The Heritage of Whitetail Deer and Deer Hunting
--- Whitetail Deer Hunting historian Rob Wegner introduces an online version of his articles on deer hunting and deer hunters. The site also features photos and illustrations, drawn from Rob's books, depicting the culture of deer hunting through the ages - across the country and in Rob's home state of Wisconsin (one of the top whitetail deer hunting states).
is in great jeopardy. As deer hunters we currently exist as an endangered cultural minority fast fading into the dustbins of history.
Photo courtesy of Remington Arms
We are losing our sense of cultural identity. We now constitute less than seven percent of the population and our actual numbers continue to shrink. With increasing deer numbers nationwide and decreasing hunter numbers, we are reaching the upper limits of deer management via deer hunting and exceeded those limits in some areas. Worse, the paradigm of managing a public resource on private property is broke and needs fixing.
Today most deer hunting organizations talk about promoting and perpetuating our white-tailed deer hunting heritage, but, unfortunately does nothing in a concrete way beside preach to the choir and pay lip service to the idea. If we are to preserve our heritage and survive as deer hunters in the 21st century, a cultural history of our deer-hunting heritage on the Web, in documentary films, books and a world-class museum is a necessity.
During the 19th century, deer hunting was part of American culture – a major part of mainstream society – as evidenced by the publication of articles on deer and deer hunting in general monthly magazines and weekly newspapers, appearing next to and interspersed with articles on music, drama, literature and the arts. Today, deer hunting is a minority activity played out in cow culture and hyped in highly specialized magazines disconnected from main stream American culture.
Camping in the Woods - A Good Time Coming
Currier & Ives, 1863.
We need to look back on our heroic past so that we can make claims to the future. We need to present our story in cultural terms – in art, literature, anthropology, Native American culture, music, and poetry – and then transfer the story to the Internet, TV and the movies and popularize it in a national museum. In his classic essay, “Wildlife in American Culture,” Aldo Leopold reminds us that as deer hunters we must reenact our cultural past, create cultural values from our deer-hunting heritage, be aware of them and create a pattern for their continued growth. This Web site represents a contribution in that regard.
Historically, the deer hunter has been a cultural hero throughout most of human history. On this Web site you will find the great heroes of our white-tailed deer hunting culture: the buckskin-clad Natty Bumppo, as he shoots deer along the shores of Lake Otsego with his long rifle named “Killdeer;” John James Audubon driving deer through Gum Thicket a “Liberty Hall,” South Carolina; Friederich Gerstaecker and his deerhound “Beargrease” fighting wounded bucks in the swamps of the Ozarks and Deer Lick Hollow; and Philip Tome jack lighting deer in Pennsylvania’s magnificent Pine Creek Gorge.
You will meet the delightful “Frank Forester” as he courses whitetails near the Dutchman’s Tavern in the Catskill Mountains with “Smoker,” his Scottish, wire-haired deerhound; Meshach Browning and his deerhound “Gunner” as they wrestle with bucks in the Yough River in Western Maryland; William Elliott, who chases white-tailed bucks in the Chee-Ha area of South Carolina with the enthusiastic gusto of starry-eyed generals engaged in sylvan warfare; and Judge Caton hunting whitetails on horseback on the Grand Prairie of Illinois.
You will experience T. S. Van Dyke still-hunting whitetails in the pinelands of the Midwest and the forested hills of Southern California; Paulina Brandreth pursuing them in the Adirondacks; Larry Koller shooting whitetails from Patterson’s rock, the Twin-Oak Stand and Skunk Gully; and you will confront the great deer hunt master himself, Archibald Rutledge, known as “Flintlock,” chasing the eternal Black-Horn Buck through the pinelands of the Hampton Plantation in the South Carolina Low Country with his cherished deerhound “Old Hickory.”
"Hunters Fire" courtesy of Ken Laager
This Web site focuses on the basic components of the whitetail experience: deer camp (known as “Holy Week” in some parts of the country); buck fever, that vicious malady that affects all deer hunters; venison loin seasoned with gunpowder when necessary; the exquisite beauty and alluring aroma of buckskin; legendary deer rifles like the Winchester ’73; whiskey and lies around the pot belly stove at the deer shack; unbelievable deer-shooting tales; classic whitetail art; blue-chip deer books; poems and diaries; deer hunting postcards and miscellaneous nostalgic and romantic artifacts and memorabilia of deer hunting culture – the best of deer and deer hunting Americana. Three themes will prevail: romance, adventure and natural history.
Man has taken more from this unique animal than he has given to it. We need to manage this animal and stop mismanaging it for financial reasons. We must pay homage to this magnificent animal, Odocoileus viginianus, and its historic relationship with man. In failing to do so, our whitetail cultural heritage will continue to decline.
Robert Wegner Ph.D.
February 21, 2005