The word ‘hunt’ can take on several meanings. Outside of fishing, at least, you can hunt almost anything: Morel mushrooms, whitetail deer, ruffed grouse, ramps, the list goes on.
According to Merriam-Webster, ‘hunt’ has a few meanings, and interlaced between these is the synonym ‘seek,’ which seems fitting for the last year I’ve fully dedicated to searching for the answers behind many problems West Virginia’s sportsmen and women face. Of those: The disappearing tradition of ruffed grouse and those that hunt them, a problem with our three-buck limit, lack of management on pubic lands leading to mature forests unable to sustain healthy populations of animals, and the attempt to redesignate the New River Gorge National River as a National Park and Preserve, something that would strip hunters of more than 4,000 acres of public hunting land all so the whitewater rafting companies can maybe garner some more business.
But, among all of this, I’ve also noticed the decline of the Appalachian way of life. Sure, there are still people who utilize what their grandparents taught them – making fried squirrel alongside a hearty plate of biscuits and gravy or tanning their own deer hide to make clothing or other utilitarian products – but, outside of those folks, people my age aren’t maintaining the lifestyle.
I’m part of that problem, too. Before college, I never really bought into the whole idea. Hell, I didn’t even kill my first deer until this year, albeit for reasons that are 100% my fault, like holding on smaller bucks or does because I wanted my first deer to be a big buck. I’m not the most consistent angler, nor am I someone who’s a diehard attendee of forest management meetings. But I have reached a point in my young life where I see my friends being chastised for making that dinner their grandpa or dad makes – the squirrel and biscuits mentioned above – or I’m at the receiving end of questions like, “Why would you eat that?”
And that deeply bothers me.
My parents never fed me squirrel or venison. I had a strict diet of supermarket foods unless it was vegetables or herbs they grew themselves. Sure, I had eaten it at friends’ houses, or my brother gave me some deer meat to stock my fridge during college, but I came into the Appalachian experience later in life. Or so I thought.
The fact is that all of us born in this region have a dormant being inside of us that wants to connect to the land. I truly feel that, after meeting folks from out west and outside of the Appalachian Mountain range, we are a unique breed of humans. We might not all realize it or take advantage of it, but those that do have a sense of freedom about them. And I want to share that with you all.
So I’ve decided to set out on a hunt. To search for stories that will once again normalize small game hunting, public land access, and responsible management on said lands, and to call out people who threaten our lifestyle or try to capitalize on our natural resources without playing a fair game and paying us what we deserve.
I know without someone communicating this, things are going to get worse. We have an abundance of news out there, but what we don’t have are reporters calling out environmental groups for tying up the U.S. Forest Service in court over plans to provide early successional habitat for grouse, deer, turkey, and bear, so that they don’t continue to die because they’re without the necessary cover or food. We don’t have someone telling the story of the farmer who’s unable to sustain his lifestyle anymore because COVID-19 wrecked his chances of selling crops, hosting dinners, or more, and his only way of keeping protein on the table is by taking the family rifle or shotgun out to harvest game.
But I’m not ignorant. I also realize that communication is limited and that I might miss things here or there. That’s why I hope that through this small newspaper and its online platform that I can energize folks so the Appalachian lifestyle doesn’t disappear. Through stories about what I just listed above, and even the small-time stories about someone’s affinity for rabbit hunting, the local guy who ties flies, you name it, I hope we can preserve and maintain our lifestyle and maybe get some folks interested in visiting us.
I know that I could have continued to do this for The Dominion Post or the magazine I write for, Project Upland, and I will continue to do my articles there, but I knew the best place for this new format was at home, where although I didn’t learn everything about Appalachian life, it’s where I was born, the place I love, and where I hope to make the birthplace of this new idea. With that, this journal will be based within the Ritchie Gazette – my hometown newspaper – and will be a wildly different outlet than my work for the other outlets I work for.
Here’s to us, our lifestyle, and to the preservation of a group of people that shaped America.