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At 46, I consider myself too young to be nostalgic about very many things. As far as I’m concerned, every typewriter ever made can rust in the dump (or rot in hell) and I won’t miss them at all. Same goes for record players, pet rocks and mood rings. On the other hand, the art of hunting and killing deer – or “harvesting” them (for the politically correct) – has seen some changes that I don’t consider improvements at all.
With apologies to Cracked.com, here are the top 10 reasons why deer hunting was better during my youth:
10. There were fewer deer. Thirty years ago, deer hadn’t reached nuisance levels yet and killing one required much more patience and time in the woods. It just doesn’t seem right nowadays for eight-year-olds to have trophy racks hanging on the wall. Deer used to be a game animal that you worked your way up to – after killing and cleaning squirrels, rabbits, hogs and maybe a few dove, ducks and quail thrown in. It took time to get good enough to kill a deer, mainly because . . .
9. Hunting meant exactly that. Many years ago, only farmers or landed gentry hunted over food plots. In fact, only a handful of people in my hometown had enough land, time or money to actually plant food specifically for deer. Most folks hunted by either running dogs or, as we did, slowly slipping through the woods at daylight and in the evenings hoping to see a buck. Which is why . . .
8. We shot any buck with visible horns. And by “visible” I mean just enough showing to tell your family and friends with a straight face that you knew it was a buck before you shot. Of course, bucks were one thing, but . . .
7. Shooting a doe was a cardinal sin. Okay, so maybe this part isn’t better, per se. Still, staring at dozens of does and yearlings over the course of the season was an exercise in frustration that built patience. Don’t believe me? Ask any old school hunter about “growing horns” on a deer. Trust me, it happens. But it just made shooting a buck even more satisfying. So . . .
6. We were proud of little spikes and four-points. That’s right, by God. We cut the horns off of every one of those little bastards and tacked them on the wall like they were bull elk. Eternal life and enduring fame for a young buck could be had just by standing in my crosshairs. And that was okay because . . .
5. It wasn’t all about the antlers. Seriously, it was about the total experience, the tradition of self-reliance and the appreciation for what it once took to put meat on the table. Sure, we all wanted to kill the biggest buck, but if anybody ribbed you about the size of your deer, some old-timer would say, “That’s all right, boy. You don’t eat the horns.” However . . .
4. We ate the deer – and everything else we killed or caught. To men of my father’s generation and older, that was the point. It was R&R to be sure, but for the most part, they considered a trip to the woods a mission. It was successful if you came back with something to eat. And that meant . . .
3. We weren’t ever exclusively hunting for deer. Easing through the woods meant you might see hogs or turkeys, or you might just decide to shoot a mess of squirrels. (Lots of stuff I like comes in “messes.”) The point is that, even if the deer weren’t moving, you still didn’t have to come home empty handed. But if you did, there was always tomorrow or next weekend because . . .
2. We hunted close to home. Very few people traveled to Texas or Nebraska or other deer meccas. As a result, our only points of comparison were the deer killed by other folks hunting in the same places we did. Yes, we had Outdoor Life and Field and Stream, but in real life we stood as good a chance of dating a Playboy model as killing one of those giant bucks. After all . . .
1. We didn’t know anything about Quality Deer Management and we certainly hadn’t heard of anyone breeding his own deer. If someone ever said they passed up a big buck because his antlers didn’t have enough mass – or because his inside spread wasn’t big enough – we would have simply called him a liar and moved on.
Deer are wild animals, not livestock. I’ve hunted them. I’ve killed them. But no matter what else has changed in the last 30 years, I’ve still never “harvested” one.
And I never will.