When Dad and Granddad talk nostalgically about the good ol’ days of Arkansas deer hunting compared to today, keep in mind that it is an apples and oranges comparison.
We don’t hunt deer like they did in 1960. We don’t go after deer. We sit and wait for deer to come to us. We kill many, many more deer than they did in those good ol’ days, but we also have many more deer roaming around than in times past.
Scientific and accurate verification is impossible, but likely there are many more deer today in Arkansas than when the first settlers arrive in a territory and state that was virtually covered with forests.
It is easier to get a handle on the change in hunting methods.
For a couple of centuries, deer in Arkansas were hunted by people slipping quietly through the woods, bottoms and other cover. Deer hunters learned to walk quietly. Their objective was to slip up on deer bedded down in grassy spots, in addition to finding a path made by wildlife and stalking along it.
Deer hunters matched their senses with deer. They made great effort to be silent, and they tried to cover their smell with items like a couple of ripe apples in pockets. They depended on eyesight, and here the human could match the deer.
The oldtimers didn’t deck themselves out in bright orange, and they didn’t wear camouflage clothing until well after World War II. A warm plaid flannel shirt was commonly used by a deer hunter of old. A warm jacket of some sort was used along with cast-off suit jackets.
The deer hunter of old carried a rifle with open sights, not telescopic sights. The "thutty-thutty," or .30-30, was the most common deer gun. Lever action rifles using cartridges like the .38-40 and .44-40 were often used, and these have less power than the .30-30. Shots at deer were usually less than 100 yards, with long "bean-field shots" unknown.
By the time the 1970s arrived, hunters were discovering elevated stands. First came the 2x4 board steps nailed to a tree and leading to a board platform secured to branches. This put the hunter several feet above ground and allowed more visibility at the price of not being mobile.
Innovative types developed metal stands that could be moved from one spot to another. They also came up with ladder and platform rigs that could be leaned against a handy tree and tied in place with a strap or rope.
Free-standing metal stands came forth as did relatively lightweight portable stands that could be used to climb trees.
The old walk and stalk faded in favor of the sit and wait.
Available statistics tell us that elevated-stand hunting, the sit-and-wait game, has numbers of deer killed well in its favor.
It was the 1970s before the number of deer checked in Arkansas passed 20,000 a year. In recent years the number has approached 200,000 in a season. Another statistic, though, tells us that the 12 or 14 days of deer hunting a few decades back has given way to deer seasons nearly a month long, sometimes more. And this goes along with the increasing population of deer all across the state.
All right, is the sit-and-wait practitioner a better deer hunter than the old fellow who eased through the woods on foot and sneaked up on a deer? A definitive answer isn’t likely.
The ability to shoot a rifle accurately, however, is just as critical today as in old times. Today’s deer rifles have power that would amaze the oldtimers along with those vision-enhancing telescopic sights.
Shooting ability still ranks near the top of deer hunting talents, and a sit-and-wait enthusiast may point out that his or her position provides a more stable shooting setup than a person walking in the woods.
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.