Outdoors by Rick Brockway: The evolution of deer hunting

RICK BROCKWAY

I have been wandering the hills and forests for more than 65 years. Over those years there have been many changes in the way people hunt deer.

My first recollections go back to when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I followed my dad through the woods. He knew where he was going. It was a route that he had taken many times. We traveled through feeding and bedding areas. Dad knew where the deer should be. I learned how to stalk or still-hunt deer. By taking a few quiet, cautious steps and then carefully scanning the area, we saw deer.

I also learned that if you step on a stick and make a noise, you just stand perfectly still for a few minutes. The woods are noisy with branches falling and squirrels rustling through the leaves. In three of four minutes the sound of that stick is already forgotten, and you move on.

That’s the way I hunted, and I was successful at it. By the time I was in college I had taken up bow hunting as well. I had a Bear bow and several times stalked within shooting distance of a buck. I learned very quickly that you look at the spot you want to hit rather than the antlers. One day I got within 15 yards of a buck that was feeding on acorns. When he raised his head, I let an arrow fly. There was the sound of wood clattering as the arrow bounced off his antlers. Lesson learned!

When I moved to the Adirondacks to teach, I learned a different method of hunting. The hunters would put a line of guys – the watchers – on one side of the ridge and the rest would line up and try to push the deer over the mountain to the guys waiting in ambush on the other side of the hill. That was big country with no breaks in the timber. That system worked, by I often continued my still-hunting with far more success.

After six years north, I moved back home. Tree stands were gaining in popularity. I made a few and found that deer would often walk right in under me, never knowing danger lurked above. I made it a game to talk to the young unsuspecting bucks. “Hey!” I’d say. The startled deer would look up and wonder what I was doing up there. I’m sure a lot of deer on my hill walked around looking up into the branches overhead after that.

My old wooden tree stands have long since rotted away. We changed to climbers and metal ladder stands. There was a danger of falling and finally everyone wore harnesses to keep them from falling. Well, most everyone. Every once in a while we still hear of someone falling out of their stand. That’s often a fatal mistake.

Now the rage is ground blinds. These camo colored tent-like affairs spring open and offer windows so you can shoot. They put the hunters out of the weather. The waterproof material also controls the human scent from reaching the deer. They also allow the hunter some movement without being seen. These blinds are great for crossbows as well as other bows and guns.

The problem is… I like to see what’s over the hill or on the other side of the swamp. I can sit for maybe a half an hour, but after that I’ve got to get up and move. I’ve shot a great many bucks both at home on the farm and in the Adirondacks and probably 95 percent were taken by carefully sneaking through the woods, watching and looking at my optimum shooting distance. I take a few steps and them meticulously scan the woods around me.

My dad still-hunted until Thanksgiving before he passed. He followed some of those same routes up the hill, passed the two old oaks and into the hardwoods. As the years passed, he stopped a little more often and sat on a favorite stump a little bit longer, but with that method he hardly missed a year of putting a nice buck on the game pole. I just hope I’ll still be climbing that hill and sneaking up on a deer when I’m 91!

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