At first glance, the only evidence it was a buck were some big tines sticking out of the tall grass.
According to The Hunter's Aim: The Cultural Politics of American Sport Hunters, 1880-1910 written by Daniel Justin Herman, “sport hunting in the United States reached its pinnacle in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Between 1865 and 1900, no less than thirty-nine weekly and monthly American journals were devoted to field sports, including Forest and Stream, The American Sportsman, The American Field, Outdoor Life, Recreation, Outing, and Turf Field, and Farm.”
Herman explains, “Hunting was the most ubiquitous of American field sports….and the most symbolically charged. Simply put, to hunt in the Gilded Age was to define oneself as American while simultaneously defining oneself too as an equal of English aristocrats.”
“Ironically, as sport hunting in the United States peaked around the turn of the century, native game populations were plummeting. By the time the western "frontier" had been tamed; the industrial revolution was in full swing and the U.S. population was rapidly turning more urban and industrial rather than rural and agrarian.”
Hunting proved to be important means of subsistence for settlers, even as agriculture cane to define civilization. In the colonial era, hunters were considered barbaric, backwards backwoodsmen, who were not far removed from the Native Americans.
Civilized men were expected to spend their time toiling on the farm or working in a factory. Modern men were more likely involved in the burgeoning progresses of the Industrial Revolution. This divide, which occurred at the turn of the last century, continues to haunt shooting sports to this day.
To a degree, the divide affected big game hunting the most, and today, it deer hunting is largely considered a blue-collar pursuit, while the more polished sportsmen prefer to hunt elk, quail and pheasant.
Despite a host of social and economic divides, shooting sports continue to provide the American public with a valuable connection to the past. Additionally, our long heritage of hunting and fishing pursuits are directly responsible for the preservation of wildlife and the continued conservation of the wild places they inhabit.
Herman concluded, ”sport hunting became a quintessentially American sport in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries…as it offered a way to recapture an imagined past…and defined Americanness.”
In current times, as Americans continue to adjust to the rapid changes brought on by the advent of instant communications, and the uncertainties of the many modern day political, social and economic upheaval; it will be traditional consumptive sports such as hunting and angling that provide the population with an important a grounding influence.
In an increasingly artificial world, where virtual reality is nearly as prevalent as the real thing, it will be the folks with boots on the ground that offer this country it’s best and last chance to hold onto the foundations of a proud society.
Adirondack Big Game Hunting
Historically, the vast landmass encompassing the current Park wasn’t formally labeled the Adirondacks until 1837. Prior to that time, a British map from 1761 referred to the land simply as ‘Deer Hunting Country’. It seems times haven’t changed as much as the names.
Despite the lack of a formal name, it is believed the region once provided a traditional route for native peoples of the Algonquin, Abenaki and Mohawk nations, who traveled through it for centuries.
The land was likely used for hunting, trapping, fishing and trade, but there is little evidence of the establishment of permanent Indian settlements. However, it is believed that Native People maintained seasonal villages for hunting, fishing and even agricultural purposes.
Although New York State initiated regulations restricting the harvest of Whitetail Deer in 1788, which limited the harvest to a season spanning from August until December, the laws were rarely enforced.
In the years following the Civil War, an energetic and ever burgeoning, East Coast populace discovered the Adirondacks. In their efforts to escape the summer heat and eternal urban grime, they vacated the cities, and retreated to the cool confines of the Great North Woods. They were called ‘vacationers’, and soon the fabulous resorts and Great Camps were built to accommodate them.
The rush north was greatly aided by several publications that painted a rather rosy image of the benefits of wilderness travel. Initially, the notorious Adirondack black flies received very little ink.
When Rev. William H. H. Murray published Adventures in the Wilderness in 1869, the book brought a ground swell of urbanites to the to the Adirondacks in the movement that became known as ‘Murray’s Rush.’
Increasingly, travelers that included Murrays Fools came to hunt and fish during their vacation, and the demand for competent woodsmen fostered the development of a network of Adirondack guides. The manly pursuits of hunting, fishing and camping were extremely popular among urban dwellers, and the Adirondacks beckoned.
In the years after the Civil War until the turn of the century, over three dozen national magazines were published to satisfy the demand for sporting journals. Many publications, including Forest and Stream advocated for the preservation and restoration of native species such as moose, black bear and beaver, while others endorsed efforts to stock elk, buffalo, Russian Boar and a host of exotic big game species.
A few of these original sporting journals are still in publication today, including The American Sportsman, Outdoor Life, and Field and Stream.
As fish and game stocks began to become depleted, The New York State Forest Commission enacted game laws for the Adirondacks with defined seasons, take limits and a specified means of harvest in order to protect the natural resources.
According to Adirondack Wilderness: A Story of Man and Nature by Jane Eblen Keller, the New York Deer Hunting Season was reduced to two deer per person from August 15 until October 15, in1895.
Jacklighting of deer was finally banned in 1897, and following a five-year prohibition in 1899, the hounding of deer was banned permanently in 1904.
At the time, the science of game management was a relatively new concept. However, the extinction of such prolific species as Passenger Pigeons, and the near demise of the American Bison, sounded a national alarm. The unprotected and unwarranted hunting of game species simply for sport was considered a national calamity.
In the Adirondacks, and elsewhere, game seasons were established, and restocking efforts were initiated to restore beaver, black bear and to ensure the survival of a greatly diminished whitetail deer herd.
In 1926, hunters were required to purchase a hunting license, and the hunting season was reduced to just a month from October 16 until November 15. However, Adirondack hunters were still harvesting between seven and twelve thousand deer throughout the 1920’s and 30’s.
Due to ongoing conservations efforts, the Adirondack deer herd expanded and annual harvests topped out in 1954, when hunters took 10,192 bucks, which remains the annual record.
However, in 1969 three hard winters in seccession reduced the deer population by half when the animals couldn't forage beneath the deep snows. The decline occurred when much of the Forest Preserve had a lot of even-aged stands with little undergrowth, that were inhospitable to deer.
A sudden scarcity of whitetails was evident in 1968, when hunters harvested only 8,383 bucks in the Adirondacks, and by 1971, they managed a take of only 2,907 whitetails.
By the end of the '70's decade, the Department of Environmental Conservation estimated the Adirondack deer herd conisted of less than 30,000 animals due to a series of hard winters and the lack of suitable habitat.
Currently, wildlife biologists indicate the deer herd has rebounded quite well and estimates of current deer populations in a range between sixty and eighty thousand animals.
Like most deer hunters, I ask that at least one buck passes my way during the open season. Anything beyond that would be purely a bonus.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.