The 20th century has made its little intrusions here but you'd be hard to spot them from the porch of the James River Rod and Gun Club.
Outside the slate gray James flows quietly and serenely past the mouth of the Chickahominy, and in the fields behind the aging hunt club cabin blue tick hounds, walkers and redbones are yipping and howling, driving deer to men in the woods.
It is the first day of deer season and little about itis different from the hunts of 35 years ago when families needed meat and a few shooters formed this club to improve everybody's chances of bagging venison.
Over the years the membership has grown and today nearly 100 men and boys mark their calendars to be sure they are part of the deer-week tradition.
Hundreds of pounds of food and supplies are laid in; 32 hounds are readied by veteran "dog man" Milton Van Der Veer; the cooks are chosen, prehunt turkey shoots are organized. Shotguns are oiled and knives are sharpened.
The 5,000 acres of pine forest cut over hard wood stands and briar patches the club leases are thick with fat bucks and does. The deer fed so heavily this summer that some farmers found their soybean patches weren's worth cutting by fall. The whitetails had ravaged the crop before it was ready for the combine. The men will tell you that the deer it. There are the handshakes that tell 78 year old Roy Dunkum that someone will be here to carry on for years to (see Phillips, D6, Col.5) (Phillips, From D1) come; the pats on the back that tell 11-year-old Billy Moore that many have come before.
There are rituals that date before some members were born. Shooters who miss their deer have their shirttails snipped off and fork over $1 to the club kitty; the men who kill deer take a hindquarter and the trophy head; the remaining meat is divided among all the humters.
"We run an organized hunt" said club secretary Bob Moore. In 33 years we haven't had an accident."
None, that is, except for the fat man who fell through a tree stand a few years back and banged his ribs. And don't think he won't hear about that for the rest of his days.
But no one has ever been shot. That's saying something when you line four-score shotgunners up in stands no more than 100 yards apart and drive deer to them with men and dogs.
That's how they hunt in Charles City County, and it's a good bit better than across the river in Southampton, where men and dogs have given way to Jeeps and CB radios. "They shoot deer from the road over there," said Johnny Cook.
By noon today the hunters were filtering back to camp, dragging 10 slain bucks and telling tales of 100 more spotted.
While the rich smell of hunters' dinner wafted along with the breeze from the clubhouse, the shooters made their way to the hanging shed.
The bucks were hoisted to the ancient, brown rafters, knives were unsheathed and, the men of the James River Road and Gun Club went to work skinning and dressing the meat. The shooters started the work, but before long there were three or four men around each carcass, cutting and pulling, sawing, kibitzing, helping the old timers and teaching the young.
That's the way it's done on the James. That's the way it has been and the way it will be for deer seasons to come