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The Changing Face of Deer Hunting

The Changing Face of Deer Hunting
Erik Steinbacher needed some help from his son, Brecken, to help steady the exceptionally high rack of the buck he shot.

Yes, I’m old enough now to have watched the many changes that have come to deer hunting in our state. At one time Pennsylvania boasted of over a million hunters for the opening of deer season, but today we are well below that number. It may also be true that there were more deer, at

Yes, I’m old enough now to have watched the many changes that have come to deer hunting in our state. At one time Pennsylvania boasted of over a million hunters for the opening of deer season, but today we are well below that number. It may also be true that there were more deer, at least in some places, than there are today and maybe even too many in some places. It’s also true that there were far less big racked bucks being taken probably because there were so many hunters shooting the first buck they saw, and antler restrictions were much more liberal as well. I’m also convinced, however, that in more recent years Pennsylvania has been giving up some of the biggest bucks I have ever seen. If you don’t believe me just wait until you run into some of your hunting buddies; it won’t be long until their rectangular devices or ‘RDs’ as I call them are whipped out, and they begin scrolling through big buck pictures.

Not only have the number of hunters changed over the years, so have the hunting techniques. In the “old days” drives were a common hunting method — they are practically unheard of today. I’ll admit that I was never much for participating in drives, but it was often the method of choice on many of our local farms. If you didn’t participate in drives, you very likely went off to a favorite spot in the woods and stood by a tree or sat on a stump or log and waited for a buck to come by. If that didn’t work, you might have opted to do some “still hunting” or simply put walk very slowly and quietly through the woods with frequent stops in hopes of spotting a decent buck. By the way, decent back then was a four or six point with a 10 or 12-inch spread — shoot, that might have even been a trophy for a lot of hunters back then.

Today’s hunters are also much more sedentary; more often than not they will head for a treestand and remain perched for the duration of the hunt and trust me today’s treestands aren’t what they were years ago. Back in the 60s, a treestand was an old 2×6 stretched between a couple of tree limbs and some 2×4 rungs nailed to the tree for climbing into the stand. Today stands are roomy and completely closed in with windows that fold open for shooting. Often portable heaters keep the hunter comfortable even in the coldest weather.

Today’s deer hunters are also far more technical in their approach than in years past — especially if you own or have access to private property. Today deer are often “managed” in that food plots are strategically located and maintained to increase shooting opportunities. In addition, cameras are carefully placed to record deer activity on a year-round basis. It’s not uncommon to follow the behavior and patterns of any given deer with many being given names like “old drop-tine” or “high-rack.” Often hunters will zero in on that big ole buck they’ve been watching in their game camera for the past couple of months letting other smaller bucks go.

Obviously, these changes do not necessarily apply to all deer hunters, or maybe only some of the changes apply depending on whether you hunt private or public land. One thing that hasn’t changed though is that moment when you pull the trigger on a nice buck and before you know it you’re grabbing your RD to take photos to show all your friends. Oh yeah, I forgot — you don’t have to wait for the film to be developed and everybody can see your success immediately.

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