It was as much through hunting as through hiking that I discovered the forest, first felt wonder and reverence for that singing green shadow as a tween becoming a young man.
Hunting, done wisely and well, is necessary in today's ecosystem, as the predators who once filled this niche slowly recede into memory, still surviving in a few open ranges and preserves in the west. Our own eastern wolf is gone, the cougar and mountain cats of legend hunted to near-mythic status, bobcats ranging in small packs in only the most desolate of spots, and bear have been chased down to small, sleek creatures half the size of their ancestors, who eat more berries than meat.
In short, white tail deer have few or no natural predators, and as a consequence, the tasty varmints are everywhere. Because West Virginia is crisscrossed by roads frequented by logging trucks, working parents and NASCAR fans, more deer (and occasionally people) die from auto injuries than gunfire or arrow. Living in West Virginia requires special insurance due to the number of deer damage claims.
I grew up with a great generation of hunters and we saw the loud, drunken camps, the idiots and the dangerous morons who would leave a waste stream a mile wide through Eden itself. For every one of those examples, I knew a dozen conscientious hunters who left little save bloodstains and footprints, who ate all but the bones and hide, and used most of both.
Hunting is a tradition that far predates our nation, and is one of the cornerstone principles for the foundation of the National Forests. Venison is both delicious and naturally low fat, with none of the toxins or horrors associated with agribusiness "farming" of beef and poultry.
If all works out well, I'll be one of the silent invisible majority who come, do their thing, and vanish without a trace, in just a few weeks.
As ever, and in anything, what is done well, no one remembers, what is done wrong, no one forgets. Not all hunters leave a gut pile strewn with beer cans and cigarette butts at a pullout on a public road.
Please wear bright colors when you head out into our national forests, from now until January.
Remember that Franklin Gorge is private property, and stay off the top of the cliffs.
No matter where you climb, try to keep your pets close or leave them at home, make enough noise to make yourself known, maybe say hello, wish them good luck, and share the forest with folks who actually pay, in some cases, hundreds of dollars in permits and fees, and train just as rigorously as any climber, who spend as much if not more than we do on gear, just to use our public lands for whatever time they can snatch from work and life, four months out of every year.