Caption: VTHS deer hunters show off their paper maché trophies. From left, Robert Meischner, Tim Krystofik, Ben Kayhart and Logan Ellsworth. (Photo by Terry Sabia)
It is true that not everyone supports hunting, and cases like the killing of Cecil the Lion in Africa do highlight the uglier aspects of the sport, those who hunt simply to put a trophy on their wall. But there is an ardent population of hunters in Sussex County, and in Vernon Township High School, for whom hunting is more a communion with nature than an exercise in domination. “Man vs. Wild,” for these hunters, becomes “Man at one with the Wild.”
Recently, some deer hunters chose to make their paper maché masks in Mr. Doug Miller’s Sculpture class into trophies and were eager to talk about what the sport means to them. Tim Krystofik, Robert Meischner, Ben Kayhart and Logan Ellsworth all agreed that hunting was, first and foremost, an important bonding activity with their fathers. Often uncles and brothers are also involved, but it is the communal aspect, as well as the natural aspect, that is most important.
Robert Meischner said that many times, sitting in his tree stand, a young deer would be directly seventeen feet below, and his enjoyment was simply to sit there and watch, unnoticed and unobtrusive. Ben Kayhart said that one of his greatest joys was to watch the sun come up and the earth come to life as the animals started to stir at dawn. The day he saw two bucks fighting was also pretty cool, he added. He was stowed safely in his tree stand for that.
Meischner was not so lucky in his tree stand the day a raccoon decided to menace him, climbing the tree to within five feet of him and hissing aggressively. He was bow hunting, so as awkward as it was, he had to shoot it with his bow pointing straight downwards. He ended up injuring the raccoon, which limped off, compelling him to follow it and put it out of its misery. But Meischner added that what he likes best about hunting is that every time it is a different experience. It is a bit bittersweet because once the deer is down, that hunt is over. Without being cliché, he confirmed that the thrill is, indeed, in the hunt.
All of the hunters testified that no hunter wants an animal to suffer and that a quick, clean kill is the rule. Tim Krystofik says a Native American hunter’s prayer before he hunts, a prayer that asks for a quick kill without suffering. All of the young men said they hunt for the meat, rather than the sport, and all grew up eating venison.
Logan Ellsworth began hunting with his father when he was five or six years old. What he loves best is being out in the woods, in raw nature, with his father. He hunts with bow, shotgun, and rifle. All of them complained about all the fees for hunting associated with each different season. Not only does it cost to get the hunting license, but then there are the separate fees for bow hunting, shotgun hunting, rifle hunting, and bear hunting. Only Tim Krystofik got his bear hunting permit.
All of the hunters said that it was a lot of preparation for even one hunt. Half the season, they said, was spent tracking the deer and building their tree stands. They never just go out and hunt without preparing. The warm weather has made it especially difficult, they said, because the deer do not move as much in the warm weather. The deer movement is also affected by the moon, and with a huge acorn fall this winter, there is plenty of food, which also limits the movement. And yes, there is an app for deer hunting, which gives conditions, information on deer movement and wind direction, and important consideration for hunters.
While hunting is predominantly a male sport, Alicja Wesloske, has been hunting ducks since she was eleven years old. She hunts with her father, sister and younger brother, and is also a competitive shooter with the 4-H club that meets at the American Legion in Branchville. She finds duck hunting more challenging than deer hunting and always enjoys the duck dinner she helped provide.