Have We Become Dinosaurs?

Posted on March 18, 2014

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Tracking a whitetail in fresh snow is arguably a better way to hunt than stand-hunting or still-hunting. Tracking eliminates the boredom of the former and the randomness of the latter.

                                                                         Jim Shockey

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Art or artifacts, timeless or outdated, practical or impossible? Are those that continue to practice the ancient method of walking down a wilderness whitetail really dinosaurs? Have we that find great delight in following a track in fresh snow just plumb outlived our time? Are the purveyors of a simpler and more efficient methodology of deer hunting correct in their assumption that we who continue this unabashed pursuit are merely relics destined for the dustbins of history? Before we can answer any of these questions, let’s first define exactly what a dinosaur is for this discussion:

di·no·saur – a person or thing that is outdated or has become obsolete because of failure to adapt to changing circumstances.

Make no mistake, while I’m no spring chicken I would not consider myself at mid-age to be outdated. And just for the record, historically, one of the most widely practiced hunting techniques, used under a variety of conditions, has been to walk down a deer. How short our memories become when the latest fad or promise of instant success promises an easy way by which we can gain equal results. But, can it offer the same lasting satisfaction? After all, how often can you replicate the same results with identical circumstances from similar locations before boredom overshadows the entire experience? Just ask long time Field & Stream Field Editor David Petzal who writes, “Stalking is the most exciting part of hunting. Waiting is mostly tedium, and shooting, if you’re a good shot, is an anticlimax. But if a stalk doesn’t get your blood pumping, you should do something else for fun.” In summary, when there is no longer any sense of challenge and the game becomes predictable, what are you left to reflect upon beyond another set of antlers for the wall?

Change is constant and inevitable in every facet of life. I now watch HD Television because it beats the black & white model I grew up with. I type on a computer due to the efficiency it provides over scribing with pen and paper. I photograph digitally rather than with film due to the image quality, flexibility and cost. Hey, I even have a Keurig coffee machine, an appliance that has literally transformed even the most domestically challenged into wizes at brewing great tasting java.

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However, when it comes to the white-tailed deer, as King Solomon aptly pointed out, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Although deer are supreme at adapting to an ever-changing environment, they are still deer and they behave exactly as they were designed unless they have been manipulated to become accustomed to something, suppressing their better judgment. It must be remembered, when the entire goal is nothing but getting the game on the ground in the most efficient means possible in the least amount of time, the journey of getting to that point becomes inconsequential.

History Foretold

 

I believe the late George Mattis prophesied accurately nearly 50-years ago that hunters who were unwilling to accept the trend of the whitetail movement would find themselves out of step in the modern army of hunters. In his own prophetic words,

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Though the chase of the whitetail continues, many of the sturdy qualities of the erstwhile Nimrod are no longer with us, nor are they entirely essential these days. The practical deer hunters, and especially the newcomers, come to hunt the game animal where it is most plentiful, and many a bag is filled without the hunter straying a quarter of a mile from his parked car, a farm field, or a side road. The task of dragging in a deer killed even a mile back in from any road is becoming the exception today. Because of this easy hunting, our hunting force is inflated with many soft-handed members who make the outing not so much for their sheer love of hunting but for the ease with which they can assume the stature of a hunter.

It must be admitted that much of the increase in our hunting force in the past decade is due to the whitetails concentrating in localities that permit ease and convenience in big game hunting. Here, with men milling about in a limited territory, one man has as good a chance as the next of seeing a deer. No one need be a hunter of great caliber, and the prime requisite is nothing more than to be able to shoot reasonably well. This type of hunting does not appeal to all men, yet it must be acknowledged that most deer are taken with the least physical effort in this modern hunting trend.

The Pragmatism of Old Fashion

 

It has been insinuated and even proclaimed by some ‘King makers’ within the modern day hunting industry that traditional hunting methods (i.e. tracking, still-hunting, stalking in a wilderness setting) are outdated, archaic, impractical, difficult at best, nearly impossible and not widely practiced. Cynicism aside, I wonder if this indifference is born as a result of pandering to an audience that helps pay the bills or stems from inertia on their part. Either way, the legions of enthusiasts that still pursue whitetails in traditional manor, using minimal trappings, a few spare shells, a knife and a rifle they’ve bonded with while attired in their customary woolens, still find the method as practical as ever.

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They, like me, have failed to cave to the conventional hype that promises a simpler, more effective way to procure venison. Why? Is it because we want to staunchly hold to tradition, be antagonistic, fight against the tide, feel superior or just plain enjoy working harder? Nope. There is a far more basic rationale for continuing to hunt in this fashion. It is all about the inner satisfaction derived from the hunt itself. It’s about the experience. It is the thrill of the chase, the seeking, the risk, the uncertainty and pressure that quickens the heartbeat and stirs emotions. It is as Mattis described, “a pitting of physical endurance, determination, and woods lore against a marked animal, usually a prized buck.” Further solidifying this comes a word from John Caton when he opines, “The pleasure of the sportsman in the chase is measured by the intelligence of the game and its capacity to elude pursuit and in the labor involved in the capture. It is a contest with sharp wits where satisfaction is mingled with admiration for the object overcome.” So, beyond eliminating boredom and randomness from the hunt, Jim Shockey was quite intuitive when describing this revelation:

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Things have changed in the hunting world the past 10,000 years, and not all the changes have been for the better. Sadly, many hunting methods early hunters took for granted have been relegated by modern hunters to the tattered bottom of their bag of tricks. I believe the age-old art of tracking must be revived before it becomes an artifact. Tracking should become more than a curiosity, and its purpose should never be forgotten…and, if you’re willing to learn something new, you will quickly realize that tracking is far from an archaic pastime.

Conclusion

 

When stories around the campfire are told and hunts from foregone days are revisited, they are replete with intrigue and romance. The plot needs, and even demands a sense of adventure, an element of tension, struggle and antagonism. Sorry, my modern-day huntsmen, what has become routine and simplified can never hope to hold the imagination of an audience regardless of size or antler score. We need the exploit, as Rob Wegner heralds,

Despite the transformations and the added mechanization to the sport, as long as man continues to tramp hardwood ridges, river bottoms, hemlock basins and the richly cultivated hedgerows in pursuit of the white-tailed deer, nostalgic memories of their daring feats will linger on: memories of their endless pursuits of mammoth bucks, their victorious conflicts with the hooves and horns of their wounded quarry and the shattering effect of their deer kill statistics.

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If the modern discussion means my fellow wilderness wanderers and I are deemed fossils, then so be it. But rest assured, we will continue the spirited chase, reaping the reward of ultimate satisfaction – regardless of the outcome.

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© 2014 R.G. Bernier Nature Photography – All rights reserved.

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Posted in: Whitetail Deer