The evolution of the deer hunter

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  • Fifty Three years ago, this 10-point buck started the writer on a career of chasing deer. Glynn Harris photo
    Fifty Three years ago, this 10-point buck started the writer on a career of chasing deer. Glynn Harris photo
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On November 24, 1967, I went deer hunting for the first time. My venture with friends to Summerfield in Claiborne Parish resulted in my downing the biggest buck, antler points wise, I have ever taken. Bill Bailey’s hounds pushed a 10-point buck past me and I got him. I have killed bigger deer since but none with more points.

So much has changed since that day more than half a century ago when I was introduced to hunting deer. Back then, it was “bucks only” hunting and it mattered not if the buck had a nice rack or sported a pair of spikes on its head; to down a deer with any headgear, no matter how small, was quite an accomplishment. Sometime later, a “doe day” was added which allowed hunters to take a doe on that one day.

There were few if any hunting leases back then and all you had to do was receive permission from a property owner to hunt his land or hunt one of our wildlife management areas. Still later, owners of large parcels of land, mainly timber companies, were paid by groups interested in having exclusive rights to the property.

My first experience with a hunting lease was a sweet deal. The owner of 500 acres was a friend and he approached me with an offer I couldn’t pass up. Get a group of my hunting buddies together to help him keep an eye on his property that had been abused by having fences cut and trash dumped in exchange for exclusive hunting rights free of charge. We enjoyed several years of hunting, taking quite a few deer, including my personal best 140-inch 8 point.

After the property owner’s death that eventually led to us losing our hunting rights, I joined another club where I still hold membership today. After having rather loose restrictions at the outset, as to what deer we could take on that club, we eventually adapted a minimum size for bucks; it had to have at least 6 points with a 12-inch inside spread.

By allowing bucks to get more age on them before being targeted, our club of roughly 1,000 acres has evolved into one with a growing number of mature bucks as evidenced by 19 deer taken so far this season, nine of which were bucks above the “6-12” limit.

Gordon Whittington, retiring editor of North American Whitetail, one of this nation’s highest rated deer hunting magazines, recently shed some light on what he has noted among the deer hunting populace across the country. “Back in the early 1980’s, deer hunters had the “if it’s brown, it’s down” philosophy, sort of a meat hunter mentality,” said Whittington. “People might want to down a big buck but nobody was managing for them and they weren’t being very selective. Today, there has been so much of an evolution of being more selective, realizing what the potential is for growing big deer.”

Whittington noted that the increased use of trail cameras has allowed hunters to gain knowledge of just what is out there on their club, allowing them to be more selective, letting young bucks that are showing potential be bypassed with the aim of their becoming trophies.

“A problem may be that some are getting heavy-handed when somebody shoots a young buck, especially when it’s a kid or new hunter, with criticism that has the potential of turning off these hunters and driving them away from the sport” said Whittington.

No doubt, today’s deer hunter is a far cry from the hunter of half a century ago, one who was dressed in jeans and flannel shirt, wearing an Army surplus jacket and sporting a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with buckshot with an eye out for a deer, any deer.

Thinking back, I think it may have been more exciting and enjoyable back then.