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Published: Tuesday, 12/3/2002

Opening day grueling, fruitless for most hunters

UNION FURNACE, Ohio - To look at him, he ain't much.

In fact, if you saw him on the street in downtown Toledo, looking like he did yesterday down here in the southeast Ohio hill country - deer country - you likely would go out of your way to avoid him.

For sure, you at least would not make eye contact and you would keep moving.

His boots - rubber/leather ``shoe pacs” - were covered with globs of two or three kinds and colors of gumbo-sticky mud. They were almost new about 4 a.m. when he laced them on, and even at 6 a.m. when he first set foot in the woods outside the Jeep.

But at 5 p.m., when he trudged out of the steep, wooded, briar-snarled ravines, those boots looked as old as yesterday's news. All scratched and streaked by rocks, thorns, and the myriad sharp edges that people the deer country. He thinks the new beauty marks are pretty.

And his olive drab wool pants - ex-G.I. issue - were spattered with more mud. They were prickly, too, where the thorns broke off and still are embedded. He tried to pick them out while he waited for a deer to come by, but there always are a few that hide in the tough twill.

The prickers remained in place to remind his aching legs - right through the long underwear - of how much fun he was having on opening day of deer season.

His frayed field coat, though sized for a man 40 pounds heavier, nonetheless stretched the buttonholes. It had to enclose layers against the weather:

Long underwear. Utility shirt (really an old uniform shirt once worn by “Wally'' that he bought for $2 from a dry cleaners years ago). A now moth-eaten alpaca sweater that he dickered for long ago on the streets of Cuzco, Peru. A down vest, its blue poplin shell faded on the edges from years of attempted washings.

And you could not miss the blazing “hunter orange'' vest that he topped off the field coat with. The color practically screams at your eyes, even from way across the steep, hardscrabble valleys of Hocking County. Heck, the color would stop traffic downtown, back home.

He was wearing one of those screaming orange caps, too. Except this once doesn't scream so loudly any more. It is a few years older, spotted with unwashable what-not. The bill is so frayed that strings dangle near the edge of his vision.

But it is his lucky hunting cap and he won't part with it. Bad as a little kid with a favorite if graying old “blankey.''

His hands are soiled and scratched from a day in the buck thickets. All the dried blood, however, is his own. He was one of the 410,000 Ohio deer hunters who didn't get a deer yesterday, unlike the estimated 40,000 forecast to bag first-day deer out of a state-record herd of 575,000. (He has till Sunday, so he wasn't worried.)

If you still could bear to look at him, you may have noted the salt-and-pepper stubble threatening to become part of the rest of his beard. He usually shaves and trims around the beard and mustache, keeps it neat. But he doesn't in deer camp, because he doesn't have to.

He may have had a thousand-yard stare, too, complete with dark circles under his eyes from too-long hours afield. They were the product of hours of peering and squinting and trying to make out a horizontal form - the gray-brown shape of an elusive, ghostly deer - in the mostly vertical yet topsy-turvy universe of trees and brush.

His hair stuck out at funny angles from underneath the orange cap, too, the result of too many off-and-ons and fingers sweeping back as a makeshift comb.

Oh, eventually you could scrub him up and clean him up and dress him up to look more or less like any man in the street.

But yesterday at dark, looking at himself in the mirror at the end of opening day, he looked “powerful ragged,'' ma'am. Really, though, he doesn't bite. He's just an grizzled, old-fashioned deer hunter.

wThe Ohio Division of Wildlife was investigating at least two nonfatal shooting accidents in southeast Ohio from opening day, one each in Athens and Perry counties. At least one of the accidents was self-inflicted, the division said. Other details were not immediately available.

Mike Budzik, chief of the division, termed the opening-day weather ideal in southeast Ohio, where a major share of the hunt is focused. Temperatures rose from the low 20s to around 40 under broken overcast skies. In contrast, many northern Ohio hunters were afield in wet snow and cooler temperatures.

A preliminary account of the opening-day bag will be available by mid-week.

DATEBOOK

Today through Thursday: Public trap, skeet, 5-Stand Sporting Clays, and indoor pistol shooting, 2 to 9 p.m., Toledo Trap & Skeet Club, 3150 State Rt. 295, Berkey; repeats Friday noon to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; call the club, 419-829-5101.

Tonight: Public trapshoot, 6 to 10 p.m., Dundee Sportsmen's Club, 2300 Plank Rd., Dundee, Mich., repeats Thursday 9 a.m. to noon and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.; also, Saturday, ATA registered trapshoot, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., also, Saturday, euchre, 7:30 p.m.; call the club 734-529-3581.

Tonight: Public trap and skeet shooting, 6 to 11 p.m., Camp Perry Shooting Club, Camp Perry, State Rt. 2 west of Port Clinton, repeats Thursday 6 to 11 p.m. and Sunday noon to 6 p.m., call the club, 419-635-2682.

Tomorrow: Public trapshoot, 6 p.m., Elmore Conservation Club, Portage River Road South, just west of State Rt. 590, call Richard Gremling, 419-729-9518.

Thursday: Trap and skeet shooting, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monroe Rod and Gun Club, 6280 Lighthouse Rd., Monroe, Mich., call Jim Warren, 734-243-9774.

Thursday: Trapshoot, 6 p.m., Sandusky County Sportsmen's Club, State Rt. 600 east of Gibsonburg.

Thursday: Public trapshoot, 6 to 9 p.m., Ottawa County Conservation League, Martin-Moline Road, Martin; call Bob Reinbolt, 419-855-8409.

Thursday: Public trapshoot, 7 to 10 p.m. Progressive Fishing Association, 8050 Schadel Rd., Whitehouse; call Mike Adcock, 419-897-8446.

Thursday and Friday: Public trap and skeet shooting, 6 to 11 p.m., United Conservation and Outdoor Association of Hancock County, Township Road 243 north of U.S. 224, east of Findlay, call Don Borkosky, 419-427-4236.

Friday and Monday: Public trapshoot, 6:30 p.m., Wolf Creek Sportsmen's Association, 349 Teachout Rd., north of State Rt. 2, Curtice; call Frank Schaffer, 419-691-2769.

Saturday: Program on making Christmas ornaments from sweet-gum fruits, 10 a.m. to noon, Mary Jane Thurston State Park, day lodge, State Rt. 65 west of Grand Rapids; program repeats 1 to 4 p.m. at Van Buren State Park, nature center, State Rt. 613 east of I-75, north of Findlay; call Ron Bowerman, 419-299-3807.

Saturday and Sunday: Christmas at the cabin, 2 to 4 p.m., White Star Park, log cabin, Sandusky County Road 65 east of State Rt. 300, Gibsonburg; also, Monday, pinecone creations, 6 to 8 p.m., Sandusky County Park District headquarters, Countryside Drive off U.S. 6 at U.S. 20 bypass east of Fremont; call the park district, 419-334-4495 or 1-888-200-5577.

Sunday: SKS, AK, and M-1 Carbine shoot, noon, Sandusky County Sportsmen's Club, State Rt. 600 east of Gibsonburg; call Bob Caswall, 419-862-2861.

Sunday: Toledo Muzzle Loaders, Jim and Kent's revenge shoot, 11 a.m., Clinton Boothby Memorial Range, 875 Schwamberger Rd., call Al Zielinski, 419-476-5978.

Sunday: Bowshoots: Canvasback Gun Club, 3801 West Dunbar Rd. at Rainsville Road, Monroe, Mich., register 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 30 3-D targets, call Tom Moran, 734-243-5268.; also, Monroe Rod and Gun Club, 6280 Lighthouse Rd., Monroe, Mich., register 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 30 3-D targets, lunch noon to 4 p.m., call the club, 734-243-9774.



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