To get to Clark Brothers Gun Shop, take the James Madison Highway south through the Civil War battlefield at Manassas and go six miles past Warrenton. Pull in at the low-slung brick building with a big fiberglass bear on the roof. You'll hear gunfire from a shooting range out back.

Welcome to Red Meat Country.

Bowhunting season opened yesterday in Virginia, with crossbows allowed for the first time.

"People who've been having problems with deer eating their azaleas won't be having that problem for long," said Mitch May, who went to work at Clark Brothers two years after it opened in 1960. He was 13.

Steve Clark owns the place, which was started by his father, Jim, and uncle, John, both of whom have passed. Crossbow sales are booming. You can get one fitted with laser sighting for about $550, and the store has already sold more than 125 of them since August.

"This is shaping up to be a pretty good season," Clark said. A customer who'd just picked up his new crossbow agreed: "Them deer gonna be looking like porcupines," he said.

If you want to meet some hardworking, gun-toting, arrow-shooting, God-fearing, family-loving conservatives, come here.

Carl Ryals hunts during all seasons -- using bow, black powder and rifle. "I've gone 13 years without buying meat," said Ryals, manager of the parts department at John Deere in Warrenton. He's a happy man, with a wife who stays home to help raise their four meticulously planned children: ages 1, 3, 5 and 7. "We raise our own garden, and I pride myself on the fact that we are able to eat a better type of food," he said.

If you want some idea about how people down here feel about President Bush and the war in Iraq, just hang out at the gun counter. You might be surprised.

"You see young men dying every day, and sometimes you feel they may be dying in vain," May said. "It makes me sick to my stomach. It's a shame that in a country with this many educated people, we couldn't do better than [John] Kerry or Bush. But we're over there now, in for the long haul, and we can't just up and pull out."

Ryals is an unabashed Bush man, and he has no doubt about the rightness of the president's course. "I think it's very important for us to remain united -- for our troops and for our country," he said. Asked if he had any concerns about the way the war was going, he conceded some disappointment. "I'm concerned that it has taken as long as it has," he said. "I would like to have seen it taken care of quickly and efficiently."

When Clark was asked how he would feel if the war was still grinding on 10 years from now, he whistled his apprehension and said: "Whew. It's a scary feeling."

But don't mistake any hints of doubt for weakness here. Men this well armed and skilled at the hunt simply have no need to put on airs. And speaking of airs, that's another thing that bugs May about Bush.

"I think Bush has more on his plate than he bargained for, although I'd still vote for him again over Kerry," May said. "But Bush has a bit of arrogance about him that's starting to [tick] me off. And that smirk on his face just irritates the heck out of me."

Part of the appeal of hunting season is that such concerns can be left behind. So the fellows don't dwell on the unpleasantness of politics and war too long.

"People go out by themselves or with their hunting buddies and talk about food, women, whatever and forget about the real world for a few days," May said. "For 20 years, I shot my limit. But in the past three years, I haven't shot a one. Passed up a hundred. I'd get out at 6, stay in the woods all day by myself. Saw a lot of game. Took a few naps and not have the phone ring, not worry about Iraq or hearing the news."

It's a welcomed season for respite as much as sport. Of course, with one good shot you can also fill a deep freezer with venison, as Ryals does, and keep a family well fed through winter.