How Deer Hunting Has Changed
by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, December 11, 2010.)
I shot my first deer in 1967. It was my fourth year of hunting deer, and I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever fill out a tag.
Some of our favorite
hunting areas have become a
specialized kind of shantytown.
I remember a few things about that day. I remember patchy snow on the ground. I remember the swish-swish sound my corduroy pants made with every step as I found my way to the tree I planned to stand beside. I filed away a mental note never to wear corduroy pants again while hunting.
An hour or two after daylight my eyes caught movement. Three young bucks were picking their way through the woods. I anxiously waited until they got about 30 yards away, and fired my .222 at one. It dropped, and the two other bucks sprinted away. My buck shed his 5-point rack when he fell to the ground.
Much has changed. Back then, hardly anyone would sit up in a tree or in a ground shanty all day. While on stand, we’d often see other hunters oozing their way through the woods, and those hunters would invariably cause deer to move, guaranteeing that the stand hunters could count on seeing deer.
Most young hunters hadn’t learned still hunting skills, so we’d sit on a log or stand by a tree until we got cold, bored or impatient.
If a hunter didn’t see a buck to shoot, and was lucky enough to draw a doe tag, he’d have an extra day to harvest a doe. Many hunters considered a doe a consolation prize.
Today, many hunters complain about reduced deer populations as though that’s the only change. But the truth is that everything is different. Antlered and antlerless seasons run concurrently. We have new wildlife management units, and our targets are limited by antler restrictions.
Hunters compete with a high black bear population and plenty of coyotes – both of which eat most of their venison during the spring fawning season.
Hunting competes with youth sports programs, video games and heavy doses of “must-see TV” that have brought an urban mentality even to rural areas. All those television sit-coms are so very appealing to youths – they take up nearly every subject except hunting.
The family has changed. Smaller families are spread out farther around the country, and opening day is becoming a less important tradition. More broken families mean that more kids have no dad to take them hunting.
Aging hunters are dying off or their bodies are wearing out faster than youths are taking their place, so on opening day fewer hunters are in the woods.
We’ve succumbed to advertisements, hunting videos and magazines – most of which convince countless hunters that they can’t succeed without treestands or ground blinds. Some of our favorite hunting areas have become a specialized kind of shantytown.
I’m not opposed to hunting from stands and shanties, but with so many stationary hunters it’s possible for a hunter to hunt the entire opening day and not see another hunter. I’ve done it several times. And we need to realize that when hunters sit tight, so do deer.
More land is posted to keep hunters out. Some landowners want to protect their personal hunting paradise, some are nervous about having people with guns on their property, and some think they’re doing deer a favor. Whatever the reasons, it’s harder every year for hunters to find private property open to hunting.
Some changes have made hunting better and safer. We dress in fluorescent orange instead of red Woolrich plaid. We have hunter education classes. We have better gear, better clothing, and better guns, bows and arrows. Most of us use higher quality scopes and binoculars. We have easy access to maps and to better weather forecasts via the Internet. We find ways to control or minimize our human scent. We know more about deer habits.
I’m smart enough now not to warn deer that I’m coming with the swish-swish of my corduroy pants, but that doesn’t mean deer hunting is easier.
I’ve barely scratched the surface, and you probably have your own thoughts about how and why deer hunting has changed. It’s not just that we have fewer deer. Too many things have changed for hunting ever to return to the way it used to be. And I suppose there’s good and bad in that.