Allure of hunting nabs next generation


Hardy Eville

It is a cold, windy day in early December. Shotgun season began a few days ago and school has just let out for the day. Junior Barrett Oliver quickly puts on his camouflage and hunter orange vest and hat before squeezing into a truck with his father, Kevin Oliver, and their guns. 

The Olivers are heading to a nearby property in Chilmark where the owner lets them hunt. Once there, Mr. Oliver stops the truck and puts his finger to his lips.

“When we get out of the car, we’ve got to be stealthy,” he says. 

Barrett has been hunting with his father since he was nine years old. Although, at that age, he says all he did was sit and watch. He has been seriously hunting for three years, taking part in bow, shotgun, and primitive weapons seasons. 

 Barrett leads the way down the trail to their deer stands. His gun is loaded and he occasionally stops to look for deer. Wet leaves line the path, muffling the sound of his footsteps. 

The first stand is positioned facing east, where deer often pass through. Today, however, the wind is coming from the west, so that area is now downwind of the stand.

“They’ll smell you before they even get close,” Mr. Oliver says. 

They continue to the next stand which is better positioned for the wind. Barrett unloads his gun and climbs the creaking metal ladder to the seat, 18 feet in the air. Mr. Oliver moves on down the path.

“Usually I’m in a stand, sometimes I’m in a blind though,” Barrett says. 

A deer blind, unlike a stand, is enclosed. It is camouflaged on the outside and there are windows for the hunters to shoot from. A stand, on the other hand, is really just a chair positioned high in a tree.

The first half-hour passes with little excitement. Barrett explains that the deer are more active at dusk. At around two-thirty, a drizzle of freezing rain begins, lasts for a few minutes, then dissipates. Barrett shrugs it off.

“If it’s a little drizzle then whatever, I’ll go, but I’d rather not get soaking wet,” he says. “Ideally it’s cold, very cold. Not too much wind, and pretty sunny out.” 

The cold is important because it gets the deer moving around.

Mr. Oliver returns and whispers that he accidentally scared some deer away from his location and is going to use the first stand even though conditions are not ideal. 

The sounds of the forest take center stage. Birds chirp, trees creak, occasionally a far off gunshot echoes through the trees. 

Barrett looks through his scope, scanning the forest below. He says he prefers shotgun season because he missed two deer this bow season due to small branches knocking his arrow off target. Shotgun slugs go right through the tiny branches. 

“Sundown is about 4:15 right now,” Barrett says, explaining that the half-hour after sunset, when it is still legal to hunt, is the best time to spot a deer.

Suddenly, a loud bang is heard close by and the smell of gunsmoke filters through the air. Barrett takes out his phone and texts his dad, checking in. Mr. Oliver responds that he thinks he got one and that more deer should be heading Barrett’s way. 

No deer appear. 

Barrett’s tree sways in the wind and creaks loudly. 

“Hear that? That’s a woodchuck,” Barrett says with a wry smile. 

It’s now almost four o’clock and the silence is even more prevalent. The whispered conversations have stopped. A cold breeze comes through and Barrett’s bare hands, gripping the metal of the gun, are starting to get cold. A slight drizzle begins again.

As the sun sets, another gunshot is heard. Mr. Oliver again. This time he texts over a picture of the deer he just killed. 

Father: 1; Son: nothing. 

Just before 4:45, Barrett climbs down from the stand after an unlucky day. He didn’t even see a squirrel. 

Back at the house, after some difficulty navigating Mr. Oliver’s truck through the dark woods to pick up the deer, they field dress the deer behind their shed. 

“It’s boring every time I don’t get a deer,” Barrett says. “There are things I’d rather be doing than sitting out there, but getting a deer is a top three kind of feeling.”

After hanging the dressed carcass in a tree for a day or so, the Olivers will make medallions out of the tenderloins and use the rest of the meat for burgers and sausage. 

“It’s like catching a fish, but the fish is a hundred pounds,” Barrett says.