Deer hunting has evolved over 50 years

ESCANABA — I will see the opening day of the Michigan firearm deer hunting season for the 50th time this year. There have been a lot of changes in hunting technique and regulations in all those years, but in half a century of pursuing the whitetailed deer, I have never seen the considerations now in effect for the sport. The use of modern day technology has swept the meter of advantage to the hunter.

The most common strategy of the day back when I first started was to post along an area near heavy cover. Often times, hunters would locate in a perimeter set while others would walk inside the wood line and thus drive any deer from standing cover out towards the standing individuals giving a shot.

In the years to follow, I became more interested in doing some more serious hunting and went afield with some mentors, a mix of family members and friends. I soaked up as much knowledge as possible with each experience so that by 1970, when I turned 17 years old, I could and would venture out on my own.

I learned that a still hunter was one who’d stalk deer, following established trails or prints of meandering deer. That’s when I learned the importance of “tracking snow.” It was easy to trail deer and identify the relative age of the track. The slow steady pace was enough to keep you warm without working up a sweat. In learning the technique I also learned where the term “buck fever” originated. More than once the stalk paid off as a buck crossed our path. In one instance, while hunting as a guest on private land, a nice buck appeared and my partner and I both just stood in awe without thinking to raise a gun. After the buck moved on, we looked at each other and covered the experience by placing blame on each other declaring we were waiting for the other to shoot.

A post hunter, or stump sitter as it was commonly known, is when the hunter tours the woodlands in search of a primary trail. These corridors most often are used by deer to travel between feeding and bedding areas. In many cases they are enhanced with use during the breeding season where the bucks will mark their area by making ground scrapes and depositing their scent for interested does. The bucks will also rub their antlers on trees as a territorial marker. This process begins in early September where they work to shed the velvet from their antlers. Once completed, the bucks will scribe the tree bark and nearby branches while also placing their identification by rubbing scent glands and/or licking the branches over scrapes, again as a sign of dominance. Hunters would find cover adjacent to these trails and patiently wait for a deer to appear. It was in this mode of hunting that I saw the use of scent lures by hunters to enhance the curiosity of rutting bucks to investigate the potential to mate.

Trail cameras have replaced the hours of scouting the woods previously used for increased deer sign. Hunters can view the camera contents by switching out data storage cards and downloading pictures on laptop computers or card viewers. They can also be used to determine optimum times to hunt as the date and times deer travel by are also recorded.

Deer blinds being produced to protect from the elements and, like the clothing now worn, are using digitally produced camouflage print for ultimate concealment. Stump sitters would usually throw a bunch of brush together to break up their pattern for concealment. There are now three distinct versions of blinds recognized by game managers.

A type 1 blind is a manufactured portable ground blind and require daily removal when used on public land. Type 2 systems utilize natural materials as brush blinds. Cover or netting added to a brush blind must be removed on a daily basis and the whole blind must be taken down at the end of the hunting season. The type 3 blind is a manufactured ground blind that is a structure built and not usually capable of daily haul. If used on public land, the blind owners name must be permanently attached to the exterior on all sides and must be removed at the end of the hunting season. A hunter using a type 1 blind may also leave it out through season only if it too has the owners name permanently affixed on the exterior.

Firearm hunters are also now utilizing state-of-the-art raised platforms and tree stands. Previously only used for archers, these products have gone through a major evolution in making them safer and may remain throughout archery and firearm season, again requiring those used on public land to have the owners identification permanently affixed for view. Elevated platforms have also involved in adding cover so the user can stay out in foul weather better with full bodied panels added.

Bait hunting has been around since the early 1970s. Old hunters quickly questioned the use of bait as taking advantage of the wildlife outside of fair chase standards. The bait business has since grown into the primary mode in which hunters take a deer and become a multi-million dollar industry for agriculture. Baiting has also enhanced competition among hunters, especially in areas of shared public and private land, where the odds of seeing a deer are greatly diminished unless you use bait.

In 2018, the prevalence of disease among free ranging deer has begun a pendulum swing regarding the use of bait that may forever change how we hunt deer, and that topic will be covered here next week.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.

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