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An Evolving Sport

By Lacey Sullivan for Whitetail Times

Recently I found myself sorting through some old family photos that we believe were taken throughout the 1980s and ‘90s. In a big stack of photos with no order or method of organization, I came across some pictures of my uncles and papa with deer and turkeys they had taken many years ago.

During the passing hours of sorting, the photos began to change to different decades featuring new hairstyles, new clothes, and even new hunting gear. Finding some of those old trophy photos reminded me of an article I read last year about the evolution of hunting whitetail deer. I’m sure any family with a long line of hunters has those iconic photos of their grandpa and great grandpa standing next to a six-point buck that looks like it’s standing on its hind legs while hanging from the 100-year-old oak tree in the backyard.

Outdoor writer Patrick Durkin interviewed 10 different veteran hunters and writers from all across the country last spring. The fascinating article he published highlighted all the things that the veteran hunters we know personally have told tales about for our entire lives—being dropped off in the woods to sit on a tree stump waiting for a man-drive to take place or for the dogs to hopefully run deer through the line of gunners. In fact, some of the hunters interviewed for Durkin’s piece voiced that they feel the sport didn’t really change much from the 1940s to the 1970s. Hunters sat in the woods waiting for deer until their feet went numb, spent no time patterning deer and pre-season scouting, and had little time invested in any tactics for their drives. Even well-known hunters like Fred Bear saw no need for climbing a tree and smacking antlers together to take bigger bucks and ultimately more deer.

Based on articles and stories from researchers like Dr. Leonard Lee Rue III, it seems the sport began to shift in the 70s and 80s. Videos, hunting magazines, and seminars like those put on by Dr. Rue began to take off, and hunter knowledge and investment in their knowledge began to drastically shift. By the early 90s, hunters were seen with climbing tree stands, compound bows and aluminum arrows, grunt tubes, doe pee in a bottle, and far warmer clothes than the hunters 30 years before them. The game was changing at a rapid pace, and in the mid 90s deer decoys, pop-up ground blinds, and even laser rangefinders were on the market.

As technology changed and knowledge flowed across the land, hunters began to learn about growing trophy whitetail deer. Farmers were out with tractors and chainsaws in an attempt to build travel corridors for deer and quiet entry and exit points from their tree stands. While technology was evolving and hunters were learning, the deer population was rising. Hunters were taking note that they could pass up basket-racks and let them grow into mature whitetails. A new breed of serious hunters was being created.

Today it’s a normal sighting for a hunter’s pack to have a rangefinder, a grunt call, a bleat can, hand warmers, and a pair of binoculars that can help you count the whiskers on that ancient doe’s face while she stomps at you.

We as hunters never stop thinking about deer. We leave cameras up all year, we find rubs and scrapes and even put them into categories, plant food plots yearly, and keep buying and hanging the latest and greatest tree stands to hit the market. Is it crazy to think that 100 years ago our hunting ancestors didn’t enter the woods until opening day with no game plan and a lot of hope? Did you know that in the early 1990s the modern day trail camera was sometimes clock-connected thread to show when a deer walked by?

I think we, today’s modern technology-spoiled hunter, tend to completely forget that all of these items were non-existent for hunters in 1922. The sport was different, the deer were smaller, and the hunting was slow. Next time you’re yelling in your head at the cell camera that isn’t working, or upset because the stand you chose isn’t as comfortable as the stand you hunted last weekend, remember that you have more tools in your arsenal for success today than hunters 100 years ago. Your physical tools are different, yes, but the knowledge you have tucked away about deer and deer hunting today has far surpassed those years before you. This season take a moment to remember the hard hunting that came before you!

©Virginia Deer Hunters Association. For attribution information and reprint rights, contact Denny Quaiff, Executive Director, VDHA.

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  • May 4, 2023