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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.


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