Woodlands & Waterways

Local Culture: Guns, Hunting, Changing Attitudes

Posted: April, 2013 | Bob Ballantyne

About two months ago, in the “Soundoff” section of The Pottstown Mercury, a reader had posted some information concerning the presence of a “rod and gun” club at Boyertown High School. In addition to giving a little history about the club, he thanked a “Mr. Sell” for sponsoring it. He was referring to the late George Sell, a physics teacher in the 1950s and ‘60s, who co-sponsored the group along with another science teacher, the latter being one who taught biology.

Both were unofficial mentors of mine in my earliest days in teaching.

Although this is the April issue, my offering is prompted by those comments in the Mercury and is about some local history of Novembers past. When I arrived to teach in Boyertown after four years of military service, this area was mostly rural. My students came from locations such as Shanesville, Shultzville, Niantic, and Congo, as well as the better known Bally, Bechtelsville, Barto, and, of course, “small town” Boyertown. There was even a place known as Woodchoppertown.

Many came from agricultural families who owned the dairy farms and orchards that once surrounded those towns. So, in addition to the active rod and gun club, there was also a Future Farmers of America chapter. Of course, much of that farm land is now occupied by housing developments.

Back then, a Pottstown versus Boyertown football game was “the ‘towners’ versus the ‘farmers.’” If it was Pottsgrove on the schedule, then “the grovers” were facing “the farmers.” At home games, the stands were packed with loyal adults, a crowd that included many faculty members. Much of the student body circled aimlessly around the then cinder track while the game was in progress. Home football was a major social event!

But something else was true in November. Small-game hunting engaged much of the population. Opening hour of opening day was 8:00 AM. Back then, rural churches rang their steeple bells to signal the starting hour. Various organizations sold hot dogs, hamburgers, and hot chocolate to hungry hunters pausing for a midday break.

On weekdays, in preparation for an after-school hunt, high school students would drive to school and park on the student lot with hunting clothes, boots, and—get this—shotguns and ammunition in the trunks of their vehicles.

Do that now and the administration might execute a lock down, a SWAT team would be called to the school, the students would end up in police custody, and the press would descend on the school like fruit flies on a peeled banana.

Which begs a true historic question: “When did the guns become bad?”

Bob Ballantyne’s book Woodlands, Waterways, and Mother Nature can be purchased from amazon.com or locally by calling: 610-367-0967.