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Saturday, October 22, 2011

In the Year 1959….

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, October 22, 2011.)

Not everyone could get a “doe tag,”
and hunters considered an antlerless
deer a mere consolation prize.
I was rooting around in the basement at a local estate sale recently and came across a copy of the Warren Observer dated June 25, 1959. (In the evolution of newspapering, about 30 titles have served Warren County over the years.)

Naturally, I looked for an outdoor column, and I found one. Buried among Hot Stove League reports, wedding announcements, and ads for obscure local businesses including “Sorensen’s Shoe Repair” (I haven’t figured out who that was), I noticed a piece titled “The Pennsylvania Deer.” It might be the most contemporary sounding article in that musty old rag.

No columnist’s name is attached to it. Maybe outdoor columns were different back then. It reads more like a news story than a “where-to” or “how-to” piece, or an opinion column. It concluded, “We offer this as a collection of scientific facts to be considered by all concerned.” It showed that much has changed, but a lot has stayed the same.

It focused on some of the same issues we still talk about today – the damage whitetails do to their habitat, the buck-to-doe ratio in the deer herd, the scarcity of mature bucks, antler development – topics hunters will discuss again and again in this year’s hunting camps.

The column shows that Pennsylvania deer controversies were raging 40 years before Gary Alt, a pariah in the minds of many deer hunters today, took over the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s deer program. Back in 1959, he was just a kid.

For hunters, things were different back in 1959. I was still eagerly anticipating my first foray into the deer woods. Back then antlerless season was just one day. Not everyone could get a “doe tag,” and many hunters who didn’t object to shooting does considered an antlerless deer a mere consolation prize after failing to harvest a buck.

Few kids today look forward to hunting as eagerly as I did, but with our new mentoring program kids now have an opportunity to hunt long before reaching age 12. Archery hunting is much more popular, crossbows are now legal, doe season runs concurrently with buck season, antler point restrictions are in place for adult hunters, and we’re no longer limited to just one deer per year.

Regarding dollars, the column stated the value of a deer was “as much as $181 in business income.” (That number was derived from the economics of deer hunting in two counties.) It added that “When deer are found on private land, as a major share of them are, the cost is one hundred percent covered by the landowner, who provides cover, feed, and suffers the land damage.”

What’s the point? The profits some businesses enjoyed were a cost to the farmers whose crops were raided by deer. The column spoke of the forest not being able to provide enough food for whitetails: “… maturing forests and expanding herds send the animals into farmlands for food.”

Some people today remember that time as the good old days of deer hunting, but the column said “Authorities doubt if we can continue this luxury of a low kill under such circumstances.” I remember a decade later when the PGC issued regular post-season reports of record kills. Apparently deer managers back then wanted to see the kill increase every year, but it still wasn’t enough to keep the deer herd in balance with its habitat.

For deer, it mentioned several biological truths that have been amply proven in more recent research:
“Well fed does will produce an average of two fawns, but if food is scarce the average drops to one or less.”

“The body growth requirements are fulfilled first, and then antler growth.”

“To feed them you must have some balance between the range and herd.”

For me, maybe what was most interesting in that 52 year old newspaper column was that I expected the Pennsylvania Game Commission to be the source of the information. It wasn’t. It came from the U.S. Extension Service, the Pennsylvania State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – not from the PGC.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Belated Congratulations to Arthur Young

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, October 8, 2011.)

After 135 years, scoring officials finally
put a tape measure on the antlers.
Among America’s deer hunters, a Pennsylvania teenager accomplished a feat neither Daniel Boone nor Davy Crockett – nor other contenders for the title “king of the wild frontier” – are known to have done. Not famed deerslayer Philip Tome, nor John James Audubon, nor Meshach Browning – all legendary contemporaries of Mr. Boone and Mr. Crockett. And Mr. Young.

Not renowned still-hunter Theodore S. VanDyke, nor the other Theodore – the one who became President Roosevelt. By the time these illustrious hunters were born, Arthur Young had already done at age 17 what would distinguish him 135 years later.

Unlike another Art Young, the one of Pope and Young Club archery fame, few have heard of this Arthur Young or know his unique place in deer hunting history. His name is part of the hunting lore of Pennsylvania, and the chronicles of hunting in North America.

Although the wildlife history of the era is sketchy, at least one fact can be judged sure – that in 1830, 17-year old Arthur Young shot a giant whitetail buck that is now and will surely forever be the oldest entry in the Boone and Crockett Club record book. And not just for whitetails, but for every species on the continent.

Born in 1813, Arthur Young became a market hunter living in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania. He is credited with killing some 1500 deer during his lifetime – not an unusual exploit for those days, considering that most meat didn’t come from giant cattle ranches. Market hunting was legal, commonplace, and provided backwoodsmen with a livelihood in those hard-scrabble times.

He shot his now famous 12-point buck in McKean County, PA near Norwich, a rugged area a dozen miles south of Smethport. No one knows what the weather was like on the day of that successful hunt, or exactly what day it was, but a 1965 letter to the Boone and Crockett Club from Young’s great, great grandson C. R. Studholme (now deceased) documented enough facts to authenticate the antlers for scoring.

Fortunately, family members through the years appreciated both their ancestor and the antlers enough to ensure the survival of Arthur’s old rack.

Aside from family annals and the rack itself, two other physical relics survive from that notable hunt – the rifle, and the powderhorn. According to Gordon Whittington of North America Whitetail magazine, the rifle was an early caplock muzzleloader made by Patrick Smith of Buffalo, NY. These historic artifacts have remained in the family for all these years, and reinforce the credibility of Studholme’s letter.

Arthur Young could never make his own claim for a place in the record books because records didn’t exist until long after he died. And neither Young nor anyone at the time could have had any idea what a world-class buck was, as there was no basis for comparison.

To put Young’s remarkable buck into perspective, he shot it only 54 years after the American Revolution and 28 years before Theodore Roosevelt, founder of the Boone & Crockett Club, was born. The nation’s seventh President, Andrew Jackson was in office.

The Boone & Crockett Club wasn’t formed until 1887, and didn’t adopt the record-keeping system used today until 1950.

In 1965, scoring officials finally put a tape measure on the antlers. Young’s typical 12-point tallied 175 4/8 inches. The rack and its history were saved from obscurity after 135 years. Today it ranks as the number ten typical buck ever recorded in Pennsylvania.

Young passed away in 1878, 87 years before his buck would enter the records. He rests beside his wife Laurinda at Goodwin cemetery in Farmers Valley along route 446 north of Smethport, PA.

Whittington has held the Arthur Young rack in his hands, and tells me he is preparing a fuller account of this buck and its history for the December issue of North American Whitetail.

Although opinions differ on the Boone & Crockett Club and its record system for game animals, the Arthur Young buck gives us an opportunity to thank the organization for two things. It has immortalized a treasured piece of hunting history from a century before the days of modern wildlife conservation. And it secures Arthur Young’s rightful place among America’s earliest hunting legends.