In Wisconsin the 2010 deer season is now over. More than 600,000 licensed hunters (11,000 of them “child soldiers” aged 10 & 11) walked the fallow fields and dense forests for nine days killing over 200,000 deer, although that still left a herd estimated to be around 1,000,000. This year’s deer kill was 11% higher than last year’s (but not high enough to bring the herd down to the 800,000 target set by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.) And the most remarkable thing about this season is that––for only the second time in 150 years––there were no hunting fatalities.
We don’t much like deer in Wisconsin. They eat crops and young trees, smash into cars (16,000 times in 2009) and are just generally annoying as they wander more and more into our cities, parks, and backyards. In recent years the state has even created a sort of happy hour special for hunters (“Earn-A-Buck”): If they bag a doe first, they get a free buck on the same license.
Wisconsin deer hunters this season constituted the eighth largest army in the world, a blogger named “Apollo” noted on The Federalist Paupers website, “more men under arms than Iran; more than France and Germany combined – deployed to the woods of a single American state to keep the deer menace at bay…and no one was killed.” And that’s just in Wisconsin. If you throw in the hunters in Michigan and Pennsylvania, our gun-toting militia over the last two weeks of 2 million riflemen makes even the Chinese Army look like pikers.
Now mind you, if you’ve ever been to deer camp or just seen “The Deer Hunter,” you know this “army” of hunters is a long way from the Chinese Army. A good bunch of them never sober up enough to leave camp and actually hunt much of anything. If the deer had any kind of defensive or counter-attack capability, the odds would be in their favor. Still, November is not a good time to take an “eco-tour” of Wisconsin. Sober or not, 600,000 armed men is a formidable obstacle to safety. Our hunters and the state DNR hunter training classes deserve a pat on the back for keeping everybody alive for nine days.
I happen to come from a fishing family – not a hunting family. No guns in our house, no bright reflector vests, no woodstove heated camp in the woods, no venison in the freezer. This difference, however, isn’t as defining as the great Beatles vs. Stones divide; there is common ground. Each sport has its gear, its folklore, its outdoorsy get-close-to-nature milieu.
Each is also mostly a guy thing, or was until Sarah Palin’s Alaska made caribou hunting a national sport. (Something akin to shooting tree trunks, I guess, given that it took Palin six shots to bring her buck down, and the animal never flinched until the last one finally nailed him.) And Palin isn’t the only Annie Oakley out there. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the number of girl hunters has more than doubled since 1991 and now includes some 300,000 women under the age of 16.
I like to think fishing is a more intellectual thing to do, but who’s to say. At least fishing is a mostly warm weather sport. My picture of hunting is light November snow and frozen snot. Hunting’s all about wielding a Buck zipper knife and dragging a 200 pound carcass for miles through dark forests with blood and entrails spilling out as you go. No, we’re fishing guys in my family…and frankly I’m glad.
I shouldn’t be too hard on those who inherited the hunting gene from their families. For the most part, they play fair and enjoy their sport. The lessons hunting teaches about the woods, camaraderie, and gun safety are valuable. I’m just glad I got the fishing gene. As far as I know, no one has to keep track of fatal fishing accidents during the nine months of bass season…and a Heddon Hellbender Magnum Downrigger bass and pike lure doesn’t have a safety you have to push off before you cast it towards a weed bed.