Normally I'd have been in the woods last week, listening for the crunch of deer hooves in dry leaves, instead of fidgeting around the house and getting stuck on a yard-work detail.
This year's muzzleloader season didn't open until Nov. 9, almost a week later than last year. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency explained that "the permanent opening date of muzzleloader season is the third Saturday before Thanksgiving," hence -- due to a calendar quirk -- the later-than-usual opening day.
How come that's etched in stone? The UT-Alabama football game for decades was played on the third Saturday in October, but it was changed. So could the opening of muzzleloader season.
I'm in favor of starting a new tradition: open it on Nov. 1 every year.
The late Nov. 9 opener meant a lost week of prime-time deer hunting during the most splendid time of the year to be outdoors. It's like moving Christmas back a week after we've waited all year for it.
A few lost days might not sound like a big deal, but when you get my age you start to notice such irretrievable losses. You realize that you have a finite number of golden early-November deer-hunting days left on the Big Calendar. It hurts to lose them.
I admit I'm biased, because my favorite way to hunt deer is with a muzzleloader. I started several years ago when the TWRA first implemented a special muzzleloader season that preceded the regular gun season. I got hooked immediately, for several reasons:
The early-November weather is perfect. Mornings are brisk and invigorating, not frigid and toe-numbing as they'll be later on.
There's also the nostalgic/historic aspect. I like hunting deer with a rifle similar to the one my ancestor James Woody toted as one of the first settlers on the Cumberland Plateau, and later carried into the War of 1812. Venturing into the woods with a muzzleloader is a journey into the past.
Also, there's an appeal to a muzzleloader's simplicity. In these days of unbridled hunting technology -- trail cams, tree stands, scent-blocking camo, ATV's, and scoped repeating rifles that can snipe a deer at 400 yards -- I like the one-shot, close-up challenge a muzzleloader brings to deer hunting.
I confess to using a scope -- a concession to time's optical ravages -- but I still seldom take a shot over 40 yards, and I know that single shot has to count. Last season I fired my muzzleloader six times and killed six deer. I got two more with my 50-year-old 30-30.
I don't begrudge hunters their modern rifles -- as I said, I use them occasionally -- but I prefer muzzleloader hunting.
It's grating to have to fidget for an extra week, awaiting an Opening Day that I've looked forward to all year.
Some of my fellow muzzleloader hunters feel the same way, and we intend to press the TWRA for an earlier start next year. In the past the Agency has been receptive to such hunter input.
But that won't retrieve this season's lost golden days. They're gone forever -- and none of us knows how many more we've got.