Historically, hunting has always had its ceremonial aspects. The deer hunting club that I have enjoyed for almost 50 years has its unique rituals, mostly all-in-good-fun practices that, we like to think, set us apart from other deer camps from the mountains of Oregon and the Dismal Swamp of Virginia to the fir thickets of northern Maine.
The German hunt legacy is storied and formidable. American servicemen stationed in Germany, who loved to hunt, often brought back with them appreciation for Germany’s hunting traditions and rituals.
The late Edward Lofland, from Belchertown, Mass., was stationed in Heidelberg from 1959 to 1962. Fluent in German, Lofland befriended some German hunters who “sponsored” him so he could join their hunts. According to his daughter, Patricia Fuller of Belchertown, her father had “to take a test and demonstrate his knowledge of the German laws, customs and ethics of hunting before being allowed to join his German colleagues.”
Returning stateside, Lofland, proud of his German connection, shared his knowledge with local hunt buddies. He started the Weidmannsheil Jager Club in Belchertown and at hunting camp began the tradition of “the last bite” and the toasting of the animal harvested with a shot of Jagermeister.
The German hunt tradition dates back to 700 A.D. and St. Hubertus, the European patron saint of hunting. Hubertus was kind of the Aldo Leopold of his era, whose vision became the basis for all formal conservation programs in Germany today. Legend has it that Hubert taught a deep appreciation for game. Today in Germany hunters place a small branch of a native tree, such as evergreen, in the mouth of the fallen game. It is the offering of “the last bite” signifying a final salute to the animal and symbolically giving back to God the “soul which I received from him.”
At Lofland’s Belchertown deer camp he saw to it that a hunter’s court was created, called the Stammtische. As Lofland’s daughter tells it, the court grew in attendance as friends invited friends. Hunters and spouses came to the court to have a meal and celebrate the previous hunting seasons. “The court began with dad blowing the ceremonial Jaeger horn, lighting the St. Hubertus candle then leading the toast to the animals harvested that season,” Fuller recalls.
Like most deer camps, there was an induction ceremony. A hunter who wanted to join the Weidmannsheil Club had to be sponsored by a member who vouched for the inductee’s hunting knowledge and ethics. If accepted, the new member drank a shot of Jagermeister from the barrel of the ceremonial shotgun.
During the court, which included evergreen boughs and animal trophies, hunters could bring charges to the judge (Ed Lofland) against another hunter for safety or ethics violations during the hunt. A hunter found guilty of the charge would be required to make a donation to the club (to help defray costs).
From his return to the States in 1962 until 2005, Lofland retained his rank as the Jagermeister of the Weidmannsheil Jager Club in Belchertown. He died in 2007.
Traditions like these, encouraged by men like Ed Lofland, always add a special dimension to any deer camp. Sadly, these sometimes fall by the wayside, lost in the march of time. But not always.