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Monday, October 21, 2013
I arrived at the office Monday morning to find a surprise package on my desk.
A reader had dropped off a pair of books for me.
One was Bruce Ingram’s “James River Guide,” a neat little guide book that Ingram published in 2000. I have a copy at home, but it’s nice to have one for the office.
The other was a little more obscure. It’s a 1970 reprint of Lawrence Koller’s “Shots at Whitetails,” which Koller wrote in 1948.
I’ve always had a thing for vintage hunting books and have collected a number over the years.
This one is new to me, and I had a blast skimming it before I get to really dig in. Granted, much of the hunting information in the book is obsolete.
Consider this chapter-opening sentence: “Scattered throughout our broad expanse of deer-hunting territory is a select group of highest-quality sportsmen.”
He’s talking about bowhunters, whom he further describes as taking “to the woods each year, garbed in conventional woods garments but carrying the primitive weapons of a bygone era.”
Bowhunting then was far from bowhunting now.
Compound bows were decades away. Early archers shot recurves and longbows only. That was tough gear to master, and numbers reflected as much.
One of the early hot spots for bowhunting was Wisconsin.
Koller wrote that in the 1945 season, roughly 3,500 hunters went afield to chase whitetails in the state. Their take? A whopping 160 deer, equating to a success rate of less than 5 percent.
Reading vintage hunting books and magazine articles sure provides some eye-opening context to modern-day hunting.
In Virginia last year, for example, the state’s roughly 60,000 bowhunters killed nearly 15,000 deer.
Of course, there are quite a few more deer these days.
Virginia’s annual deer kill data shows that hunters took 4,019 whitetails in 1947, the first year of modern record keeping. Last year’s kill was among the lowest in two decades and was still more than 215,000 deer.
Though a few hunters are using AR-15 platform rifles these days, the centerfire deer rifle hasn’t changed much.
Then, as now, the 30-06 was among the preferred deer hunting calibers, with many hunters opting for bolt-action rifles.
But evolution has been more significant in other aspects of gear.
In the pictures in “Shots at Whitetails,” not one hunter is wearing camouflage. Instead they wear wool flannel shirts, cotton duck hunting pants and jackets, and goofy hats with ear flaps.
Scopes were just gaining a foothold among mainstream hunters. Koller mentioned that a scope with a modest 2X magnification was the preference for many Eastern deer hunters.
The wide field of view was ideal for helping hunters get shots at running game, the mention of which reflected the difference in hunting tactics then to now.
Shots at running whitetails are not uncommon when conducting deer drives, which was a favored technique in the mid-20th century.
Running shots also can be necessary when still hunting, the term used to describe slowly moving through the landscape on foot while on the constant lookout for deer. Even hunters traveling with the utmost care often spook deer.
That’s why most whitetail hunters now sit in one place, usually an elevated stand, and wait for deer to come to them.
There is not a mention of a treestand in this book’s 369 pages, at least not one that I could find.
There is not a mention of wearing blaze orange, either.
But Koller does discuss safety.
Supporting his assertion that deer hunting is safe, Koller notes that in 1939, more than 149,000 deer hunters went afield, but “of this number, only 5 were killed.”
He adds, for good measure, that duck and pheasant hunting produced nearly double the number of fatalities.
I think much-higher accident rates are an aspect of the good old days that none of us miss.
While Koller was writing about America’s favorite big game animal during a much different era, some of his perspectives ring true today.
Consider his take on the term “open season.”
“These magic words stir many thousands of hunters every fall,” Koller wrote.
No matter what we’re wearing or what guns or bows we carry, those words ring as true today as they did in 1948.
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