Hunters may move on, but the hunt lives on
By the time this paper makes its way off the press and into your hands, I'll already be sitting in the woods beneath an old hemlock tree on the family farm awaiting the arrival of "the big 'un."
Last year, I wrote a column wishing well the hunters who were setting out bright and early to land their prize bucks.
But this year, after feeling the itch like I hadn't felt it since 1998, according to my last valid license, I decided to be a part of the story this year instead of a spectator.
As a man, there just seems to be something deep inside of me drawing me to the hunt.
Now, first of all, I'm not saying you have to be a man to hunt. Men and women alike who will always be far superior hunters to me will be joining me in the woods this year.
And I'm also not saying that to be a "real" man one has to hunt.
But for me, I can definitely say that the thrill I have felt leading up to this year's buck season has put me back in touch with a side that I'd almost forgotten I had.
As an animal lover, I have long struggled with my desire to hunt. I never minded hunting, and I never thought that hunting was cruel, especially knowing the problem of population control in the area. But after bagging my first and only doe in '98, I wasn't sure hunting was for me.
Years later, I sort of regret coming to that conclusion.
A few weeks back, I watched the movie Arthur about the Knights of the Round Table and their brave feats, going above and beyond to protect those they didn't even know.
These tales are known as legend, and yet they have captivated the minds of boys — young and old — for years and years.
When it comes to growing up in western Pennsylvania, at least in my family and in so many close to me, our legends center around hunting stories.
This past year, the world lost the man behind an epic hunting tale right here in our neck of the woods in Jim Rowles — the man who brought down the infamous Airport Buck.
Jim is family to some folks I've always considered family, and his 23-point was one many hunters, around here and around the world, envied — a true rarity.
One of the hunters who often wished he was in Jim's stand that day was my late grandfather, Sonny.
In fact, Pap was so impressed with the buck that one of the pictures he enjoyed most was a Photoshopped image of him holding Jim's buck.
It was stories from Pap, my other grandfather Paul, my father, my uncles and Pap's brother Lloyd that I clung to growing up.
The first day of buck, my brother and I awoke early, even on a day off from school, to listen to the tales of the hunters in the basement at breakfast.
We lived for those stories, because some of them seemed just too good to be true. And maybe they were... We'll never know that for sure. But what we do know is those stories have lived on.
This year on the farm, there will be no great gathering on the first day of season.
Pap has moved on to hunt the heavenly forest, just as Jim has, and Pap Lantz is enjoying warmer weather in the south.
My uncles and cousins have moved to different hunting grounds, and my brother now calls the woods of Canada his home hunting spot — in fact, he bagged his first moose this year... Congrats bro!
But no matter where they're hunting, I'll feel a part of them all with me no matter where they are. And for the hunters who have moved on to a better place, I'll be imagining that they're driving the deer my way this year. Who knows, maybe they'll push the big 'un past my hemlock this morning.
But if not, I'll live with the pleasure of sitting in woods, quietly pursuing the thing that so many in this area have found — not just the big buck, but the love of the hunt itself.
Because just as the bucks we are pursuing come and go, so do those who seek them. But the hunt itself lives on.
Good luck out there today fellow hunters, and stay safe. I'm glad to include myself in your society this year.
Zak Lantz is the editor of The Spirit.