BOB HOOD: The hunting game aspect is only one part of a very special time

Most hunters are creatures of habit.

They must follow rules on such things as legal shooting times, bag and possession limits, legal means and weapons of taking game, ethical behavior regarding the taking of game animals, trespassing laws, license and tagging requirements and many other things non-hunters probably aren't aware of.

When a new deer season arrives, as it did Saturday in much of Texas, most veteran hunters already know exactly what the laws are, where they plan to hunt, how they'll care for the game they might take and, most importantly, what a few days in the woods with friends means to them - regardless of whether they shoot a deer or simply watch a new day arrive somewhere away from the city.

And the Texas deer season is huge. Surveys by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicate there are more than 910,000 hunters in the state and that they spend more than $1.3 billion per year - more than $1,400 per hunter, and most of them hunt white-tailed deer.

But deer season doesn't involve only hunters.

Many spouses and children who don't hunt often tag along to enjoy the outdoors, photograph animals and landscapes and enjoy the camaraderie of a hunting camp.

For most hunters, the opening weekend of deer season is about more than killing deer.

It's about waiting almost a year to spend time in a hunting camp with friends.

It's about savoring, and sometimes choking on, smoky mesquite campfires.

Sometimes, it's about checking the sights of rifles that should have been checked months ago.

It's about crawling out of bedrolls in the wee hours of morning without once hitting the snooze alarm - and sitting in cold deer blinds.

It's a time for chili heartburns, bad jokes, cleaning out old mice nests, replacing dead flashlight batteries and jump-starting pickups and four-wheelers.

It's a time for wolfing down greasy bacon and scrambled eggs, swallowing boiled coffee and admiring kids with million-dollar smiles.

What a great time it is.

The opening weekend of deer season in Texas is much like it is in numerous other places. I've been there for openers for white-tailed and mule deer in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Canada, and I have thoroughly enjoyed many camps.

Hunters are hunters and, more importantly, the ones I have been associated with are animal lovers, conservationists and environmentalists from all walks of life. I've shared hunting camps with judges, lawyers, newspaper and magazine executives, electricians, plumbers, laborers and many others.

Some hunters simply love venison and are not interested in trophy animals. Others seek large-antlered bucks. That's the hunter's prerogative.

However, I have found that all ordinary hunters have one thing in common: They have no gallery of onlookers to applaud or disapprove of their conduct while they are in the woods. Whatever they do is dictated by their consciences.

To me, deer hunting isn't as much about the killing of an animal as it is about the challenge of harvesting a renewable natural resource that we as venison or trophy lovers cherish.

At the same time, we are learning, respecting and enjoying the outdoors with friends and even strangers - people who share the passion that makes this a great weekend.