The hunt just isn’t what it used to be
Big changes are afoot in the deer-hunting grounds these days, and I am not sure where it all is going.
On the eve of opening day of Ohio’s gun-deer season, a reduced version of the Pollick Clan scouted old, reliable haunts in Hocking County where the elders, my brother Dave and I, have hunted for 35 years.
Dave’s one son, Jared, could not attend because of a break-through COVID situation in his vaccinated family. Another, Devin, had changed jobs and did not have the time to take off. My son Aaron, from Colorado, had used his time on an elk hunt out there. So our crew was down to just six – son Andy, now residing in North Carolina, his boys – my grandsons, Michael, 14, and Patrick, 12 – Dave, his grandson Logan, and me. We plan to do our best, and enjoy the hunt.
But: Private land where we once hunted for years and killed many, many deer, now are off-limits, having fallen victim to ugly familial infighting, changing owners, big-money leases, and land butchering. The latter refers to what a trained forester told me was careless, abusive logging that left the land poorer for the greedy timber-grab. Pretty familiar stuff, sadly.
Fortunately, those private inholdings where we hunted are surrounded by thousands of acres of public land, Wayne National Forest. We simply adjusted our tactics to hunt on that freely shared land. And have killed deer. So, in a sense, no harm, no foul. Modern online satellite maps and GPS have allowed us to precisely detail where we can legally hunt, using hand-held devices to detail the boundaries. Much easier than the days when we pored over sheet-paper National Forest topographical quads.
And then there is the growing influx of out-of-state hunters, no doubt drooling over those Ohio Big Bucks plastered all over the social media and so grossly overpromoted. Of course nonresidents absolutely are entitled to hunt here if they pay their dues. But more and more of them come each year. Wonder why their own states are seemingly so unable to produce huntable deer. Or maybe it is about the insatiable ego-quest for big antlers and the overhyping of same on social media. Antler-inches seem to have superceded the hunt for the sake of the hunt. It seems to be about getting, having – overmarketed bone-collector greed. Sad.
I don’t even want to get into the big-money sale and leasing of hunting land, or outfitters who, under our state’s laxity and negligence are not overseen and licensed. These latter draw well-heeled hunters from in- and out-of-state, in effect elbowing out the local little guys. Sign of the times, eh?
Last and not least there are the “Seal Team 6” wannabes. The woods seem to be crawling with them these days. In less than the space of an hour of scouting I ran into a North Carolina guy with a Glock pistol openly strapped to his chest in a harness, and I watched another “scouting” with an AR-15. Really? What are you afraid of boys, Bigfoot? Are “bad guys” out in the woods hiding behind trees, just waiting to ambush you? Are you afraid of the dark?
Day was when you could meet friendly guys in the woods during scouting, exchange pleasantries, and go on your way. The woods are not friendly any longer. It is not about freedom to enjoy.
I fear that the woods and the hunt, at least as I grew to know and love them, are dying. Look around, it’s all there, plain to see.