In Our Own Backyard....Going out in a blaze of - orange


I've grown up around deer hunters. My grandpa was a deer hunter. My dad was a deer hunter. My son is a deer hunter. I never cared to try it myself, however. I can still recall lying groggily in bed in the predawn hours, hearing my dad up and about, getting ready to head out to the deer stand. I could hear the cold wind blowing and the frozen tree branches rattling outside my window, and I knew daylight was still hours away. I was only too happy to settle back into my warm covers and go back to sleep.

By the time my dad returned from hunting at night, it was dark once again. My mom kept supper hot as we waited to see his headlights coming up the driveway. We knew by where he parked his truck if he had shot a deer that day. If he'd gotten his deer, he'd pull up to the big white pine branch near the house where he'd hang the deer carcass overnight until he could take it in for processing. If he didn't, he'd pull up to the garage. By the time he got to the front door, we already knew the verdict of that day's hunt.

Fresh venison always meant fresh deer liver on the table. And though I enjoy venison roast, chops and sausage, I never became much of a fan of liver, so this was not really a welcome part of the annual ritual. In fact, it was probably the only time my mom and dad agreed to let me have something other than what was put on the table, and in this case, I got to eat something I loved -- hot dogs!

In the early days when my dad hunted, there was no such thing as blaze orange. He wore plain old red, and often only a red jacket and hat or mitts -- not the fancy top-to-toe, Gore-Tex-lined, ultra-techno gear that they wear today. When he finally gave up hunting in his later years, it was not because he could no longer make the long treks through the woods. It was because he could no longer take the cold.

We didn't have a large home freezer, so after my dad's deer was processed and wrapped in waxed white butcher paper, he'd take it to the local locker plant in town, where he and my mom rented a locker. The individual lockers were submerged in the floor, and when someone showed up to get some of their meat, they'd give the plant operator their locker number and he'd raise their storage locker out of the floor with a big, automated hook. As little girls, my sister and I would beg to go along, just to watch the hook raise the locker from the floor!

Today's deer hunter is a different beast. He or she has the benefit of high tech clothing designed to tackle the cold at any temperature, along with four-wheelers or snowmobiles to take them through the woods and haul home the deer after the kill. There are fancy scent killers, doe-attracting odors and detergents to in which to wash your hunting clothes in order make you almost "invisible" in the woods.

And there is all that glorious blaze orange! A quick glimpse through the outdoors store yields everything from orange jackets and bibs, and caps and camisoles, to socks and hand warmers and beanies and muffs. (I'm certain somewhere out there is probably blaze orange underwear as well!)

Blaze orange is noticeable through all but the thickest of woods, and you can spot a guy dressed in blaze orange driving his pickup from nearly a quarter mile away!

Though neither my husband nor I hunt, we have our own share of blaze orange clothing to wear during hunting season. We even have an orange vest and collar for the dog. We live quite a ways out in the woods and hike near our house every day, so it simply makes sense -- even on the way to the mailbox.

Last weekend, we decided to head up the North Shore to do some hiking. We brought along our blaze orange jackets and hats to make certain we were safe in the woods, since most of the state and federal lands are open to hunting. We found we weren't alone. Though we saw very few hunters in the state parks and forest trails where we trekked, we saw a whole lot of hikers decked out in various degrees of blaze orange. It was kind of like all of us out there were part of "the brotherhood of the blaze orange," just like the hunters.

One couple we passed wore orange hooded sweatshirts. Another wore orange mittens and stocking caps. Yet another had a blaze orange bandana on their dog.

And then, there was the little Asian couple proudly sporting what looked to be brand, new orange vests and hiking deep into the Cascade Lookout Mountain trail. They merely looked back at us in our blaze orange gear, grinned, nodded -- and gave us the "thumbs up!"