Killin' Time in Appalachia

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES OF DEER HUNTING. IF BLOOD, GUTS, OR DEAD ANIMALS UPSET YOU, YOU MIGHT CONSIDER AVERTING YE OLDE EYEBALLS AND ORDERING UP SOME SEITAN WINGS INSTEAD (SORRY NOT SORRY)

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Highland County, Virginia: With roughly 4.5 people per square mile, and a total population of about 2,200, it's the fifth least populous county east of the Mississippi River. That's small ya'll! However, it happens to be my personal favorite place in. the. world. I'm super biased with that opinion because my family has been spending our down-time here for the past 30 years.

Out in this neck of the woods most days are spent at a slower pace. Long walks in the forest replace cell phones (there's no service anyway), and good conversation around the campfire is one heck of a Netflix substitute. But the highlight of everyone's year around here is always hunting season. White tail deer are abundant in these woods, providing folks with an activity that serves as both a timeless tradition and a way to feed one's family through the winter. A different energy fills the air, and the hills and hollows come alive with an excitement only a hunter can know. 

Opening day of rifle season falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and lasts for two short weeks. Around this time, most of the leaves have fallen and the mountain air is wonderfully crisp. This year, a sausage fest consisting of my father, my husband, my uncle, my cousin, and a mixed group of various family friends set out into the cold Virginia morning to find themselves a kill (cue Deliverance banjo). While I opted out of opening day this season, I've been hunting since I was a wee lass, and remain the only woman to hunt on this here land. Yes, it's a male dominated activity... but you may (or may not) be pleased to know that, according to the NRA, female shooters and hunters are on the rise.

Both my husband and my father (pictured above) got bucks this weekend. After field dressing and loading the carcasses into the truck, we set off down the road to my uncle's cabin where we regrouped with the rest of the crew to see wut up. As a youngin', I quickly learned that the sight of men gathering around the bed of a truck during hunting season meant serious business. Of course, everyone wants to see what your deer looks like... but questions swirl around the details of the kill: What time did you shoot? How many did you see? How many yards away was it? Did you have to track it? And most importantly, Did the tongue flop? 

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After an essential gathering 'round the truck session concluded, we shot on over the mountains to the nearby Shenandoah Valley where we've been taking our deer to be processed by a wonderful Mennonite family the past few years. Each generation plays a role in this family-run business, and upon our arrival to their homestead, we were greeted by the man in charge on the intake deck: A tiny towhead covered in deer blood and wielding a very sharp knife. Using his blade as a pointer, he directed us to drop our deer amongst the lineup of others he was busy prepping for the butcher. 

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Being a Mennonite-run operation, there are certainly no computers. All orders and tags are hand-written by the owner, Charlie, who also makes sure to ask exactly how spicy you want your smoked sausage and bologna. While our venison order was being rounded out with the addition of jerky, snack sticks, tenderloins, and ground, a steady stream of carcasses were being carried in and strung up for processing in the next room. Charlie is a jovial character, and granted me permission to wander over to the processing room for some better shots. What a guy!

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Of course, no hunting weekend is complete without gathering around the kitchen table at my uncle's cabin back at the farm with one's beverage(s) of choice at hand. "Drinking to the kill" commences, with Crown Royal being specially reserved for whomever landed the biggest buck that day. Tales of yore and cheap beer flow late into the night, often concluded by a real classy Seagram's VO night cap. Man, this just might be the good life. 

Spending time out in the country like this always resets my soul a little bit. The droning hum of our chaotic world fades away, and I slowly start to remember the simple joys life has to offer. That's some cheesy sentimental shit, I know. But, as my mother aptly pointed out to me recently, "No matter how bad you might feel, a walk in the woods will always make you feel better." No truer words have been spoken, and I can now confirm that moms really do know everything!