By JOHN L. SLOAN, firstname.lastname@example.org
I have walked the woods and fields of this country and others for quite a few years. I started out hunting with a single shot, Winchester, 20-gauge and some olive drab coveralls for camouflage. I progressed from doves, squirrels, rabbits and waterfowl to deer and on to elk, bear and caribou, and just about everything that roamed.
I have a closet full of hunting equipment. To say I have watched, even studied hunting and the concept and feelings about hunting change would be a great understatement. In brief, a quick way of explaining what I have seen and feel follows.
1950s: Almost no posted land. Just about, anyone could hunt anywhere there was land. Some hunters asked some did not. Except for the old, traditional hunting clubs with huge acreage tied up, there was almost no leasing except in Texas. Dogs were a standard way of hunting deer and hogs in the south. On occasion, fences were run over, livestock escaped and fields were rutted. Landowners sadly shook their heads and posted property.
1960s: More posted land, permission usually granted by asking. Some hunters did, some did not. Some hunters left gates as they found them some did not. Some abused the land some did not. More posted signs and more leasing to those with the money to afford it was the way it was becoming. More attention was given by wildlife agencies to securing land and managing it for wildlife and non-game species.
1970s: Much more posted land and the posted signs were backed up with legal action. When asked sometimes permission was granted, sometimes not. Some hunters observed the rules some did not. More land went into leases, usually for private use.
As the deer herd grew, much more utilization of WMAs. Poaching increased, trespassing increased. The My daddy always hunted here and I will too.
Attitude replaced respect for the posted signs and understanding regarding leased land in many areas.
Deer and turkeys began to proliferate and hunters gave more attention to them. Trophy hunting, hunting for big antlers began to grow and become big business. The support industry-products to help hunters be successful-started to boom.
Manufacturers hit the market with products that had little or no field testing and there were plenty of willing hands with open checkbooks. Magic potions and cant miss calls replaced woodcraft and experience and the hunting industry exploded.
1980s: The deer herd now approached 500,000 in Tennessee and deer hunting began to grow steadily as some small game hunting began to seriously decline. Hunters, wanting to insure a place to hunt and try to manage the deer they wanted to hunt, began to lease more land and in larger tracts and post it and enforce the posting. Trespassing got even worse and poaching grew. Now we had a muzzleloader season. Bag limits increased.
Traditional bowhunters ramped up their feud with the compound shooters and bowhunting technology began to spiral upward, causing even more controversy. Compound shooters lobbied hard against crossbows. In-line mzls would cause the end of the world as would lighted sights, expanding broadheads and a strong north wind. A chasm began to widen between various forms of hunting, each group certain the others were wrong and detrimental to hunting. Trophy hunters looked down on meat hunters. Bowhunters objected to rifle hunters having a longer season. The petty objections became almost endless.
Through all of this, the numbers of hunters remained relatively steady and even grew in some aspects as the quest for a monster animal grew. Attention was given to Quality Deer Management and an organization was in place just for that. However, in the vast majority of cases, QDM simply meant an effort to grow bigger antlers.
1990s: The proliferation of leasing began to cost many hunters their old hunting grounds. Some could notunderstand why they could not hunt that big tract of hardwoods they had always hunted.
Just because some rich city guys leased it and the landowner made some money was no reason to keep them out. In fact, by God they wasn gonna keep me out!
To add fuel to the flames, more states began to allow crossbows during the regular archery season and for sure, that was the end of the world. I t mattered not that the deer herd in those states continued to grow and throve.
Instead of banding together for a common cause, lets by God split up some more and argue with each other.
An offshoot was the push by the minority to regulate what bucks could be killed by the majority.
The minority feeling was, We want antler restrictions and a reduced bag limit on bucks. You should give it to us even though the majority of hunters are opposed to it.
Little or no thought was given to sound biological management and that there was no need for antler restrictions or a reduced buck bag limit. Only older deer with larger antlers counted as far as the minority was concerned.
Landowners, seeing the dollars in leasing hunting rights, started actually seeking hunters to lease their land.
Some just charged to hunt and took as many hunters as they could with no regard to the effect on the game. As the habitat for wildlife shrank, so did the habitat for hunters.
Guiding and outfitting for big game animals became a major industry in some states that had never before seen guides for deer in their state.
As the demand for big antlers increased so did the demand for hunting land to lease. Hunting replaced corn and beans as the cash crop in the Midwest. Family farms that barely scraped by now could command big money for their 200 acres of prime deer land. That farm was no longer open for the neighbors to hunt.
2000: So far, everything is right on schedule. I am quite confident we are going to see more and more leasing and closing of lands to hunters and we are approaching European style hunting. And in that approach, I am sure we are going to see hunting, as we know it, lost all together. I dont mean next year or 2050.
However, the future of hunting is starting to look shaky for my grandchildren and for sure, their children. That concerns me far more than can I hog hunt or can I shoot a young deer. In the past 11 years, I have seen tremendous emphasis put upon huge antlered deer and less and less put upon enjoying nature and learning the ways of wildlife. It has become far easier to bait them or buy a spot on one of the high-fence operations. Thankfully there is little of that in Tennessee.
Last September made 57 years I have been hunting and watching hunting. Each decade I have seen a just a little less of the pie available to Joe Hunter. Many in the industry, in either the equipment end or the writing end have been warning of this for several years. Few hunters listened. Want to kill a hog? It costs X amount of dollars.
Want to come hunt deer? X amount of dollars. European hunting and the end of hunting as I/we know it. I wont see it. None of you will.
But it is coming. However, you can kill a world class, monster buck for a mere $30,000. You can even look at pictures of him first.
I sincerely hope I am wrong. Each year, I have seen what I predicted come to pass. Each year, I see more emphasis put trophy antlers and less concern for simply enjoying the hours in the outdoors. We, none of us, have to hunt for subsistence.
We can buy food far less expensively that we can kill it. Certainly many of us eat what we kill and enjoy it. We share with others. The meat is utilized. That is not always the case.
Perhaps it is time all of us who enjoy outdoor sports started taking a hard look at not what is best for us but what is best for hunting.
Good. Now I have that off my chest.
These experienced and seasoned hunters discuss what it takes for a buck to have antlers this size. The deer on the wall prove they know where to find them and it is not behind a high fence. They were all killed fair chase and with archery equipment on public land.