By Otha Barham / outdoors editor
“When in Rome do as the Romans do” applies quite interestingly to hunting. In my many work locations around the country, I encountered striking variations in hunting practices.
Arriving in Texas in the early 1960s, I was fresh out of the Kemper County deer woods where my only shots at deer were when they were flying like leaves in a windstorm through thick timber and briars and leaping woodland obstacles like jumping jacks with skin. Pursued by hounds that yodeled and chopped and roared and squealed so that your head fairly exploded with disconcerting delirium, the darting bucks were not targets for poor shooters. To bag one was a feat to be celebrated.
A lot of Texas hunters looked upon opening day of deer season as a chance to collect the cherished venison for the year. I heard many say something like, “ Well I got both my bucks on opening day and I’m through for the year.” And this was said with pride, the loss of what to me were exciting hunting days remaining in the season being of no consequence.
This “go to market” hunter mainly existed in Central Texas and points west. The abundance of deer in this large expanse, the sparse cover, the tradition of hunting from vehicles because of rattlesnakes, prickly pear and grass burrs all perhaps affected the quality and challenge of deer hunting and may have contributed to the “get ‘em and go home” approach.
In East Texas I found hunters and the landscape to be more like East Mississippi. Still, there was no mention of deer dogs in the club I joined. Everyone built stands (often just seats) in trees and waited for deer to happen by.
I was unprepared for what happened when the first buck wandered up to within 15 yards of my stand and stopped broadside. I had never shot a deer that wasn’t streaking past me, much less one that was standing absolutely still! I had gotten pretty good at swinging my two and a half power Weaver scope ahead of a fleeing buck and shooting in front as I would a quail with a shotgun. But standing still? It seemed unfair to the deer. It was too easy!
Well, I lined up the crosshairs and closed my eyes, to give the beast a fair chance I suppose, and squeezed off. When I looked the buck was lying there quite dead. There was a letdown. No crashing through the woods following a blood trail; no uncertainty if you got him; no moment of discovery; nothing.
It took a while for me to get used to this “easy” deer hunting. These days with our green fields and shooting houses with chairs, it has become old hat. I worry that our shooting and hunting skills have suffered from the prosperity.
A reciprocal of this scenario occurred when I arrived in the mountain West and discovered that spring turkey seasons were just being instituted out there. Rifles were allowed in most places because that is the firearm that had always been used to bag turkeys; deer and elk rifles no less.
Hunters shot the unsuspecting birds, often at very long ranges, while they hunted big game. They liked the taste of the turkey’s breast, parts of which sometimes barely remained after much of the bird was blown away with 180 grain 30-06 bullets.
I drew permits in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, having little competition for permits in the spring back then because spring wasn’t when westerners hunted turkeys. I found a bonanza! Spring gobblers that had never been called to with an artificial caller fairly ran over me.
Two hunting buddies agreed to try this new method of hunting turkeys with me, although they were apprehensive going afield with shotguns that limited them to 40 yards. The first guy heard a distant gobble that I didn’t hear. We sat down and when the bird came in to my yelps, Lew moved too much and I whispered harsh caution words. But the naive gobbler didn’t mind the commotion and my man bagged the bird easily.
The second fellow sat with me in sparse cover overlooking a huge, grassy mountaintop. A gobbler was sounding off a quarter mile away. I scratched out some of the worst yelps I ever made and the bird started our way. He was closing fast and soon he came into view. When he passed below the nearest undulation I told Don to raise his gun. The tom popped into view and Don bagged his first gobbler with a shotgun.
When I left the West, these guys were making every spring season, enjoying their newfound sport. They even gave me a trophy engraved with kind words for introducing them to a sport that was old hat in the South. Nowadays thousands of western hunters hunt spring gobblers and many easterners go west to seek the mountain birds.
Often we do it differently in different country. And sometimes it pays big to try the other folks' way.