My first real experience with fire in my woods, the Pinelands of New Jersey, was at the age of 12. On April 20, 1963, South Jersey experienced “Black Saturday,” when wildfires burned 183,000 acres of woodland.
That fall, when my father told us we would hunt deer on the “burnt ground,” I was confused. I thought Black Saturday destroyed all the forests and the deer, just like in “Bambi.” But my father, who had hunted these areas since the 1930s, knew about fire. He explained that deer are attracted to these areas because of all the fresh growth that they need to browse on.
I learned two valuable lessons: Fire can be good for hunting and wildlife, and fire changes forests. Always has, always will.