I've added Henry Chappell's "Home Range" to the sidebar. I've avoided linking to a number of really good blogs because you can get to them all from Querencia, which appears there. The latter is where I find entrance to many of my most frequently read blogs and I can't really see replicating their blogroll. However, Home Range is right up my alley in terms of tone and content and therefor gets a separate link. For lots of other good stuff, go to Querencia, scroll down, and hit the links on the left side of the page. They're all good to great.
In any event, one of Chappell's recent posts, which talks in part about the decline of quail across the South and Texas and the decreased opportunities for quail hunting, as well as his thoughts on taking advantage of good hunting that is available, got me to thinking about something which has been the source of more than a few campfire conversations I have been privy to over the years. Specifically, the future of hunting and the good old days. I'd imagine the conversation is one of the most common in hunting camps. I'm not going to start to address the future of hunting, many books worth of material and debate are buried in that topic, but I will offer a couple of thoughts about "the good old days" in the context of my hunting, now.
First, a bit of background. I grew up listening to stories from my father's family and friends about their mule deer hunts in southern Utah- stories of huge bucks under the rimrocks which were made tangible by slides of old hunting camps and sets of antlers on the wall. By then we were hunting in West Texas and there were quite a few mule deer, although they are of the desert subspecies and didn't have the size of the Utah bucks. In New Mexico, a surprising number of garages and houses have a huge old rack up on the wall that dates from the late 50's or early 60's. Today, deer are pretty sparse in this state and coming here from Texas was a let down. Hunting pretty country all day and cutting a single deer track, which already has another hunter's tracks following it, is depressing.
Colorado held on to its deer population where Utah and New Mexico apparently allowed theirs to get shot way down. (Most of what I've read from Game Departments blames drought, not overharvesting. Sorry, too lazy to hunt for links right now but I will say that I personally have a hard time with the idea, as the Fifties were notoriously dry and the Eighties were pretty wet in the Southwest.) When we first started hunting in western Colorado in the late 80's, mule deer were everywhere. Legal bucks (three point restriction in that unit) were fairly hard to come by, but it wasn't uncommon to come across fifty to a hundred does, spikes, and fork horns in the course of a day's hunt. I'd imagine the legal bucks got pretty smart pretty fast and were tucked away in more inaccessible corners than I explored. It seemed like every time you thought "that hillside should have a deer on it" all you had to do was glass for a while to spot one bedded in the oak brush. Elk, on the other hand, were fairly hard to come by. The last couple of years we returned to hunting that unit after a fifteen-year hiatus. I don't know if it is due to the drought of the last seven years or so or Colorado's removal of point restrictions back in the early 90's, but there isn't a quarter of the deer population that we saw before.
Today, however, we are in the good old days for elk. This has been true for most of the 1990's, in my opinion. Areas where I used to see the occasional elk track (and elk are crazy and one seems to wander about anywhere) I now find evidence of regular usage. Not only does their range seem to be still expanding, but hunting opportunities are still pretty good and large numbers of animals means success ratios are quite high for most areas. There is a lot more elk sign (and for us, sightings) in the aforementioned area of Colorado.
I don't know how or when the crash will come, but all natural things cycle and I cannot help but imagine that at some point I'll be telling stories to some disbelieving youngster about all the elk that used to be on this or that mountain. Fortunately, I'll have some photos and racks to make the stories a little more tangible.
The optimist in me says that something else will expand to fill the niche in turn or otherwise increase with the new situation. Maybe the teens or twenties will be the decades of the deer again, or another peak for waterfowl, or upland bird nirvana. Another optimist in me says that maybe elk will be the whitetail deer of the West and things will stay good. The part that grew up on stories from a father and grandfather that saw the big bucks go away and talked to long-time Utahns who had observed the same cycle some fifty years before counsels to enjoy it while we can and remember hard.
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