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Residents setting their sights on hunting season

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

As hunting season gets under way in Georgia, one area businessman says the sport has benefits for enthusiasts who wield a gun or a bow, as well as the animal population in the state.

Archers in Georgia were given the green light Saturday to pursue their passion during the next five weeks. Hunters who prefer to use guns will be able to do so beginning next month, through Jan. 1.

Robert Hilsman, 48, is the owner of Hilsman's Droptine Archery, at 655 Old Jackson Rd., in McDonough. He says his shop, which takes the "droptine" portion of its name from part of a mature, buck, deer's antler, has enjoyed its share of customers since opening last year.

Still, he notes the business, which specializes in archery equipment, has gotten off to a slow start this season, despite a large number of bow-hunters in Henry County. "A lot of people don't really like to hunt this time of year, because it's so hot," he says. "But as it cools off, there will be more and more people going off to the woods, because it's more comfortable."

Hilsman says numerous reasons exist for why he chooses to hunt animals, a hobby he has enjoyed for the last 25 years. "We wouldn't be here without hunting," he says. "If the people who [originally] settled here had not used the natural resources that are here on the earth, we probably wouldn't have survived."

The business owner says hunting deer, in particular, allows him to enjoy the outdoors, while not depriving himself of certain types of food. "I can eat that meat as opposed to red meat," says Hilsman, adding his kills are healthier to eat, because they do not contain preservatives. "Venison is my red meat. We eat it in spaghetti, chili, hamburgers ... we had meat loaf [Sunday] night."

He says eating food he nabbed himself in the woods gives him a "different feeling" than anything he could find in the aisles of a grocery store. Hilsman adds that in today's economy, hunting animals allows him to feed his family without having to worry about the money it takes to buy it. "The squirrel, rabbit and turkey that are being hunted now ... goes in the freezer," he says. "It saves on the grocery bill."

Hilsman acknowledges that there are many anti-hunting groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who assert the sport is cruel to the animal population in the United States. However, the McDonough resident says hunting actually serves to protect the wild beasts in the long run.

"This is a more humane way of controlling the [animal] population, as opposed to just letting nature do it," says Hilsman. "When the deer starve - and I've seen it happen - they get diseases, their hooves fall off, and they walk around until they just die. Would you rather an animal be harvested, and expire within minutes, or do you want it to take months?"

Concerning the actual practice of going in for the kill, Hilsman says that, too, is done with the well-being of the animal in mind. "The real sportsmen pass up the non-ethical shots," Hilsman says, adding that such shots are those which injure and do not kill. "You want to [hit] the major vital organs - the heart, the lungs - which will put the animal down quickly. If you just see the animal running off, and you take a shot and hope you hit it, that's not an ethical shot."

Hilsman's niece, 12-year-old Andrea Bragg, helps her uncle run his business by cleaning the deer which are brought in by local hunters. Bragg, who bagged her first animal at age six, in the form of a turkey, says she hopes to take advantage of more opportunities to go hunting. "I like it because it makes me feel like I can accomplish something," says Andrea, who says she hopes to take over her uncle's business when she gets older.

Hilsman's father and Bragg's grandfather, Bill Hilsman, lives in front of his son's shop, the site where he began processing hunted animals for local residents 38 years ago. He says in that time, the number of hunters in the area has decreased significantly. "There used to be a lot more deer killed in Henry County," says Bill. "But the growth [in human population] got so strong that people lost their hunting lands. That caused our numbers to drop. The old-timers are fading out, and people are taking their kids hunting less than they used to. We still get deer from other counties, but it's not as much as what we used to get here."

Bill, a hunter for the last 50 years, says the procedure for preparing an animal to be taken home after the hunt takes several days, to ensure the health of those who will eat the meat. "We weigh [the animals], put them in the cooler, take them out and skin them," he says. "They'll go into another cooler and hang 2-3 days to drain, and then we cut them up, package them and put them in the freezer so they can be picked up."

Some of the meat being stored at Hilsman's, is supplied by local hunters who do not wish to take it home to eat. In many of those cases, says Bill, the meat is taken to places like the Henry County Food Pantry, to be given to people in the community in need of food.