Deer hunting, then and now

Posted November 8, 2012 at 1:30 pm

I remember what deer hunting was like back when I was a boy. I am utterly amazed at how it has changed. Some very good hunters regularly visited Dad’s pool hall where I worked as a kid. Most of them were rural people who knew all about deer and how they moved. At that time in the mid-60’s I would estimate the Ozarks of southern Missouri had about 10 to 20 percent as many deer as we have today. In those times, if I remember right, the season was only a few days and only bucks were legal.

No one wore blaze orange, and many farmers hunted with shotgun slugs, because they hunted in oak hickory forests they owned, where deer were eating acorns, or along the edges of crop fields Few shots exceeded 60 or 70 yards. Many of those hunters who came in the pool hall had no rifles and those who hunted with rifles often had old beat up military firearms that looked awful, but shot straight. There wasn’t a rifle scope to be seen nor heard of back then.

Two fellows were known as the king of the deer hunters in our pool hall, Jim Splechter and Bill Stalder, the latter of whom was my grandfather’s trapping partner, a riverman and outdoorsman of significant ability. Both men knew where buck deer slept, traveled and ate, and watched them from the time they were in velvet in late summer. If Bill could have taken a doe, he would have chosen one over a buck because he wanted to eat deer meat, and he often remarked how much stronger and tougher the buck he would kill was over a doe he might take after the season, to put in the smokehouse. He felt that he raised those deer and therefore should be able to eat one when he needed meat.

He hunted with an old rifle he always referred to as his “guvamint .45-70”. The bullet was big and slow and would shoot right through a sassafras sapling if need be and kill a deer on the other side of it. It was much like a shotgun slug, and if you shot it at a deer 100 yards away, you should allow for it to drop nearly a foot. No matter, Bill shot his deer from 40 to 50 yards, hunting from the ground by using the wind with no modern contrivances. If you would have offered him deer scent to use, he would have been quite amused.

Bill collected some big antlers while I was a kid in that pool hall and they were displayed on one end of his barn. He never once, that I recall, spoke about trophies. It was Bill who told me that there wasn’t a buck in the Ozarks that would compare in size or antlers to some he had seen in Iowa or Illinois. I remember him saying… “I never ate one antler in my whole life, but then, they’s gen’rally more meat on a 10-pointer than a fork-horn.”

Old Bill, as we all called him, has been gone a long, long time, and I thought about him the other day when I saw an e-mail showing a big buck taken with a camera over a deer feeder out in the woods. There was a time shown on each photo, to tell you just when he came to that corn feeder. The last photo showed a photo of the grinning camera owner kneeling behind that dead buck, boasting about his trophy, and what the antlers would score.

Of course it is against the law to bait deer, but it is done on a very large scale everywhere. I have a corn feeder down behind my pond, and I finally bought one of those cameras that shows me what wild creatures come there and what time they visit it. But if there is a 20-point buck in those photos, I won’t be hunting in my own woods. I never hunt deer and turkey on my place, but I could leave that corn there and legally hunt bucks coming to it, simply because I can easily find and follow the trails they take, and it would be legal, as long as you are the prescribed distance from the feeder.

There isn’t much I wouldn’t rather hunt than deer. Pheasants and grouse, ducks and rabbits are of more interest to me. If I could hunt quail over my English Setters like I did 30 years ago, I wouldn’t care if I ever shot another deer. There is nothing easier to find and kill today than a white-tail deer during the rutting season, but I don’t like to hunt deer during the weekends of the gun deer season. It spooks me to be out there, knowing there so many throbbing gizzards who can’t wait to shoot something.

But then, if you do things right, deer meat is good. A deer needs to be gutted quickly and skinned soon after, with legs removed well above the knees. It needs to be properly cut, you need to get the blood out of the carcass and the meat needs to be tenderized. A deer-tenderizing machine makes a difference like night and day. If you find some old-time recipes for venison and have a good cook to prepare it, you would be surprised how good it can be.

In the north, it is fine to get the skin off quickly and let a deer carcass hang, head down. It cools and seasons and if the temperature doesn’t rise above the mid-50’s at a high point in the day, it works. In the Ozarks it is often too warm to do that. With the coming of the mad-deer disease, you should never cut or keep any of backbone or neck bone at all. Remove the meat without getting into the spine.

My time to hunt deer is a ways off. I will be out during the muzzle-loader season, way off in the deep woods, where I can take my old .50 caliber Hawken and my camera and walk and walk and be all alone. I wouldn’t even hunt if all I had was one of those modern day in-line muzzle-loaders. I guess that goes back to believing the old ways in the Ozarks were better ways. We grizzled old outdoorsmen think that way.

I hear today’s hunters all excited about some buck they got on their camera over a feeder, citing the inches he will “score.” Hunting deer you have been feeding is like shooting doves off your bird feeder, and boasting about a set of Ozark antlers is a little silly. I have seen bucks in Manitoba and Ontario with antlers that nearly double the biggest ones we ever see in the Ozarks, and there isn’t a wild deer anywhere that hold antlers to equal those raised on deer farms where they are being fed a meat by-product diet that created the “mad deer disease” now showing up in north Missouri.

I hope someday we can change this “trophy” attitude. It would be nice to see deer hunters forget about the “scoring” antlers, and recognize the treasure of a fall day in the woods. As deer hunters, we shouldn’t give one thought to increasing our stature by bringing in a set of antlers like the ones Old Bill regularly hung on the backside of his barn.

If you disagree with me, you might be able to change my mind by posting your comments on my website, or calling in to my radio show and giving your opinions. It airs live on Sunday mornings at 8 a.m. on KWTO 560 AM, out of Springfield. The website is and my e-mail is Write to me at Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613