Deer season is in full swing, and it occurred to me that many of you hunters within the sound of my pen (or computer keyboard) don't have enough to argue about while you are at deer camp.
Yes, I know the old tried-and-true standbys are there — what is the best caliber for hunting white-tailed deer, when exactly does the rut occur in your area and the ever-popular should the state be allowing the taking of does this year based on the current population — but because arguments never happen among deer hunters (only slight sarcasm there), I figured you needed some other things to discuss around the card table this season.
Baiting is unethical and endangers the herd by concentrating deer in a small area. This is not the first nor will it be the last time we will discuss baiting in this weekly campfire. Depending on where you hunt, you may love baiting for deer or hate it.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently banned the practice in much of the state, causing such an uproar among hunters that the state senate passed a bill that would overturn the ban next year. The last I heard, the governor said she would veto that bill, so who knows what will happen there.
The point is baiting is highly contentious among hunters.
Many hunters in states that allow baiting will tell you they really don't want to bait deer but have to in order to compete with their neighbors, meaning they would not see a deer if they didn't bait as well. Most state deer biologists are against baiting because they claim it unnaturally congregates deer in numbers that make them more susceptible to the dreaded chronic wasting disease. Hunters who argue against baiting bans question this and say, "Don't deer congregate anyway in the winter time?"
Don't ask me who is right here. I'm just giving you things to discuss or fight about, remember?
Shoot or don't shoot on smaller bucks. Any veteran hunter can tell you the thinking about what size buck to take has changed. Not that long ago, during the traditional rifle buck season if a deer had antlers of any size, he was in dire trouble. Some would say it is still that way in many areas, but in recent years many hunters have adopted a "let the little bucks walk" attitude and aim to encourage others to do the same. Several groups have formed and have adopted thinking related to that of the Quality Deer Management Association, which has a basic philosophy of letting bucks get older before taking them.
As you can imagine, this may lead to many different scenarios when deer season starts. A group of hunters may hunt their own land or lease an area for hunting, and unless this territory is very large — say hundreds of acres — the deer probably do not stay on that section of land all the time. The hunters on this property may practice QDMA-related rules and let smaller bucks get bigger, but if the neighbors on the property next door do not adhere to the same thinking and instead take any buck that has legal-sized antlers for that state, you can see how this might be a problem.
Some hunters will tell you they don't care about the size of antlers; they just want to put a deer in the freezer to eat. Advocates of letting smaller bucks walk will say OK, then you can take a doe if you just want to get a deer to eat, as many think the doe-to-buck ratio is way out of whack in most areas anyway. Usually the state game agency is entwined in the middle of this management, and with at least two opposing groups, somebody is always unhappy with how the deer herd is being handled.
I have no answers for this, either, but if you look on any of the deer hunting forums — or better yet the source of all knowledge, Facebook — you will see many different highly qualified deer hunters who are happy to give their opinions on solving this problem.
Hunters are really lazy, nobody wants to walk anywhere and nobody really hunts anymore. Many hunters believe hunting has changed a lot and not always for the good. The rise in the use of ATVs has made it easier for some hunters to drive to their deer stands and simply climb up in a tree to wait. The nature of deer hunting today, which some say has gravitated to the use of feeders and stands, makes hunters more sedentary.
Time was when more deer hunters would be engaged in deer drives and roaming the woods. Now? Not so much.
Whether all of this is good or bad for hunting is a matter of opinion. Some would say the emphasis on staying in a stand near a feeder has caused the loss of traditional hunting skills such as reading the sign that animals leave, tracking and learning to find the natural foods that attract the animals you are hunting.
While I am trying to remain unbiased here, I would caution hunters to not criticize others if they do not hunt exactly the way you do. Hunter numbers being what they are these days, we need to be defending one another, not always complaining about someone else's hunting methods.
OK, that ought to give you something to discuss this deer season.
Just remember the first rule in any hunting camp: Don't make the cook mad.
"The Trail Less Traveled" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.