Were the "good ol’ days" of deer hunting really good?
No, not in numbers of deer killed by hunters, but David Taylor Hyatt of Monticello points out a number of differences and changes in deer hunting in southeastern Arkansas over the years.
Hyatt, retired now after being Drew County sheriff for 20 years, has kept close tabs on deer in his part of the state since boyhood as both a hunter and an observer. He’s acquired considerable knowledge about deer going back to post-Civil War times.
He lists the many changes – many for the better, some not so favorable. The camaraderie of the hunt camps, for instance, still is present but in different forms.
Camps are now clubs and leases, he said. Horses are now all-terrain vehicles. Dogs are gone for most deer hunters, and elevated stands are the normal way of deer hunting today.
Hyatt said, "I have deer hunted all my life and killed my first deer when I wasn’t quite 11 years old. I have deer hunted (in the Monticello area) every year except two when I was in service in Germany."
But he hunted those two years in Germany.
"That was the first time I had experience with elevated stands," he said. "In Germany, you have to hunt with a jaeger." This is something akin to a guide, a professional who accompanies the number in the stand and says "ja" or "nein" when a deer appears, meaning yes or no on shooting it.
Hyatt returned from Germany and built a couple of elevated stands soon after.
"We sat on stumps or something from daylight to dark on those days. You would sit at your stand until somebody came to pick you up."
Deer season in Arkansas was six days in November, six days in early December with no Sunday hunting. A good hunt for a camp was if three or four deer were taken. When someone spotted a buck’s track in the mud or dirt, other hunters would gather around to look at it.
In Hyatt’s younger years, his family and friends hunted the "bottoms," their term for the lowlands close to the Mississippi River in Chicot and Desha counties. Many more deer were in that area than in Drew County. After World War II and the availability of bulldozers, much of the low-lying land was cleared for farming.
Hyatt said, "That pushed the deer west to the country around Monticello. The Game and Fish Commission built a refuge in southeast Drew County at Possum Valley and another on the Drew-Lincoln county line at Able’s Creek. The Possum Valley refuge was 20,000 acres, and Otha Jolly was the manager. They brought in 10 deer, 8 does and 2 bucks, from the Ozark National Forest and in 1953 the refuge opened to public hunting."
Today, the Brown’s Creek Hunting Club, with Hyatt a longtime member, occupies part of the Possum Valley refuge’s land.
"We used to have horses and dogs. Those are gone, and stand or still hunting like we have today is much more productive than dog hunting," Hyatt said.
In the old camp days, traditions were a way of every hunting day.
A hunter who killed a deer in front of someone else’s dogs was expected to divide the deer meat with the dog owner. At the end of the hunt, deer meat collected by camp members was divided equally. Hyatt said, "We put the meat in piles as equal as possible on a table, number them then drew for numbers. You picked which pile you wanted when your number was drawn."
Until well after World War II, shotguns were the most common deer weapon in his area, Hyatt said. "Ball and two bucks" meant a slug shell in the chamber and two buckshot loads in the magazine.
Today, the oak-hickory forests have given way to pine domination under timber company management, he said. Predator control is an ongoing issue.
"Leasing has penalized an element of our population," Hyatt said. "Trespass is a problem. Elevated stands have really come on in the last 10 or 15 years. And hunter orange is a super good thing."
Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.