This column originally appeared in the November 14, 2018 issue of The Morgan Messenger. It received second place for Best Sports Column for newspapers around the U.S. in the National Newspaper Association’s editorial contest for 2019.
by Wade Shambaugh
Even though I have been fortunate to hunt game animals in several different states and Canada, and have taken more game in the last 30 years with archery equipment than with firearms, nothing feels as much like hunting to me as West Virginia’s firearms season that traditionally opens on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
This used to be the “bucks only” gun season. In recent years, concurrent hunting of antlerless deer, as well as bears, has been open in some counties. But, this is still “buck season” to most people who grew up hunting in West Virginia.
Deer hunting Thanksgiving week was the stuff my childhood dreams were made of. The night before opening day was like Christmas Eve to me. To be honest, it still is. I loved everything about it. The smell of Hoppes and three-in-one oil. The beautiful wood grain of walnut stocks. The deep dark blue of the barrels. Watching my Dad or older brothers run a knife across a whet stone. The canvas hunting coats. I was fascinated with every aspect of prepping for the hunt. Then sitting with an adult watching the morning woods come alive. Sharing a cup of coffee from an old glass-lined thermos made me feel like I was way more grown up than I was.
I tagged along without a gun for a couple of years until I was big enough to shoulder my little single shot 20 gauge. I was then allowed to carry it, under adult supervision. Soon, with the help of my older brothers, I was shooting their scoped rifles, and took a couple of deer with someone helping.
Then, in 1978, I turned 15. I could get my own hunting license. I was thrilled beyond words. I managed to take a little fork horned buck, but could not have been any happier if he would have been a record buck trophy.
The very next year, I got a driver’s license, and could hunt more and different places. I soon began to take bigger deer on a regular basis. The little buck’s rack was tossed in a shed and forgotten. Looking back now, I would so love to have it.
I’ve shared lots of memorable hunts, with many wonderful people. I think of the old fellows in the hunting camps I frequented in my late teens and early twenties. Most of them have since passed on, as have my Dad and one of my older brothers.
I reminisce about nights spent skinning deer and telling stories of the hunt, frying fresh tenderloin and drinking a cold beer with friends. My mind goes back to sharing turkey sandwiches in the woods the day after Thanksgiving, and helping a young hunter take their first deer.
All of these things, and so much more, are part of the hunting tradition to me and thousands like me. For us, it’s not just something we do. It is a part of us.
Many people return home from all over to hunt West Virginia Thanksgiving week, but it’s about much more than hunting. It’s about family, friends, memories and traditions. It’s about giving the next generation a glimpse of how things used to be. It’s certainly not just about getting a deer. For many of us, it’s about finding peace in our souls.
As we get older, I think most of us come to terms with who and what we are. I’ve been called many things – some good, some bad, some true, some not. But one thing I can tell you for certain that I am. I am a hunter. Even more specifically, I am a West Virginia deer hunter. As long as I can put one foot in front of the other, come November, I’ll be heading up a West Virginia mountain looking for a buck.
It’s been 40 years since I used my Dad’s Winchester 30-06 to take my first West Virginia buck. I think I’ll carry it some this year and see if I can find another. There are more memories to be made. Have fun, be safe, get out there and make some of your own. Good luck!
Wade Shambaugh has lived in Morgan County his whole life and is a lifelong outdoorsman.