It has been a while since I approached this topic, and hopefully everyone has settled down a little bit and we can discuss it.
Several moons ago, I had a bright idea to write a column that covered the topic "So whatever happened to deer hunting?" I talked about the changes we have seen in deer hunting in America in the past 50 years or so, including the recent emphasis on the scoring of a buck's antlers and judging a deer on the hoof as to its age. The premise is that hunters should pass up younger bucks and let them grow in order to produce larger horns (antlers, I know).
I also talked about how some hunters these days seem to be able to judge antlers at a distance and come up with some very precise measurements. Evidently there were some who took offense to all this because I was pointing out what I saw as changes to our deer hunting scene and having a little fun with it.
Well, as usual, I was misunderstood (I seem to get that a lot), but I was only trying to point out what I think is a very timely topic.
Boys and girls, deer hunting ain't what it used to be.
Now when I say that, many of you may take this statement as a lament, like I am longing for days gone by when deer hunting was supposedly better. No, that is not what your humble outdoors scribe is saying. I am simply observing that this form of hunting has changed — a lot.
As I have written before, I am not advocating we should all go back to red Woolrich hunting clothes and carry a Winchester Model '94 .30/30 or a Savage Model 99 (although some resurgence in that area would be nice).
Perhaps one of the biggest controversies on the modern day deer hunting scene is between those who say "Let the younger bucks walk and grow up" and those who advocate "If it's brown, it's down" — meaning if a legal deer walks by, it is likely to get shot. The push to let bucks grow up (to produce larger antlers) is often accompanied with a call for regulations on the size of the buck's rack and number of points on the antlers, and sometimes a lowering of the legal limit on antlered deer in that state.
This usually causes quite a stir among hunters, as you can imagine.
Again, just trying to note the change between then and now. Back in the day — whenever that was for you — deer hunters were less concerned with the size of the rack when they had a chance to get a buck. An increase in whitetail numbers (which are now down in some areas), the encouragement of the "let them grow" philosophy by groups such as the Quality Deer Management Association and now the National Deer Association, plus many years of influence from outdoors TV programs and other media have a whole generation of hunters more inclined to wait on a bigger buck.
In the sequel to the first "whatever happened" column, I went into a little more detail on how technology has changed the landscape of deer hunting. Unless you have been living under that proverbial rock, you know the trail camera and the mechanized feeder to bait deer have changed the way we deer hunt immensely.
The trail camera allows us to know how many deer and the quality of the deer found in any given area. With the cellphone capability of some cameras, we don't even have to go back and check the pictures to see what's there. The real time and date when animals show up is recorded, and we can view it from the comfort of home, office or anywhere we have access to our phones. Quite a difference from the days of looking for tracks and maybe a few buck scrapes or rubs in the area.
As much as technology or anything else, the access to different hunting lands has changed how we deer hunt, or if we hunt at all. If you can still stop at a farm or other land owner's house, knock on the door and get permission to hunt, I commend and envy you. The sad truth is this great old tradition is a thing of the past almost everywhere. Many would say the past sins of hunters on private property — abusing the land, cutting fences, flagrant trespassing and other crimes — have soured most land owners to readily give hunting permission. There can be no doubt as well that money, with hunters leasing land and paying to hunt, has changed the access to land forever.
It is unfortunate, but you can't blame property owners for trying to make a buck with their land.
One bright spot in the land access scene is we have millions of acres of public land to hunt on here in the good ol' US of A. There may not be as many deer on it as the farm where you used to hunt, and there may be some other hunters to contend with, but it is still public land you can hunt on every day of the season.
Deer hunting is different from when you went with Dad as a kid, but it is still deer hunting.
I would love to hear from readers as to what you think of all this.
Stuff your vest with Vienna sausages, potted meat, saltine crackers and Little Debbie cakes, wear your blaze orange and go get on your stand. I wish a very safe and successful deer season to all of our readers!
"Guns & Cornbread" is written by Larry Case, who lives in Fayette County, W.Va. You can write to him at email@example.com.