Undoubtedly, the most rewarding aspect of producing a regular weekly newspaper column is the opportunity it provides for me to meet and interact with so many interesting people.
Over the years, I've had the good fortune to interview and interact with some truly unique characters, of which the Adirondack region seems to have a fair share.
Often, I stumble upon these folks by circumstance or coincidence. However, in recent years, I've frequently been introduced to them through friends or associates.
Andy Morford of Lake Placid displays a six-pointer he harvested in 2010.
For several years, I heard tales about an old-time woodsman from Lake Placid who harvests a buck every hunting season. He knows where the runways are and has learned the deer's habits. He hunts alone and has successfully filled his tag for years.
The story is not unusual. In fact, there are plenty of successful deer hunters in the area. The Adirondack culture tends to breed competent woodsmen, as well as women I must add. It's not some nostalgic notion; it's simply the "Way of the North."
In many small, rural towns across the country, the traditions of hunting, fishing and outdoor sporting endeavors are still considered key components of the local culture. Such traditions come from the need for subsistence, and the desire to become self-sufficient. In many regards, if you can't do it yourself, it simply isn't going to get done.
Yet, beyond the obvious harvest achieved through outdoor pursuits such as hunting and fishing, there are also the tangible recreational benefits and the personal satisfaction that comes with being able to fend for your self. Competence generates confidence.
Unfortunately, due to a variety of factors ranging from the advent of the "wired generation" and the burgeoning political correctness of "anti-anything dangerous," the culture of rural America is changing.
The changes were never so apparent as they were last week when I sat down to interview Andy Morford, who had recently moved to Will Rogers from his home on Bear Cub Road in Lake Placid. Mr. Morford was a plumber by vocation and an outdoorsman by avocation. He is both a hunter and an angler.
It appears Mr. Morford is the lone woodsman of Lake Placid I've been hearing about for so long. He is also a gentleman of the old school, and an alumni of the School of Hard Knocks.
"I was born in January of 1917 down in Clintonville, right up there in the mountains," he explained. "When I was young, I hunted with my dad. I remember watching him shoot pheasants up in Harkness.
"I used to hunt enough when I was young. And when we were hunting, the deer were good and we were shooting them and canning them. That's what we did for food."
With obvious sadness, Mr. Morford revealed, "My dad used to take me hunting and fishing all the time, but he died in a shooting accident a gun went off as he placed it in the backseat of a car."
Morford, who will turn 95 in January, graduated from Keeseville High School, and like so many proud citizens of the "Greatest Generation," he promptly went off to war.
He revealed this fact as we were discussing hunting lessons.
"The first thing you need to do is to be sure where you're shooting," Morford said. "And always be careful with your rifle! I've kept my guns shooting accurate all the time. Some guys are very cautious around guns and they learned that from the military."
He paused, obviously reflecting.
"I was in a reconnaissance outfit in the Army, in the 6th Armored Division. The Major asked me, 'Do you hunt and fish?' I said, 'Yes!'
"The Major replied, 'Then you'll be good for recon, Sergeant!'"
Morford explained, "I was a hillbilly for sure and I was in Patton's 3rd Army, 86th Mechanized Calvary during the Battle of Bastogne.
"We rescued the 4th Armored Division and I lost an eye. I was shot in the leg. I think the time I spent in the Army was one of the greatest achievements of my life."
On the wall of his apartment, there is a small picture frame that holds his sergeant stripes, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, Campaign Bars and an assortment of military decorations. It also contains far more courage than most U.S. citizens will ever know.
After a long silence, Morford said, "Losing my eye made me a better hunter, it didn't hurt my shooting, it just made me a bit slower.
"The last time I was out hunting was last year." He shot a buck while hunting alone.
"I was out for meat for my freezer," he said.
"When I was younger, we dressed deer in the woods and slipped 'em into an old mail bag to carry them out of the woods. I used to love to go off by myself. I didn't shoot a lot, but I learned a lot about deer. I was wilder than a coot then!"
Finally, Mr. Morford offered it up. My mouth was shut and my ears were wide open as he began speaking.
"Lesson one about deer hunting, the first thing you've got to do is pay attention to the wind. Learn to walk gently and quietly. Hunt slow and cover the ground well. That's what it's all about!
"I like to hunt on dark days, I've never had much luck on sunny days. On a dark, cloudy day with no wind, I've walked right up on bucks in their beds. I like a day just like today."
Contrary to popular opinion, Morford doesn't put much stock in chasing after deer directly following the season's first snow.
"After the first snowstorm, deer just don't move," he explained. "I used to walk for miles hunting all alone, and I dragged a lot of them out by myself. But as I got older, I figured out where the deer traveled to and from food, and I'd just sit and wait."
Morford, who has harvested a buck nearly every year throughout his 70s, 80s and into his 90s, explained, "My son said, 'You just shoot 'em, and we'll carry them out.'"
Finally, Mr. Morford, who has raised two sons and a daughter, addressed the topic of today's hunters.
"When I was young, nobody cared and we'd shoot a lot of 'em. The kids today just don't want to hunt.
"I killed my first deer at age 15. The buck stuck his head out from behind a Norway pine, and boy, was I nervous. I shot it with an old .44-40 and it was an 8-pointer.
"The guy we were hunting with tagged it and claimed he had shot it. Boy was I mad! But I've had a lot of deer and a lot of good years since."