Most of you will remember what Abe Lincoln said about making people happy. If you please part of the people part of the time, you are probably doing well. The trouble with a topic such as the one I'm about to address is that it may very well not please anyone.
Oh well. If all of the editors fire me, I can go check out that job as a greeter over at Wally World.
So what happened to deer hunting? Some of you out there may be saying, "What is he talking about?" (I get that a lot.)
If you have been deer hunting for longer than 20 years or so, you have seen some big changes. Now I'm not saying that we all need to go back to wearing Woolrich hunting clothes and that everybody should carry a Winchester Model 94 .30/30 rifle with open sights. On the other hand, I'm not sure all of the changes we have seen have been for the better.
Here are a few examples of what is going on in the deer world.
An obsession with aging deer and antler size. When you hear your hunting buddies talk about seeing some deer, the conversation may go something like this.
"Hey, I saw two bucks in Farmer Brown's hayfield this morning. The biggest one is about 4 1/2 years old and looks like he will score 165 — he has really heavy bases and ginormous G2's! The other buck is only about 2 1/2 years old and might go 125. He may be a cull."
"No way, dude, I saw those bucks last week, and the big one is at least a 175 and the other has a lot of potential to grow big."
Ok, I may have stretched that a little, but it is pretty close to what is going on out there.
When did we become so obsessed with the size and the age of deer? Once upon a time, many deer hunters were happy to see a buck, almost any buck, and they were happy to take that buck home. Is it because we have so many deer these days? I don't know.
I am amazed how many hunters are able to judge the size of a buck's horns (OK, antlers) when all they get are fleeting glances as the deer runs away, or they seem him standing in a field at 300 yards. Scoring a set of antlers is a complicated process of measuring several aspects of the antlers and each individual branch with its tines or points. I'm just not sure how that is done at a distance or when the deer has turned on the afterburners and is sprinting away from an observer.
Likewise, many of today's hunters spend a lot of time trying to determine the age of a deer. Many factors go into this and it is not an exact science — even the experts admit as much. Size and shape of the animal's body, the slope of the deer's back, how much the neck and shoulder muscles have developed — not just antler size — all go into this. The Book of Faces and various deer hunting forums are filled with pictures of deer and lively discussions on how many candles to put on a buck's birthday cake.
Sometimes the discussions are too lively.
It would seem to be a deer hunter now, you also have to be a farmer. Now don't get me wrong about any of this. I am all for habitat management if a person wants to improve his land. I am just amazed at the lengths that some hunters go to.
Preparing game food plots, what to plant in them, what time of year to do so and what equipment to use when doing all this are hot topics with deer hunters these days. As those of you who do a lot of food plot work know, this all takes weeks and months of work and planning, trying to estimate which plants will mature to attract deer at what time of the season. It is a lot of work, and the process isn't cheap. I just wonder if anyone simply drives up on public land anymore, gets out of the truck and goes hunting.
Outdoors media and the outdoors industry have to take some blame. Again, please note that I am not saying everything that has occurred in the deer hunting world is bad. But I would say that outdoors television and some hunting magazines and websites have led to many hunters having unrealistic expectations in the deer stand. In your little corner of the world or on public land, can you really expect to see bucks in the class of those on outdoors TV programs that might be recorded on hundreds or even thousands of acres of private managed land?
(We won't even talk about high-fenced operations here. Next time.)
Jumping a little off track here, I think one thing that has happened with all of the emphasis on deer hunting is that young people are less likely to start hunting by pursuing small game, including squirrels and rabbits. Such hunting teaches youngsters and new hunters many of the skills needed to move on to deer and other big game. I would invite you to take a look at a squirrel hunting video I was involved with done by the Project Upland people. The video is titled "Like Breathin' Air" and can be seen on the Project Upland website.
As usual, space here does not allow us to cover all of the aspects of what has changed with deer hunting in one installment. So, you guessed it: Look for "So what happened to Deer Hunting, Part II" coming to you soon!
"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.