Resolve to Protect our Deer Hunting Heritage
My first archery buck taken in 1993
I’ll never forget my excitement and level of anticipation on the evening before my first deer hunt. I was 12 years old, and for as long as I can remember before that, I was fascinated with deer and hunting stories. “What did you see dad?,” was always the first sentence when he returned from the woods. When the answer was, “Nothing this time,” I would immediately follow up with, “Well did you at least hear something?” I dreaded those times when he neither heard nor saw any deer because it really limited my imagination. It was my introduction to a buzz kill, and I didn’t like it. This time around it was my turn to go, and I was all set to make my own memories and stories.
I can almost retrace the steps of my first hunt some 33 years later. The most vivid memories from that day include finally seeing a few does by mid-morning, catching a glimpse of a buck jumping across the trail in front of us, taking our lunch break, and even getting a shot at a buck in the early afternoon. I remember that the air was cold, and that I was disappointed that I missed my opportunity. I also remember that I was certain I loved deer hunting, and I couldn’t wait to go again the next day.
So much has changed since my first deer hunt, and to try to list even a fraction of those changes here would be impossible. It would probably surprise most young hunters that my first hunt took place on private land that was open to hunting by anyone. I was wearing hand-me-down hunting clothes, which consisted of a onesie-style blaze orange suit. My base layer was a pair of stretched-out cotton long johns. My boots were purchased at K-Mart for about $20, and the box simply said, “insulated.” In lieu of hunting socks, I put on two pairs of standard athletic socks. I was shooting a used 30-30 Savage bolt-action rifle with open sights. I had no binoculars, GPS unit, tree stand, or any other “fancy” gear. I hadn’t yet learned to hunt the wind, and I couldn’t care less about how old the buck was that showed up or how big his rack was.
You might read that and think that I didn’t have much, but you’d be wrong. What I did have was a passion for deer hunting, a love of the outdoors, and the companionship of my father, uncle, and neighbors who also hunted. I remember asking my dad if I could eat part of my lunch early as vividly as I remember watching the buck that I had just missed bound out of sight. I still remember sneaking an extra mini Slim Jim into my pocket the night before, and how good it tasted despite my jaw not wanting to function in the cold air. I feel confident in saying that I never loved deer hunting more than I did at that very moment.
I still love deer hunting, but it’s not the same as it was all those years ago. Maybe I’ve just gotten older and look at the world through an adult’s eyes, but I think it’s more than that. I had the chance right after the New Year to go back and hunt that same Pennsylvania farm that I did as a kid, where I eventually shot my first buck at age 14. While I was sitting there poring through the memories, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had those exact feelings in a long time. I started to wonder if I wasn’t alone, and if I was flirting with the overarching reason for people leaving the sport, or not trying it in the first place.
The rack from my first buck. Unfortunately, there are no photos of me with the deer that I am aware of.
I had a great email exchange with a friend recently who is now at the stage in his hunting career where he’s taking his grandchildren out. We wrote back and forth about the changes our sport has seen over the years and the recent struggles to attract new hunters and seemed to reach consensus that we’ve simply lost sight of the basic joys of deer hunting. As he put it, “Somewhere along the way we got too deep into equipment, hunting prowess, shooting only quality, older deer, and helping young people or newbies get ‘their deer’ rather than helping them learn the mysteries and fun of getting close to deer. We've somehow begun to adopt a set of rules of what's ‘right’ and what's ‘wrong’ and try all too hard to get everyone to conform.”
While we have come a long way with the gear we use, the knowledge we have, and the abundance of information available to help us hunt deer, could it be that for every step we took forward, we were taking a step further away from the reasons we hunt in the first place? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
The National Deer Alliance exists to protect wild deer and our hunting heritage. We advocate for hunters, healthy deer herds, and abundant opportunities and quality places to hunt. We take no position on what legal weapon or method you use, how old the buck that you shoot is, or how big of a rack it has. Our mission is to serve as the guardian of wild deer conservation and our hunting heritage, with both conservation and heritage receiving equal consideration. As the CEO, my hope is that we can play some role in bringing back the love of deer hunting for those who may have lost it, and to help make it possible for new hunters to create the fond memories that many of us enjoy. You can expect to see an increased amount of content from us this year that focuses on our hunting heritage.
If we all resolve to do our part to protect our hunting heritage, we will make a difference. There are many ways you can help, ranging from assisting a new hunter with getting started, to being more tolerant of how other hunters choose to participate, even if their methods differ greatly from your own. You can help us by sending us your personal stories and photos so that we can share them with other members. You can also ask your friends to join the National Deer Alliance to stay informed about national deer issues, and act when called upon to help us achieve our mission. Remind them that it’s free.
Happy New Year everyone. As always, if you have comments or suggestions, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at [email protected].