Monday, November 30, 2009
Rifle deer season opened this morning in Pennsylvania, a really big deal around here. For me, it means the dogs don’t get a walk in the morning for the next few days and I will be living with wild animals in the cabin until it’s safe for us all to take an early morning walk again. Rifle deer season lasts two weeks but usually the woods are much depleted of hunters after three days. Deer season also means I will be putting up with hunters driving up the lane at 5:30 a.m. and listening to the dogs howl in outrage about that. That’s the part I can do without. The part I look forward to is the hope that at least one of the hunters in my family will get a deer and then give me a bit of the venison.
In Pennsylvania, there’s a whole hunting culture geared around going to "deer camp," or "beer camp" as I’ve heard more than a few deer widows grouse about it. The season frequently involves hunters banding together to purchase land and build a shack, excuse me, a "hunting cabin," up in the mountains somewhere. They go up there and may or may not kill deer, depending on the camp. Some camps hunt hard; others really are more like beer camp. Oftentimes hunters ignore the deer trophies wandering around in the nearby cornfields, their heads weighted down with large racks. They wouldn’t have to leave home for a week to hunt one of those, you see.
Why is that, I’ve always wondered? Why the whole deer camp extravaganza when there’s plenty of deer getting fat in the fields? Apparently, the answer today is mostly one of perception from the past. Fifty years ago and more, deer in PA were rather confined to the mountains. The deer were over-hunted until early in the 20th Century when states took over management of wildlife. Before that, many states allowed hunters to take as many deer wildlife as they wanted. I’ve read articles where before licensed hunting, at least some hunters bagged more than 100 deer in a season. After around 1916 or so, hunting was licensed and the numbers of deer any one person could kill became regulated.
Deer were uncommon before hunting was regulated. I’ve read stories that you could walk all day and never see a track, let alone a deer. Even my father remembers rarely seeing deer in fields, and he’s lived on the same farm all his life. Hunters pretty much had to go to the mountains to find deer at all. And hunters back then came home with the usual hunting stories. Kids, mostly boys, could hardly wait until they were old enough to join their elders at deer camp for the hunting and festivities. That hasn’t changed, though restricting the number of deer killed has vastly increased the number of them.
Today, deer seem to prefer life around fields where they can browse on corn or apples. Apparently surviving on forest undergrowth and acorns is a tougher go. With the greater numbers of deer that are around today, deer congregate where the living is easier, and that seems to be more around fields than in the mountains. But of course, going to the neighbor’s field to hunt deer isn’t as exciting as a week up at deer camp. That part sure hasn’t changed.