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Editorial-Opinion February 2005

Steve Burch | February 3, 2005

There is a huge dislocation of sportsmen going on in Georgia’s woods right now. GON has published articles about the facts of the selling of land that for years has been “industrial forest land” and hunting club or WMA land. Below is a first-person eulogy of just such change. It touched me. I am pleased to share it with you. I keep the writer and the land anonymous here because the message is for us all. This poignant reflection needs to be a wake-up call for us all. I don’t want to print any more of these.

If you knew that your best friend would be gone forever in four months time, wouldn’t you try and spend every moment that you could with him or her up until the very end? That is exactly what I am doing today as I sit in my deer stand, spending one last moment with an old buddy of mine.

Today I lose my best friend, the land that I have been hunting since I was 11 years old. My father and I have been leasing the pines next to our family farm from Weyerhaeuser for the last 19 years now. We found out at the beginning of deer season that the land had been sold for a pretty penny. I would have sold my house, my truck and my dog just for a shot to buy this land, but I guess you can’t compete with that kind of money.

To the best of my knowledge, every deer that I have ever killed, with the exception of four, have all come from within these 250 acres of pine next to our farm. I bet I have walked every square inch of this land over the past 19 years. I know the landscape like the back of my hand. I have watched the trees grow from six feet to 10 feet to 15 feet to 30 feet to 40 feet…. I have watched generations of deer come and go. I have matched wits with some of the biggest bucks in the county in these pines and, more times than not, walked away empty handed. I have matured as a hunter and as a human being underneath this canopy of trees. I have conversed with God on many occasions in these woods, and He has often answered me back as the voice of a gentle breeze through the pine needles.

I am sure that before long I will need to get all of my stands, towers and climbers out of here. However, there are a few things that I will be leaving behind:

• A few spent bullets that never found their mark lodged in trees or buried deep within the soil somewhere.

• Shell casings ejected from the gun and forgotten in a moment of adrenaline and glory.

• A hat somewhere deep within a thicket where my buddy and I marked the last drop of blood from a buck we were trailing. (We never found him, I never went back for my hat, and my buddy still talks about that buck.)

• The remains of a wild hog that found its buddies for help before I found it.

• Pieces of an old, ripped t-shirt used in an “emergency.”

• A flashlight and a pocket knife.

I have spent more time in the woods this season than any other season in the past.

At first, my intentions were to kill a buck or two so that whoever hunted the land next year wouldn’t be able to reap the benefits of the land that I loved so much.

I soon realized that I had more respect for the land and the deer than to simply allow anger, jealousy and spite to motivate my actions. As the season progressed, I felt more like a loved one coming to the hospital to be by the side of a dying friend, raking in and sorting out all the memories with the one that helped you create those memories in the first place. I have had a very fulfilling season this year, yet I didn’t filled a single space on my tags.

Today is my final visit.

As the sun sets for the final time and the darkness creeps through the pines and surrounding woods, my lifelong buddy grows still. I take my flashlight and make my way out, the way I have done thousands of times before. A coyote starts howling somewhere deep within the trees as I place my gun in my truck.

I rise from the bedside and close my friend’s eyes.

This wake-up call says that hunter habitat is shrinking. It is happening at the same time the state seeks to expand public land. For sportsmen to remain on the land, we need a voice in the decision-making process. Without such a voice, this letter is likely a look at our future, too. Lend your voice now.

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