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Hunters ready to hit fields

Perched high above the ground in a towering oak, the winter chill is no longer noticeable. After hours of sitting nearly motionless in anticipation, a rustle in the brush reveals the prize -- the antlers of a massive buck peek from behind a ridge.

Just as the hunter sets his sights, the deer instinctively looks up, locking eyes with the hunter. Now is the moment of truth in a battle of wills. Scenes like this are what deer hunters wait for all year long.

While some people look forward to December for the Christmas season, thousands across Southern Ohio count down the days for a different reason as deer gun season begins Monday.

For the next seven days, until it ends Dec. 8, people will hit the woods of Ohio for its hunting, many in search of male deer, the antlered bucks.

Each person hunts for their own reasons and everyone has a story to tell.

Forty-six-year-old Randy Gilmore of Kitts Hill first went hunting with his father when he was 6 years old and was hunting by himself by the time he was 12.

He continued the family tradition by taking his sons, Adam and Travis, when they were both very young.

"The old saying goes, 'If you take your kids hunting, then you don't have to hunt for your kids,'" he said. "The first day of gun season is a big time for families."

Forty years after that first trip, he is still an avid hunter and tries to get into the woods whenever he can.

"I enjoy the challenge. It is like a chess game," he said. "You move, he moves. You continuously try to outsmart him."

Gilmore has bagged more than 40 deer with a bow and 30 more with rifles, muzzleloaders and shotguns. He has come a long way since getting that first buck all those years ago.

"I was on cloud nine and felt relieved," he said of his first time. "I had become a real hunter and finally could tell some stories of my own."

Bow season does not draw as many people into the woods, but the season is much longer -- beginning in October and ending January 31. Although he would rather hunt with a bow, he said he is still excited about gun season.

For people like Johnny Campbell, hunting is a new passion and provides a good opportunity for him to spend time with his son. The South Point resident had never been hunting until this year, but he said he is definitely hooked now.

"A buddy of mine talked me into going bow hunting," Campbell said. "The next day, I went and got my license."

Despite developing an intense love for the sport, he said his 10-year-old son, Johnny Lee, may enjoy it even more than he does.

"Every day he gets off the school bus and says, 'Are we going hunting today, Dad,'" Campbell said.

Johnny Lee said he just likes being out there with his father and that if he ever gets a buck he will definitely mount it on his bedroom wall.

Recently, they saw a 20-point buck, but before his dad could take aim with his bow, Johnny Lee accidentally dropped his thermos sending the buck darting into the forest.

Despite the missed opportunity, the Campbells are excited to get back out and Johnny said he cannot wait until Monday so he can use a rifle.

"I have got a lot to learn yet, but I just love it," he said. "I want that big buck."

An Economical Boost

Many local businesses look forward to deer season for a quick boost to the economy.

Local hotels usually see an increase in reservations and guests during the week, said Melanie Freeman, manager for the last four years at the Comfort Inn in South Point .

"Yeah, I generally do have a lot of people staying here," Freeman said. "So far there have not been as many this year as past years."

Freeman said that about the only thing they do differently is put out breakfast a little earlier because the hunters like to get out and get an early start.

Because a good breakfast is so important to many hunters, McDonald's on State Route 93 takes them into consideration by opening at 5 a.m., a half hour earlier than normal.

Manager Leva Sparks of Pedro has been at the restaurant for 4 years and said it is usually a little bit busier than normal during gun season and the hunters appreciate being able to get a quick, warm breakfast.

For 51 weeks out of the year, Todd Smathers works primarily as a truck driver. But during deer season, which he affectionately refers to as "a week of terror," he operates T & S Deer Processing in Waterloo.

"We will process between 150 and 200 deer just that week alone," Smathers said. "We will probably see 50 or 60 on Monday."

Smathers said he enjoys bow hunting, but rarely gets the chance to hunt with a rifle because he stays too busy. He thinks the peace and quiet is something many take for granted.

"There's so much that hunting offers that a lot people will never see," he said. "I think everybody needs to try it once."

Shane Carter, owner of Kit Carson's gun shop in Proctorville said he is looking forward to the season's start because businesses such as his rely on it.

"It is the biggest time of our year," he said. "If you do not make it then you will not make it at all."

Carter said that so far he has seen more people from out-of-state than local hunters, and expects things to pick up next week.

"Ohio is known for its big bucks," he said. "A lot of people have grown up here and moved away, but they come back because this is where they love to hunt."

Two years ago, Xenia resident Mike Beatty bagged the largest deer ever taken by a hunter anywhere in the world, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife.

The whitetail buck with 39 measurable points was shot in Greene County and was considered non-typical because its antlers are unsymmetrical and irregular in shape.

Controlling the Population

Although some people feel that hunting is cruel or morally wrong, forestry officials are adamant that controlled hunting is positive for forests.

"It is necessary for a lot of reasons," said Jim Marshall, district manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife in Southeast Ohio. "Hunting is the best way to control the herd."

A high population can cause significant danger to drivers. About 30,000 deer are killed on Ohio's roadways each year, he said.

Deer do significant damage to crops, orchards and Christmas tree farms. Also, the risk of disease increases as the population grows, he said.

Marshall said Lawrence County is usually in the top third of the state as far as most deer harvested. Last year, 2,807 deer were legally checked in. Hunters are allowed to harvest three deer -- only one buck -- in Lawrence County.

In Ohio, hunters must have a hunting license and special deer permit. On the average, these cost about $35. Before a license can be bought a hunter must take a safety course or already have had a license before the law went into effect.

Marshall encouraged everyone to wear the mandatory hunter orange clothing and clearly identify what they shoot at.

"Safety is the most important thing," he said. "Shooting at movement or sound is unacceptable and how people get hurt. Once you pull that trigger you cannot take it back."