Today, despite all the concrete and the cities and roads and the ever-growing human population, deer are more abundant in the South than they were at the time of De Soto's expedition in the 1540's. Wildlife management programs are largely responsible for this. Another major factor is a lack of natural predators, such as mountain lions (usually called panthers down here) that were long since wiped out but may be coming back. Finally, one of the biggest factors is the reversion of most farmland back to woods or pine tree plantations, creating more natural habitat. This explosion of the deer population is evident everywhere, especially along the highways and backroads where they are frequently hit by vehicles and are especially a menace to those of us who sometimes ride motorcycles. Large numbers of deer are often seen wandering into suburban neighborhoods and down city streets at night, something that was unheard of here when I was growing up.
This abundance should make deer hunting easier than ever, and it has, but few "hunters" that I know of anymore practice anything that really resembles hunting. Instead, today it has become all about ease and comfort, with so much reliance on technology and expensive equipment that skills and woodsmanship are rarely considered.
I don't know how widespread this practice is in other regions of the country, but here the concept of climbing a tree to get a better view and to get out of the deer's line of sight and normal zone of awareness has evolved in just my lifetime to something completely different. When deer hunters first took to the trees to get above their game, it was by either climbing a tree with well-spaced branches and perching in a fork or building some simple wooden platform in the fork with perhaps a few 2 x 4 rungs nailed to the trunk for easier access. Then, the portable climbing tree stand was introduced, allowing hunters to carry the stand most anywhere and use it on straight, limbless trees to get an unobstructed shooting platform. I remember buying one of the earliest ones on the market - a dangerous contraption with a flexible steel band that wrapped around the tree and held the lightweight plywood platform in place - as long as your weight was properly centered on it. Climbing tree stands got better over the years, with more security aloft and better methods of attaching and climbing the tree, such as this one: Summit Viper SS 81066 Climbing Stand
Then the portable climbing tree stand fell out of favor with most hunters and was replaced with a variety of ladder-stands, with the platform and ladder all built into one. These were heavier and bulkier, of course, not something you could backpack into the wilderness to set up in a new location on every hunt. But this didn't seem to bother most hunters, who then decided to skip the tree part of the "tree" stand altogether and erect free-standing shooting towers, much like those you see guarding the perimeter walls of a prison or garrison. No longer simple platforms, these stands featured "shooting houses" atop them, complete with comfortable chairs, shooting ports and heaters. Some of these were home-built on site, but a new industry sprung up to provide a variety of such tower stands with built-in shooting houses. Now these are all the rage around here, and they can be seen from the highways and backroads overlooking cut-overs, pipeline and powerline right of ways, and food plots. The portability is gone, except of course for the initial set-up, which in the case of the biggest ones requires equipment like a tractor with a forklift.
Because this new type of hunting from a fixed location eliminated the possibility of scouting recent deer trails and setting up ambush sites based on the current movements of the deer being sought, shooting house hunters had to either bait their quarry with a planted food plot or set up over an open space like a pipeline and hope for the best. The food plot option has of course, become the most popular. It is without doubt an effective means of killing deer, but will those young hunters growing up using nothing but these methods be able to effectively hunt if cast out into a survival situation in trackless swamp or mountain forest? Will they know how and where to look for deer signs, and how to take advantage of available cover to still hunt from the ground, and to get within effective range of an open-sighted rifle or more primitive weapon such as a traditional bow? It seems apparent to me that many hunting skills are being lost, even by those who are growing up in the country and raised in a hunting tradition - not to mention the vast majority of more urban youth who have no interest in it or access to it at all.
I don't have a problem with anyone's choice of hunting methods and I'm all for anything that thins the herd some, since there are no predators other than human hunters and speeding vehicles on the highway to do this. But the point I want to make is that such methods do not prepare one for real survival hunting while on the move and in the deep woods and swamps where shooting houses and food plots are non-existent. If you want to be prepared to hunt for your food in a bug-out situation, you're going to have to get off the 4-wheeler, leave the comfort of the shooting house, and forget about the carefully-planted food plots. You need to know what the natural foods are that your quarry depends on in your region, and what seasons they are available and where to find them. You have to think about water sources and look for well-used trails to and from them. You need to be aware of wind direction and natural techniques for masking your human scent. You need to know how to move quietly and slowly when in your hunting territory, and how to stalk with excruciatingly slow deliberation when necessary to get closer for a shot. You need to be an expert with your hunting weapon of choice as one shot may be the difference between going to bed hungry or well-fed.
Another factor to consider is that hunting the old way can be more fun and certainly more challenging. You may not get a deer as often, but when you do, it will be more rewarding and you will know what it feels like to be a hunter. Getting your game on its own terms and at the same level will give you the confidence you need to know that you can survive. If this is something you are already doing, then take it to the next level by using more primitive hunting weapons. In a future post I will show some examples of the traditional and primitive archery equipment that I have made to give you some ideas about how you can get into this too if you find it interesting.