The Record, Bergen County, New Jersey
Out in the boggy Virginia forest, the hunter quietly stalks. He circles a particular tree a few times, then picks his spot and lifts his 20- gauge shotgun.
His prey falls to the ground in an inglorious whir: Another sprig of mistletoe bites the dust.
Those cute little wonders of nature, those totems of romanticism that turn Scrooges into smoochers during the holiday season, often find their way to doorways by first getting themselves blasted out of treetops.
Mistletoe shooting has a long tradition in the southeastern United States. Often it's the best way to harvest the plant.
That's because mistletoe generally attaches itself to the top limbs of hardwood trees, making it virtually impossible to grab by hand. It's not exactly hunting grizzlies, but it presents its own challenges.
Challenges of Mistletoe Hunting
"There's got to be an easier way," said a frustrated Spencer Nottingham one day last week after shooting into a tree for the better part of an hour, bagging a couple of clumps but mostly blowing sprigs to smithereens.
Only 19 years old, Nottingham is a four-year participant in the hunt, having set out that first year to collect mistletoe for his grandfather's house. Others started asking Nottingham to bag them some, too. Now he's set his sights on a bushel's worth to sell to a nursery on the Chesapeake's Eastern Shore.
On this afternoon, one piece in particular is driving him crazy.
It's waaay, waaay up there. He throws a piece of wood at it. Then another. He circles a few times, then heaves a broken branch skyward. He climbs an adjacent tree and attempts to knock the pesky clump down, but it refuses to yield.