It’s hardly a news flash that deer subjected to hunting pressure are declining in number. Hunters can persist to blame game-governing agencies, insurance companies, dwindling habitat, coyotes, bears and other competing animals. We can blame vehicles, winters, poaching and on and on until we’ve covered the bases. But none of it changes declining numbers. Are you sure you are looking in a viable direction?
I live in rural upstate New York, good deer country. To hunt my favorite area, I park my truck at a gate, shoulder a bulging duffle bag and set out on what I will always consider an enjoyable hike. It takes me longer each year, yet I ache to keep crossing the three spacious fields that lead to a sprawling and steep expanse of woods laden wall to wall with hemlock and laurel, which I can’t get enough of.
Early on, it is common to see a handful of other trucks parked near the gate, but as the season wanes they stop showing up. That’s to be expected. When deer are not in season, though, mine will be the only truck regularly parked there. Aside from a busy schedule operating my landscaping business, I spend whatever time I can in the woods, hiking with a hound, trying to keep my 60-year-old legs in shape and, of course, keeping my eyes peeled for deer sign. The point is I’ve been going to the woods for a lifetime and without any deliberate attempt have developed a kinship that makes arguments about declining deer numbers seem inconsequential.
What goes on in the woods goes on 365 days a year, not just during hunting seasons. Deer out there are living as best they know how, while on occasion we, as best we know how, go try to kill them. I don’t phrase it that way to infer shame on us or homage toward them. I’m trying to word how simple it is for them and us to follow the rules of our species … until someone plasters another complaint in some magazine, newspaper or social media post that they, as a hunter, aren’t seeing or killing enough deer. That’s nuts.
If you’re a hunter dissatisfied with numbers of deer, take a backpack, load it with some food and water, maybe some bug spray, I don’t know, and head out into the woods when nothing is in season. Leave your ATV parked in your driveway and go on foot to feel a day in the woods without your weapon or a desire to kill an animal. Sit for a while, maybe in a treestand or ground blind, and pause to consider that any of the deer you might be tagging next season are out there joining you today. Some are napping, some are up chewing browse, and others are probably off lollygagging on contented strolls; whatever they are up to, and regard- less of how many there are, they are out there existing as more than targets.