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The hunting culture was once an integral part of DeLand life.

Deer, squirrels and game birds were popular game, and the start of the hunting seasons was always anticipated.

Throughout the 1960s, hunting was a big part of my life. To be honest, I cared little for killing the game, but I loved being in the woods and fields. When we did kill animals, we always ate the meat.

Deer-hunting season was a much-anticipated event. Folks would plan barbecues, vacation time was meted out, and some men would grow beards as homage to a more “woodsy” time in life.

In the uniformity of the 1960s, a beard seemed a bold move. It was a true ritual of fall, with vacations often scheduled around the opening of deer season.

While I sat on many stands and chased many deer dogs, I never killed a deer. Game in the 1960s was not as plentiful as it is today. To sight a deer or turkey was rare.

Today, I see whole herds of deer in the woods and have to avoid hitting turkeys in parking lots. Two months ago, I saw an adult black bear ambling along International Speedway Boulevard.

What was plentiful then were game birds: dove, ducks and quail. The huge groves provided perfect habitat for the dove and quail, and you could hunt ducks in areas that now have homes.

We boys would gather in pastures and await the return of ducks from the lakes and rivers. They would fly low and fast. I have vivid memories of hunting at dusk, with the firing guns showing long tongues of fire. Very few ducks were hit.

In the fall, after school, many high-school boys would either work, practice football or hunt.

Dove hunting is best done just before sunset, so after school was perfect.

The school parking lot contained many pickups. They were old and cheap trucks that today are highly sought-after, but then were just cheap.

The majority of the trucks had gun racks in the rear windows, and most of these racks had rifles and shotguns in plain sight.

Imagine that today, a high school with dozens of guns, owned by high-schoolers, in the school parking lot. No one thought anything about it.

My gun was my grandfather’s old 12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun. I loved just carrying it. Many dove and quail fell to that gun. My mother was always willing to cook the birds.

At this point, some may lament the killing of game, and would prefer a nice Caesar salad with grilled chicken.

The quail we ate had a much better life than the grilled chicken we eat today, and the meat was organic, too. Of course, you had to be careful not to bite down on a No. 8 birdshot pellet.

Today, you see very few quail or hear their “bob white” calls in the evenings. Loss of habitat and hunting are partly to blame.

Quail are ground-nesting birds. The huge feral-cat population and coyotes are very effective hunters of quail, and are more likely the major culprits.

—Mancinik is a fifth-generation Floridian and a native of DeLand. He has been an active Realtor for more than 40 years.

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