A comfortable ‘front pack’ for this shih-tzu as her owner walks around Ventimiglia market in Italy.
A comfortable ‘front pack’ for this shih-tzu as her owner walks around Ventimiglia market in Italy.
Corrections: arctic foxes are born in brown or bluish black summer pelts and arctic wolves are born gray.
The second Thursday in November has just passed. In most of the country, thoughts will be about the big feast that comes exactly seven days later, but not in my part of the world.
This coming week does include American Thanksgiving. Big family meals will be held that day, and swarms of people will go charging out to shopping malls on Friday.
But in West Virginia, another holiday takes precedence: “buck gun season.” This coming Monday, the woods be filled with more loud booms than the Fourth of July. Organic protein and “horns” will be the prize, and a few more forest destroying cervids will be removed from the population before the coming winter turns them into twig chomping fiends.
When I was a child, all sort of people came into the rural districts, often people who had grown up in the area but had gone into the industrial parts of Ohio for work. Ohio’s deer season, “shotgun only,” came later in the year, but West Virginia’s came the week of Thanksgiving. If one wanted to visit the family for the holiday, why not come a few days early and drop a buck for the freezer?
It was such a big event that the school was out all week, not just Thursday and Friday. We received a truncated Christmas vacation, but school attendance during that week would have been terrible. So the district let us all out.
And the tradition continues. I don’t know of a single school district in West Virginia that stays open the week of Thanksgiving.
In fact, virtually every college or university in West Virginia has a week-long holiday this coming week. It is that big a deal.
And it’s not like the deer are massive trophies. The state has antler restrictions in only a few public hunting lands, and in most of the state, there will be many young bucks taken. Because the “antlerless” firearms season occurs at the same time, button bucks will be taken as well. When that many younger bucks are removed from the population, the number of mature deer with nice racks becomes much lower.
But this is a state that allows the hunter to take six deer a year. If you have a family who owns land and have two hunters who have resident rights to it, you’re talking potentially twelve deer killed a year, which could feed a family of four fairly well.
I come from a family of deer hunters, but they were not venison eaters. When I was a kid, every deer that got shot was given to a relative or someone who couldn’t hunt. My grandpa, who loved to hunt everything and would have us eat cooked squirrel brains, wouldn’t even field dress a deer. That was my dad’s job, and for whatever reason, if my dad or my grandpa even smelled venison cooking, it would make their stomachs weak.
I never had this problem, and in the last few years, I’ve learned how to cook venison properly. I much prefer the meat to beef, especially when we’re talking leaving certain steak cuts rare. These deer have been living well on acorns, and their flesh has that oaky, rich taste, which some call gamey. I call it delicious.
I’ll be in the woods early Monday morning. I don’t know if I’ll get anything. The odds are usually against my killing anything that first week. I don’t have access to the best deer bedding grounds, and the hunting pressure means they won’t be moving into the area where I hunt.
My favorite time to go is Thursday evening, when more than half the local hunters are at home watching football games and digesting turkey. I would rather go through waterboarding than watch a football game, so it’s not big loss for me.
I am a naturalist hunter on the quest for meat. My ancestors in Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain hunted the red deer and the roe thousands of years. They got their meat from the forest.
I am doing the same.
And if you really wanted to know what I think of deer, I’d have to say that I love them. They are fascinating animals. This particular species has been roaming North America virtually unchanged for 3 million years. This animal watched the mammoths rise and fall. It was coursed by Armbruster’s wolf and the American cheetahs. It saw the elk come down from Beringia– and the bison too. It ran the back country with primitive horses and several species of pronghorn. It quivered and blew out at jaguars and American lions that stalked in the bush, and it dodged the Clovis points of the Siberian hunters who first colonized this land.
The white-tailed deer thrives so well, but this coming week is the beginning of the great cull. Fewer deer mean less pressure on the limited winter forage, which means healthier deer in the early spring. Better winter and spring condition means that does have had a chance to carry fawns to term, and mature does usually have twins if the conditions are good. Healthier bucks get a better chance to grow nice antlers for the coming year.
A public resource is being managed. Organic meat raised without hormones or antibiotics is easily procured, and stories and yarns are being compiled for exposition that rivals any trophy mount on the wall.
I know deer stories, including ones about the people I barely knew and are no longer with us.
My Grandpa Westfall once went on a deer drive for my great grandpa, who was getting older. He valued his clean shot placement, as many of those old time hunters did, and he would not shoot a deer on the run.
But as he grew older, deer hunting became harder for him, so my grandpa decided to jump one out to him.
My grandpa went rustling through the brush to drive one into my great grandpa’s ran, and he happened to bump a nice little buck and a few does that went running in his direction.
Expecting to hear rifle shots, my grandpa was a bit surprised to hear nothing. So when he approached the deer stand, he saw my great grandpa sitting there.
“Did you see those deer?”
“I ran three out to you. A buck and two does. Why didn’t you shoot?”
“I didn’t see or hear any deer.”
“Well, you should have at least heard them.”
“Well, if there were that many deer coming my way, they must’ve had their sneakers on.”
He didn’t want to tell my grandpa that he appreciated the effort, but that deer drives were against his ethics. He shot deer cleanly, or he didn’t shoot them at all.
These old men will be with me when I’m out on Monday. I go in their memory, participating in the Great West Virginia Deer Cull.
While I do share some pieces of my family’s life here when it is relevant to stories I’m sharing and/or when I feel like it would be helpful to other people, I keep the more personal details and intimate moments (especially when they involve my kids) offline. Sharing our family holiday cards here is an exception for me. Our cards do (at least in my opinion) represent a more personal part of our lives since they are sent to our closest friends and family members, but it’s a part I am willing (and eager!) to share. I genuinely feel that exchanging cards is one of the most endearing, special parts of the holiday season, and giving a glimpse into our experience with it is something I’m happy to do. I’ve actually really come to love doing this post, which is now in its third year.
A few years ago, I made the decision that after only sending cards from the Bubby and Bean Art shop that I designed myself, I wanted to start ordering them from somewhere that wasn’t part of my job. I mean, I’d admittedly sent out pretty much every design from my shop already, so there was a practical aspect. But the main reason was that it was Essley’s first Christmas, and I really wanted to include a photo of her on our card. I was also at the end of my pregnancy with Emmett, and that in addition to the fact that it was my busiest time of year with work and Robbie was about to leave the country for his job made the task of stuffing, sealing, addressing, stamping, and sending holiday cards seem unreasonably difficult. I had been doing some research into different card companies that offered personalization, and I stumbled upon one that not only had the hippest, most stylish cards I’d ever seen, they also offered a service that would do all of the sending work for me. I was sold. And I loved it so much that I used it again last year, and this year too. Smitten, guys. Smitten.
The name of the company (just in case you don’t remember me gushing about them thet past two years) is Postable. In addition to the other epically awesome things I mentioned above, they also have a huge selection of designs to personalize. (This year I had so much trouble choosing just one that I ended up ordering three to send to myself so I could choose one in person. You can check out all three of them in the image directly below this paragraph.) What sets them apart, however, is the fact that they print, stuff, stamp, address, and mail all of your cards directly to everyone in your address book – which, in their words, saves you thousands of hours of agony and a life of carpel tunnel. True story. I’m also a big fan of the fact that they use 100% post-consumer recycled or tree-free 100% cotton in all their cards and envelopes. And the quality is stellar. I mean, the cards are incredibly beautiful in person.
The process of personalizing the cards with our photos, greetings, and names (we chose to print on both the front and backs) on Postable took less than five minutes. And everything is customizable. You even have a choice for the writing on the envelopes. I went with one of their “smart fonts” that actually looks exactly like Robbie’s handwriting, which kind of makes me feel like I’m being sneaky because I can guarantee the recipients will think we hand wrote them all. (Insert evil laughter.) Then you choose which addresses you’ll use from the address book (which is super easy to fill; when I first started using Postable I uploaded a spreadsheet and voila), check out, and you’re done. In just a couple of days, your cards are on their way to all of your people.
As for the design we chose this year, it just seemed appropriate to go with one that featured “Peace on Earth.” (I’m not going to get political in a holiday card post, but I think spreading peace is pretty freaking important right now, just sayin’.) The photo of Essley and Emmett we used for the front was admittedly like the 27th take, but I’m stoked with how it turned out. Essley is laughing, and Emmett is, well, not diving off the chair or destroying something. We couldn’t ask for more than that. For the back, we went with a grainy cell phone shot of our family outside of Robbie’s tour bus when we joined him for a night in Indianapolis last summer. It was spontaneous and real and very us. The card is perfect, and I’m so excited to get them sent out to our family and friends. (Without any work aside from a couple of minutes online. Wooooot!)
Honestly, I can’t imagine a time that I won’t use Postable for our holiday cards. And no, they did not pay me to say any of this. Really, they didn’t. While I do partner with them for these projects, they are not paid sponsorships. This is all my honest opinion, free of monetization y’all. They seem to be really nice people who make dope cards and have a very innovative service. Oh, and they’re also offering all Bubby and Bean readers 15% off their entire order. See what I mean about their level of awesomeness? Just use code BUBBYANDBEAN.
Please tell me I’m not the only one who experiences a genuine emotional response during the process of sending out holiday cards each year. I mean, it’s a sentimental experience right? Either way, thank you for letting me share. (I’d love to see yours as well!)
This post is in collaboration with Postable.
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