Up the Creek: The tradition of deer hunting
By Ken M. Blomberg
When I was a young lad, the eve of the annual deer hunt was cause for sleepless nights and stomach aches. Like the night before Christmas, expectations ran high and dreams swirled in my head. I literally trembled in anticipation until the alarm clock rang opening morning.
My first season was in 1969 and father and I hunted the Nicolet National Forest near Langlade. Self-taught nimrods, we managed to stay out of the way of more experienced hunters and enjoyed ourselves immensely. I was driven by the desire to become a hunter. Dad‘s participation was a labor of love – the love for his only son.
That first year, we joined a half million gun hunters, whose expectations were low, killing just 98,000 animals. Hunter success matched expectations in the national forest, where deer populations were estimated at six per square mile in the fall. It took six seasons before I killed my first buck.
Nearly 50 seasons have come and gone. Wildlife officials warn hunters to expect shooting fewer deer this year than last – a campaign to keep hunter expectations low as hunter numbers continue to drop, the herd adjusts to heavy harvests in the past, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) implications and hunters adjusting to changing hunting traditions.
Low expectations? I only have to think back fifty years when just seeing a deer while hunting was noteworthy of discussion back at the café. Today’s hunter recalls a few years ago, when we were told to harvest does like there was no tomorrow. Apparently, we have succeeded – the evidence that less deer grace the landscape is all around us.
Insurance companies announced continued increases in car-deer crashes. According to the state department of transportation, “The number of reported deer crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled peaked in 1994. In 1996, the rate declined sharply, tapering off through 2003, with a further decline to an average of 30 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles traveled in 2006, 2007 and 2008.” The last decade has resulted in a steady increase in those numbers as the herd rebounded.
A more dramatic sign can be seen in the woods. For the first time in memory, while grouse hunting over those same years, I saw numerous young cedars sprouting in northern forests. Baby balsam and spruce are appearing in large numbers in our woods along the creek. Once over-browsed woodland understories are making a comeback.
This week, our home along the creek once again became the destination for relatives and close friends joining us for opening weekend. And when my head hit the pillow on the eve of the annual deer hunt, I slept like a log – with dreams drifting back in time to 1969, when my dear departed dad and I began this journey. To a time when the hunt caused anxiety, stomach pains and a sense of wonderment.
Kinda like falling in love. I thought you might understand.