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Goin’ On A Deer Hunt

Thanksgiving Camp a Family Tradition

Isaac Knight

TRIADELPHIA — Rifle season — the crown jewel of West Virginia’s fall deer hunting schedule — doesn’t begin until tomorrow. But, Isaac Knight was already handling the family inflow that the annual “buckstravaganza” brings by early last week.

“My uncle’s flying in … and I have to pick him up,” said Knight from his desk at Cabela’s at the Highlands. The Wheeling native is a general sales manager there, specializing in boating and marine supplies. “He’s psyched.”

So was Knight.

Over this weekend, he expected about a dozen relatives to gather at a hunting camp in Wetzel County the extended family purchased around the time he was born. It’s mostly the guys, he said with a laugh, noting his Floridian sister is a “beach girl” who purposely skips the assembly.

Knight said the camp — close enough to his actual home that he can nip back for a decent Thanksgiving meal — is his happy place. It’s where he grew up with his cousins. It’s where the youngest members of the family are now getting their own chance to interact with the great outdoors and then some.

“Kids can come there and learn to build fires and cuss and whittle with their knives,” Knight joked of the casual camp atmosphere. “It’s great … We laugh, we fight, we carry on.”

There’s also some hustle. Mornings are early — preferably crisp, windless ones that allow hunters to listen for telltale rustles in the brush but don’t spread their scent, he said. Meals are prepared. And, before a shot is ever fired, the family has already laid the groundwork.

“A lot of firewood’s chopped, we check tree stands, set up our ground blinds — multiple generations in one place.”

BOOMING BUSINESS

Knight is a multi-faceted hunter who sits up straighter with excitement as he discusses the subject. There’s just so much that he likes about it, he said. Being with family, being outdoors (he’s also an avid hiker), the thrill and skill of the hunt. He said he’s not a trophy guy.

“I’ve hunted all over this great nation,” he said, ticking off some of the Western states he has visited. “I’ve hunted archery, rifle and muzzleloader — every season.”

The fact that a crossbow is leaning against the wall behind his desk is testament to the nature of his workplace and what is probably his favorite method of hunting. But, it’s also pretty trendy — in spite of the prominence and cultural romance of rifle hunting — he added.

When West Virginia joined neighboring states Ohio and Pennsylvania a few years ago in legalizing crossbows — which can shoot arrows considerably farther and don’t require as much strength to draw back the string as simple, traditional archery — equipment sales took off like a rocket at Cabela’s, he said.

The newer models often include a spotting scope similar to that found on rifles, he noted of another factor of accessibility to hunters who may be younger, older or disabled in some way.

SAVORING THE SEASON

There’s also the food. Knight said venison jerky rocks.

“I’ll make five pounds of jerky and my wife and children will eat it in a few days,” he said. He has a smoker and a dehydrator but also likes to use his conventional oven.

“It’s so low cost. You just hang the jerky on toothpicks. And, when I run out of deer, I go to Mikla’s and buy a beef roast and have them slice it up.” Knight, who admits to enjoying a tofu-laden soup on occasion, has also been known to turn a turkey breast into jerky.

He offered a how-to on his oven technique. Start with thin slices of meat that are submerged in a simple marinade of Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and brown sugar for at least 24 hours in the refrigerator. Sometimes, he adds a single drop of liquid smoke or a bit of red pepper for heat.

Cover the oven floor with aluminum foil to protect it from drips. Place a rack at the top of the oven and hang the meat slices from it on toothpicks. Set the oven at about 180 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for six to eight hours until the meat has the texture of jerky.

“There,” Knight said with a smile that turned into a knowing nod. “That’s a tip for my fellow outdoorsmen in the Ohio Valley. Your house is going to smell delicious.”

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