I recently had phone calls from two old friends in the same week. I really enjoy hearing from them and we had quite a bit to talk about, as old hunters usually do. These guys are both older than me by several years, but they still look forward to hunting season every year.
Neither of these men killed a deer this year, but I know that didn’t bother them. I believe that after a certain number of decades spent in the woods and a certain number of deer brought home, the kill doesn’t matter as much as the opportunity to be “out there” again. It’s no secret that as we get older, we can’t walk as far or tolerate the cold or drag a deer like we used to. That’s just part of life and nature that hunters can understand. What bothers a lot of old-timers is how it seems to be more difficult all the time to find a place that’s accessible and worthwhile to hunt.
Bill lives in rural New York state and has a bit of property that borders some public land, and for quite a few years, there was room for a reasonable number of hunters as well as deer to hunt. In more recent years, an adjacent property was purchased by a group of guys who might not be the most considerate neighbors and are apparently more interested in the number of deer they can shoot at rather than the quality of a hunting experience. It’s obvious that over-hunting an area will quickly result in fewer deer for everyone involved.
With drastically increased pressure on both public and private lands, it’s no surprise that there are fewer deer every year, especially when there has been no change in habitat or presence of predators, etc.
My friend Don lives in Pennsylvania and has looked forward to hunting deer each year in the hills behind his home and has done so for decades now. There is a piece of private land that he has always had permission to use to access his favorite hunt area. When he heard the property had recently been posted, he was relieved to know that he was well acquainted with the new owner, so he approached him to ask permission to cross the property. Sadly, the answer was no.
I enjoy living in an area where we have access to some relatively hassle-free hunting. Good neighbors who grant permission to well-meaning, conscientious hunters are appreciated. Some oil and gas companies and other large landowners generously keep their properties open to hunters.
Nearby National Forest and State Game lands add to the opportunities. Having said that, I also admit to being saddened by the hunting grounds I’ve seen lost over the years. Many times, it’s not a locked gate or sign that stops hunting access. Loss of land and habitat due to industry, housing and other societal needs result in less land to hunt every year.
While doing a little reminiscing the other day, I described to my wife, Kate, how many productive hunt areas I could freely access in my younger days. My pals and I did quite a bit of rabbit and grouse hunting back then and we could always count on some action in any of a number of brushy, wooded areas right around Bradford.
I easily recalled hunting in spots in the South Kendall area, including Buchanon and Lafferty Hollow. I’ll bet I’m not the only old-timer who had favorite spots in the Foster Brook and Derrick City areas. West Branch and Langmaid come to mind; How about Minard Run, Foster Hollow, High Street and Rutherford Run? Then, a bit farther out, were Custer City, Rew, Coleville; the list goes on. There is still hunting in some of these places, but certainly much reduced in size and accessibility.
We used to have plenty of choices as to where to start our day and then, as necessary, go to Plan B. Maybe some other hunters were in our spot, or we didn’t turn up any game after spending a reasonable amount of time crashing through the weeds, woods and thorn brush.
No problem, we’d just hustle off to another area and try again. So, I learned early on to have an alternate plan ready whenever possible.
This bit of pre-planning has helped me save some otherwise unproductive days of hunting locally for small game, turkeys and deer. Once, a deer hunt that started early in the morning in gun season turned up no deer sightings and little encouraging sign, in spite of being an old favorite spot. We took a quick lunch break, drove about eight miles to another known spot, and killed two deer well before dusk.
Preparing for an antelope hunt in Wyoming, I spent many hours researching properties in our permit area where we might hunt. By communicating with ranchers, game wardens and others, I got permission to hunt on some adjoining lands that together totaled well over 30,000 acres. Scouting the outer edge of this huge area on our first day, I happened to meet a rancher who owned a smaller chunk of real estate. I thought as long as I’m talking to this guy, I might as well ask permission to hunt his land, too. At the end of the hunt, it turned out that the smaller, incidental property had produced six out of the seven animals we took home. Plan B came through again.
Property owners can certainly regulate what activities are allowed on their land and the fact is, there’s less land open to hunters each year for a variety of reasons. If you spend any time watching the hunting shows on TV or reading hunting magazines, you might get the impression that you better be prepared to buy at least 500 acres of your own land to raise (and bait) deer for hunting success. Sadly, maybe it will come to that, but in the meantime, have a few Plan B locations, just in case.
(Roger Sager, an Era outdoor columnist, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)