps are equal parts reality and state of mind; sometimes they are more attitude than anything else.

Anxious wives may fear their husbands will get new ulcers or aggravate old ones, or invite a heart attack, with a week of altered life style, unbalanced camp fare. That isn’t necessarily so. The relaxation, the camaraderie, the sound sleep can easily make up for eating scorched food out of tin plates, drinking re-boiled coffee, smoking a pipe.

Hunting camps are a final effort to escape from what man speaks of as civilization, an effort to return to the basics, to get back to nature. Back to the smell of moist earth, moldering leaves, a faint whiff of gunpowder.

To hear again the whir of wings, hear the wild-goose call. To see whitetails flashing across an open field or to witness sunsets rimmed in gold.

Hunting camp is mostly an excuse to escape from the daily pressures built up in today’s traditional way of life. To some, it’s a means of relieving stress; to others, a return to the ways of youth.

I am told by credible woodsmen that many an occupant of hunting camp doesn’t even load his gun, for what he wants to find is change, tranquility, companionship, rather than competition. He is too often lost in humanity’s race with itself.

With each generation, as human populations grow evermore dense, man collectively finds less room and tolerance for hunting camps as our forebears knew them. Yet the survival of both fish and wildlife, and perhaps people’s sanity, depends increasingly upon our efforts to save, enhance and protect fellow inhabitants of the planet.

The opening of every hunting season is always a good time to ask oneself, “Just what have I done to help the fish, the birds and other wildlife to survive another year?”

Hunting is an ancient and honorable pursuit. If performed with a profound respect for life, it can be one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Ever wonder why some men like to go hunting?

To hunt is to seek. Much as crusaders went on pilgrimages, so do many hunters go out today, for a bona fide hunter is a seeker, going on a personal quest, a spiritual journey. The quarry is less important than is the opportunity to go afield and seek.

A hunter realizes the hunt is more important than game: the opportunity to become absorbed in, become a part of, the panorama, to be surrounded by the silence of wild places, or hear the rattle of antlers or a woodpecker’s hammer, or even a coyote’s howl.

Seeking is more than merely hunting. It includes looking for a meaning, a purpose, a connection with that which is eternal in all of us. It is a way for us to humble our egos.

A hunter doesn’t go out merely to bring back meat for the table. Steak and pork loins cost considerably less per pound as table fare.

A hunt is a communion with other hunters, nature and the hunter’s own self. How can we describe to the inexperienced the magic of camping along a wilderness trail, rain tapping on the canvas of our tent, a flickering candle for light?

Or the whispered song of a stream sliding restlessly down a mountain draw? Or waking to absolute stillness of a star-rimmed landscape, its serene majesty suppressing every murmur of earth and sky?

To rise before dawn and trudge along steep, frost-plastered slopes, all in search of some wild game, perhaps an old white-tailed buck, probably too tough to hack with a hatchet, and all the while thinking we are experiencing the best days of our lives, is to grip the great outdoors.

Even if the hunt is only a symbol, it remains an expression of appreciation for wild things.

That is the true essence of hunting. And that is why we celebrate our heritage and the wonderful, magnificent gifts from the Almighty.

That is our blessing.


Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald.