It was Thanksgiving weekend last year. My kids and their spouses were home for the holidays. Besides our Native American tipi celebration, the moon was full, so of course, a full moon walk was in order. My kids grew up celebrating this largest phase of the moon in all seasons.
We headed to Game Lands 106 near Eckville, Berks County, in the shadow of Hawk and Blue Mountain. We have been coming here to walk for decades, by the light of the moon and the sun, but mostly the moon.
We followed the tree row out to an open hill and there we stood assisting the moon in its rising and then admiring it in the sky before it tucked behind some low clouds. There was still plenty of light to return to the parking lot without a flashlight. Then we saw some strange red lights. I mentally made a map in my head as to where the other parking lot is for the shooting range. No one would be out target practicing now. But that was not the correct direction.
The red light stayed on us until we could see clearly with our naked eyes- three men dressed in camo sitting together. They had assault weapons in their hands.
“What are you doing here?” they interrogated us, when we reached them.
I said, “Ah, full moon walking,” and swept my hand up into the heavens to the moon.
“What are you doing here?” I returned the question.
I should have added “People too? Because you had a bead on us all the way across the field. Wondering what kind of animal talks and laughs in a pack? There are six of us. Had a hard time wondering what we are?”
My daughter, Sierra, was pissed. The whole scene made her very uncomfortable and she felt violated. She wondered if they were poaching. I have been hunting off and on for much of my adult life but am not knowledgeable on predator hunting rules and regs. We took down their license plates once we returned to the lot just in case we learned that they were doing something illegal. We know they were doing something incredibly rude and dangerous- holding us in their infrared spotting scope for fifteen minutes as we walked towards them.
I was alarmed to learn that hunters can predator hunt 24/7, 24 hours a day, Sundays, holidays, you name it. Anyone could be out in the Game Lands walking at night and they might run into predator hunters. The PA State Game Lands have been created and conserved for wildlife and hunters so they have first dibs on it.
I am not sure how easily we could have been knocked off. Any hunter using an assault weapon should know how to use it as well as know the proper etiquette. The Pa Game Commission has advocated for multiple use on their lands for many years now, inviting and encouraging other sportsmen to use the open space, making sure others respect the hunting season time line and stay out of the game lands during dangerous times like high powered rifle deer season. I never thought I’d have to be leery during a full moon walk.
Fast forward to the other week. In this time of coronavirus, it is important to get outside for exercise, get a generous dose of Vitamin D, and peace of the forest in these times of stress. I met my local girlfriend at Game Lands 222 above New Ringgold, and as we practiced social distancing, we walked and got caught up.
Once the dirt road passes over Cold Run, it climbs up to a beautiful flat stretch of hemlocks, before busting open into the Heisler Valley. I have been walking up there for decades and rarely see another person, usually a dog walker, if anyone. On this particular Sunday afternoon in April (no hunting season going on), we see a man ahead dressed in camo. He is walking very slowly, as if he is stalking. We get closer and we see a dark thing sticking out from other of his sides. He is carrying a weapon and he is carrying it in way that he is ready for action, pointer finger on the trigger, thumb on the safety switch, stalking. Suddenly he stops. He hears something! He hunches down a few inches, looks to the left and to the right, then turns around and sees us.
I take my arm and do a big arc of a wave and say, “Hello!” As if to say, “Yo, we’re people that you heard, imagine that.”
We come up to him and I ask, “What are you out hunting?”
He said, “The bears are out. They’re hungry from the winter.” (I highly doubt he ever saw a bar on that stretch of dirt road.) He had a bowie knife strapped to his leg and was also carrying a pistol.
I said, “So just in case a bear crosses the road and tries to attack you?”
He replied, “I always go into the woods with my guns.” Now that I find disconcerting.
As I walked away, I yelled back, “Is that your truck parked in front of the gate?
“There’s a sign right there that says ‘Do not park in front of gate.’ I don’t know if they’d tow you but I wouldn’t want to take any chances.”
I figured his new monster truck was worth a lot to him and maybe we could get rid of him and not have to encounter him on our return.
We forgot about our “hunter” boy until we returned to where we left him. No sign of him all the way back to the parking area. My girlfriend and I laughed and poked fun at him as he walked through the hemlock forest, talking kind of loud. But when we got back to the gate, our “hunter” had moved his truck as I suggested, but only closer to my Toyota. But we didn’t see him on the road! Maybe he was hiding in the woods and heard us making fun of him. My girlfriend was uncomfortable and pissed. He didn’t intimidate me but we do have some pretty scary folks living in these parts of Schuylkill County. I told my friend, “He’s not going to kill two women in the middle of a Sunday afternoon with homes nearby, just because one of them is a smart ass.”
These two incidents made me want to write a blog about this as the PA State Game Lands are open for business during coronavirus, I like to go there for some much needs walks in the forest and fields. The Game Lands are one of the few places remaining. (The Appalachian Trail is “closed.” Hawk Mountain Sanctuary is “closed.”)
But guys, have some fuckin’ manners when you meet a family on a full moon walk and don’t point your gun at them. (You never point your gun at anything unless you plan to shoot it, my father always taught me. Wait!) And keep your fears at home. Black bears don’t come out of hibernation in March looking for humans to eat. The PA Game Lands are my favorite place for a social distancing walk, especially when there is no game in season to hunt. But some of us might find you pretty dam scary. And you don’t make it look good for the rest of us ethical hunters.
From the PA Game Commission…
“Night vision scopes continue to be unlawful for all hunting. There have been several requests (mostly from the same individual who regularly attended commissioners meetings for a while) for their legalization for predator hunting, and I’m not sure there wasn’t talk about legislation to legalize them. But I haven’t heard anything along those lines lately. Likewise, semiautomatic rifles continue to be unlawful for big-game hunting, though they are legal for small game and furbearers. They’re legal for coyote and woodchuck hunting, so they could be carried year-round for that purpose.
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