Another deer season has gone, but has any deer season actually gone once the curtain closes on its calendar? Absolutely not if you are truly passionate about what you put into the season rather than what you took out if it.
I opened the 2012-2013 deer season in Lampasas County with two close friends who, like myself, are fortunate to have the opportunity of sharing hunting experiences by writing about them: long-time outdoor writers John Gill of Dallas and Luke Clayton of Combine.
Gill writes outdoor articles for the San Angelo Standard Times and other publications. Clayton writes for numerous Texas newspapers and magazines and hosts a weekly radio outdoors program.
As we sat in front of a fireplace the night before opening day, it didnt take much prodding to get us to begin reminiscing about past opening weekends. A quick calculation of our ages and our first years of going deer hunting revealed that the three of us have more than 150 years of deer hunting experiences.
And--my!--what changes have we seen over all those years of hunting whitetail deer!
Our journey of memories that night carried us from the piney woods of East Texas and the rocky edges of the desert mountains in far West Texas to the beautiful cedars and oak hills and draws of the Edwards Plateau, through the Cross Timbers and blackland prairies, portions of the Panhandle plains and to the thorny South Texas Brush Country and coastal plains.
Yes, we have been fortunate to hunt such a diverse range of whitetail deer habitat, but just as fortunate have we been to meet an equally large number of hunters with diverse hunting methods, expectations, and philosophies from across the state.
As the flames in the fireplace grew, so did our discussions of our many individual hunts. There were the long-range kill shots, close encounters with aggressive hogs and frightened javelinas, serious hunting accidents, below freezing temperatures, landowner-hunter relationships, tracking wounded animals, pattering deer by their behavior, and finding arrowheads.
On the lighter side were hunters pranks such as painting the toenails of unsuspecting hunters red as they slept, or changing the time on their watches and alarm clocks so they arrived at their blinds two hours before sunrise.
We talked about monster bucks that got away and some that didnt. There were the best camp cooks and the worst camp cooks, along with those who brought frozen pizzas or other pre-cooked meals to camp so they wouldnt have to cook at all. An example of the latter was a hunter who made a stew in his crock pot at home and then froze it in a plastic butter container to bring to the lease to be warmed up for a quick evening meal. Sadly, when he opened it at camp, we discovered he had brought only one big container of butter.
Each of us recalled the first deer we shot. Clayton said he began hunting deer at age 11 on his familys Red River County farm with a .410 shotgun loaded with rifle slugs. "There werent many deer in those parts back then, but there were enough to stir a young boys mind, Clayton said. " It wasnt until four years later when I shot my first deer with an old Winchester lever action."
Like others who have shot numerous deer over so many years, Clayton can recall with detail what that first deer was doing, what the weather was like, how he learned to gut it, the congratulations he got from his hunting buddies and much more.
"You just never forget those things," agreed Gill, "just like you dont forget the camps we had in those days. Today, you hardly hear about anyone staying in tents, boiling coffee over wood fires, using Coleman fuel lanterns as their only source for light and hunting deer simply by sitting on the ground with their back to a tree or walking a draw or canyon and chunking rocks into them to get the deer moving.
"Im not saying no one hunts that way anymore. Some do. Its just that the majority of hunters today have hunting cabins, stay in motels, or hunt from hunting lodges instead of out of tents. And most of them either hunt from high-rise box blinds, tripods and other manufactured blinds near electronic feeders or by riding around in their 4-wheelers, Jeeps, pickups or other vehicles. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with that if that is your preference, but it just shows you how much things have changed over the years."
One change that has not been good is the level of experience many of todays new hunters bring with them to their first hunting camps. Sadly, a gap has developed in what once was largely a family affair where hunting skills, sportsmanship, conservation and appreciation for the land and wildlife was planted in the minds of new hunters by their fathers, uncles and other family members and close friends.
Those of us who grew up hunting on a family farm, ranch, or dairy probably did not realize how fortunate we were at the time. We do now and we encourage all adult hunters to put something back.
Sharing the adventures of past deer hunting camps with fellow hunters around a fireplace as the embers begin to glow is fun, but hearing about a young boy or girl who has just bagged their first deer with a father or other family member is truly inspirational. That is what keeps the flames rising.