The Call of the Wild

Middlebury College student hunters John Montgomery '14, Katherine McFarren '14, and Alexander Cort '14 (L-R)

Middlebury College student hunters John Montgomery ’14, Katherine McFarren ’14, and Alexander Cort ’14 (L-R)

What does it mean to be a Middlebury student—and a dedicated hunter?

At 5:15 am on opening weekend of Vermont’s rifle deer-hunting season, the Mobil Short Stop at the corner of Commerce Street and State Route 116 in Hinesburg is the province of pickup trucks and bearded, camo-clad guys buying coffee from Joanne, the affable cashier who wishes the hunters good luck.

Then there’s John Montgomery ’14, who has a monogrammed bag in the back of his Suburban with Texas plates. A varsity lacrosse player and an international politics and economics major, he already has a job lined up in energy-investment banking in Houston.

But right now, Montgomery is after something even more elusive than gainful employment after graduation: a 12-point buck that’s been seen wandering through a marshy meadow not far from this Mobil station.

Yes, Montgomery is a serious hunter. And he’s not alone at Middlebury. In little pockets around campus, students and faculty members are waking up in the dark to pull on orange caps, load up rifles, and pursue wild animals.

Some, like Montgomery, have been doing this their entire lives; others have picked up hunting as first-years because it’s the most sustainable way to consume meat at Middlebury. They are part of a massive rebound in hunting culture across the United States—according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wildlife-related outdoor recreation jumped “dramatically” from 2006 to 2011, with nearly 14 million people now hunting.

And in Vermont, the state’s laws are some of the most hunter friendly in the nation, explains Pat Berry ’91, the Commissioner of Vermont Fish and Wildlife. “Vermont is founded on the theme of the commons, which is that, yes, land is owned by individuals, but there’s a sense of community and shared ethics around communal land use,” says Berry. He points to Lake Champlain, the Green Mountain National Forest, and the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area as rich hunting resources in close proximity to the College.

Today, hunters spend nearly $300 million in the state, which ranges first among the lower 48 states in wildlife-related recreation rates. Just witness Governor Peter Shumlin grinning over the six-point, 186-pound buck he bagged in East Montpelier in November.

Greg Buckles, the Middlebury dean of admissions and longtime hunting and fishing guide, says that when he arrived in the community from Ohio in 2008, he was pleasantly surprised to find how much of an ethical and responsible hunting culture existed at Middlebury. “It’s a low-key, natural way of life,” says Buckles. “Many more people than I ever could have expected hunted. I’d not seen that before in my 30 years in education, where a progressive, academic community coexisted peacefully with a hunting lifestyle.”

Self-reliant, committed—and culinary wizards with game—College hunters just may be part of the most ecologically minded and coolest (if most socially complicated) unofficial club at Middlebury. It’s one that has fostered friendships with the greater Vermont community and one that teaches lifelong skills about hard work—respect, mortality, time management, and discovering joy and gratitude.

“Everybody goes and hikes Snake Mountain,” says Montgomery of his non-hunting fellow students. But it’s another level of commitment to get up “at 3 am to go duck hunting when it’s 20 degrees out—and then go to class.”

But there’s that social complication, one that can push back against the hunting lifestyle that Buckles describes that has existed at the College for generations.

“I think that there are some really misguided perceptions among people who are not from a rural setting and simply don’t understand hunting and have prejudged it,” says Berry. (While all of the students interviewed for this story were comfortable speaking about their hunting experiences, not all faculty and staff were. One longtime hunter asked not to be identified and spoke of hunting companions who wish “to stay fairly closeted, if you will, for fear of push back from colleagues.”)

This troubles Berry. “Hunters play a critical role in wildlife conservation management; there’s a tremendous ecological value,” he explains. “I think people misunderstand the hunting culture, which is easy to do if you ever turn on any of the hunting shows. Hunting is one of the safest activities; there are fewer incidents of accidents with hunting as a sport than most outdoor activities.”

Hunter-safety education is a prerequisite for a Vermont hunting license, and hunters such as Montgomery and Alex Cort ’14, who grew up practicing target sports while at summer camp in North Carolina, have years of experience under their belt. Those students new to hunting describe an intensive learning experience—state-sanctioned classroom and field-study courses must be completed before being issued a hunting license. Hunting rifles, shotguns, knives, bows, and archery supplies must be registered with the College’s Department of Public Safety and either stored there or at an off-campus facility.

“Some people might look at you like you’re doing something bad, but there’s not too many of those,” says Montgomery. “The majority think it’s neat or cool; they just don’t understand it.”

Cort recalls a time when he returned to his suite with four dead geese in plastic garbage bags, and the reaction from his roommates was “wow, that’s a lot of dead birds.” Most of his friends are on board with his hunting, he says, though he also takes pride in how his extracurricular activity can set him apart and allows him to interact with non-Middlebury students.

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  1. Killing animals as in hunting certainly does represent positions of many and is appropriately laid out in an article in the Middmag, but, please not as a general theme presented by the cover.

  2. The photographs used in “The Hunting Life” show a shocking disregard for the appropriate handling of fire arms. With the exception of the young woman on the cover the other participants do not demonstrate any familiarity with the protocol for carrying a weapon. This is inexcusable and those individuals responsible for approving the content of this magazine should be reprimanded.

    In addition their facial expressions project intimidation, as though they were hunting people rather than wild game.
    Kit Horton 63, US Army 1963-1965

  3. Nice cover! Great article!

  4. Thank you for publishing an article that supports hunting. It has been an enjoyable sport in my family for years. I am delighted to learn that our students are taking advantage of the opportunities Vermont has!

  5. I have nothing against hunting. I own a beautiful Ithaca Feather Light 12 gauge myself; and I have trekked many times through the woods and meadows of western New York with it in disciplined parties of two or three other hunters.

    However, I am concerned about the images and attitudes and competencies which Middlebury conveys broadly through its publications So when I say that to me the cover of your current issue is nothing less than appalling, it cannot be taken as a sleight to hunting,

    Two blank-faced young men posed with their weapons carelessly held and a sullen-faces young woman equally armed make for a horrible portrait. To know that these young people are among the

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    brightest makes the image all the more disturbing.

    What in the world happened here that such an image of Middlebury and sport hunting and young hunters should be given prominence on the cover of Middlebury Magazine? It causes me to doubt the competencies and question the attitudes of those who approved this.. Whoever is responsible for this has discredited Middlebury.

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  6. I was a bit dismayed at the lack of challenge to points raised by hunters that to my admittedly uninformed mind seem specious. It is only because we have killed off so many of a deer’s natural predators, that we are then able to argue that hunting them has a conservation effect. What I wonder is what someone more knowledgable than I would say to the idea that historically predators other than man kill older, young, or wounded animals, thus giving some effect to survival of the fittest. Man hunts the deer with the biggest racks, thus looking to kill the males that should be breeding for the betterment of the species. And why is that? Does a male deer

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    with a large rack make a more challenging hunt? Only in that it is something to be proud of. I killed something big. I am a vegetarian, but believe in a food chain and don’t in theory have anything against hunting, but I have known too many hunters who take too much pleasure in the killing of something to think that the article did anything other than selectively choose (and fail to challenge) the motivation of hunters. I am not a hypocrite. If you eat meat you buy, it stands to reason you shouldn’t be against killing it as well. And the person interviewed who said that the duck or goose is certainly happier than a farmed animal up until the time it is killed is clearly correct. But this is a complicated issue and the magazine did nothing other than promote hunting. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a huge add by a certain pro-rifle organization.

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  7. Great to see hunting portrayed in a fair light. Great to see young people taking up the hunting life. I came late to hunting, but well remember John Detwiler trudging off shotgun in hand on beautiful fall days at Midd. I only wish I knew then what I know now, the patience, discipline, and humility that hunting teaches its practitioners.

    Hal Goldman ’86

  8. “When you shoot a migratory goose, it’s local and sustainable and free-range—whatever label you want to apply to it. Hopefully humane. I think that [the goose] was pretty happy right up to the end, and that feels good.” Statements like these, and the sincerely ridiculous images that accompany the article, make me wonder if Middlebury’s received its payoff yet from the gun lobby.

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We hope to create a lively discussion on MiddMag.com and invite you to add your voice. Please keep comments civil and relevant to the news item at hand. MiddMag.com may remove comments that do not follow these guidelines.

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