Here we go again. Tomorrow marks another opening day of shotgun deer hunting season which automatically brings another sleepless night tonight. Some of us have been doing this for a long time. I wonder if the senior deer hunters ever think back to the 1950’s/1960’s and the many changes which have occurred since.
Do they think of their school days when teachers didn’t expect to see us on opening day and just looked the other way? It was expected that we would play hooky and go deer hunting. They were the first to ask the following day if anyone got a deer. Some students did and they were pretty popular on the school grounds for a while. It was a different mindset in those days and hunters were not viewed in the same light as today.
Back then, deer season lasted only one week, beginning the first Monday in December. There was no special bow/primitive arms season. We just took the bare necessities into the woods with us….gun, bullets, thermos, a sandwich, a drag rope, a knife and a compass. Not like today where we need a backpack to carry all of the extra stuff …hot seat, GPS, cell phone, binoculars, first aid kit, hand warmers, extra clothes, etc.
Our guns were smoothbore shotguns. The rifled barrel shotguns such as the Ithica Deerslayer didn’t come into being until sometime later. Because we traveled light and had to warm up our feet, we moved around a lot more and not just sitting on a deer stand and freezing. I remember those deer weeks as usually being cold with snow on the ground. Because of the short season, we hunted regardless of weather. Today’s deer hunting season, which includes separate bow and primitive firearms seasons, begins in mid October and lasts until New Year’s Eve, so if there is inclement weather, one could always go another time. Back then hunters could shoot only one deer, buck or doe, no such thing as an antlerless permit.
Hunters had to wear some red clothing, stuff like the black and red checkered Woolrich clothes or plain red suits with hoods. (Hunter orange regulations didn’t go into effect until1962). These days, I am dressed from head to foot in hunter orange, even my gloves, backpack and suspenders. The coats had pouches in them to carry lunch and thermos. Instead of insulated underwear like we have today, we wore red long johns. We didn’t want to show anything white for obvious reasons (after all, we were hunting WHITEtail deer) and didn’t want a jumpy hunter mistaking us for a deer.
We did have hand warmers and the most popular was the Jon-e. You filled it up with lighter fluid, lit it and you were good for the day, provided it worked properly. Your chances were 50/50 that it would either go out too soon or get too hot and burn you through your pocket. Between the lighter fluid smell and the fact that most of us smoked, it is a wonder that any of us got a deer. But we did.
On the Sunday before opening day, we would put tire chains on so that we could get up into the mountains. (Does anyone use chains anymore?) Those were the days before everyone had a SUV or a 4WD truck. The few motels were always filled with visiting hunters and the diners opened early to accommodate them. It was claimed that visiting hunters added $1,000,000 to our local economy each year. Some of them owned deer camps and had good old times there during deer week. Others brought campers and set up in pull-offs in our forests. The State put a stop to this, at least in the state forests. The hunters didn’t bother anybody, and I believe the discontinuance led to some hunters ceasing to hunt in the Berkshires any more. Too bad for we local hunters needed these guys from Boston and elsewhere to roam around, get lost and make noise. It got the deer moving, often times toward us.
There was no need to worry about deer ticks if we sat down on a log or leaned against a tree. They just weren’t around, nor were coyotes and bears. The days are gone when we could shoot a deer late in the day and go back to retrieve it the next morning. Chances are good that these predators will feast on it during the night.
It seems there were fewer deer around here back then and one was lucky indeed to bag one. It was such a big accomplishment that every day, Berkshire Evening Eagle reporter Ted Giddings would list the names of all the lucky hunters along with the weight of the deer, its sex and town in which it was taken. Sportsmen really loved Ted for taking the time to do this. It must have been a lot of work.
I clearly remember my oldest brother Joe and I driving around the neighborhoods looking for deer hanging from backyard trees. Hunters would hang them there for a few days to tenderize the meat, and possibly show them off. We knew who the good hunters were and would be sure to drive by their homes checking. Can you imagine doing that now? Besides getting a wave of complaints from the neighbors, the coyotes or bear would devour them. Also, with the wild temperature swings these days, I would be afraid that the meat would spoil.
Yes, those days are gone but not forgotten. Some of us will be thinking about them while out on our cold deer stands tomorrow.
Here’s hoping you deer hunters have a safe and enjoyable season. If you bag one, all the better.