Wilderness Whitetails

Posted by  Monday, November 18 2013 6:00 am
expert

In the wilderness, deer hunting becomes a special experience that is unforgettable.      

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Some hunters are drawn to wilderness areas because the chances of bagging a nice deer are excellent.

Today, more and more deer hunters are looking for ways to get off the roads and trails, back into the marrow of the land away from the trappings of civilization. The hustle and bustle of our technological society has created a compulsion to log as much time in the backcountry as possible, and the deer season offers a chance to do that.        

The problem is; large swaths of unfettered backcountry are getting harder to find. What outdoorsman has not experienced the disappointment of returning to a favored hunting spot only to find it forever altered? Perhaps a "No Trespassing" sign has gone up, or land development is taking place. As our human population grows, such experiences increase, leading many of us to think that our children and grandchildren may be unable to enjoy wild lands isolated from development and exploitation.        

Fortunately, the Wilderness Act of 1964 set aside some lands to prevent such occurrences. Those who choose to use them can rest assured they will be there for succeeding generations. Congress, in the Act, defined wilderness as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain..."        

Our country is blessed with hundreds of statutory wilderness areas fitting this description. Together they encompass millions of acres of prime deer hunting territory. These wild lands are remote enough to offer solace and solitude to hunters. They offer enough elbow room to isolate the visitor from the anxieties of modern life. On a wilderness trek, you can look over your shoulder to say goodbye to the world's troubles and turn around to welcome the womb of the backcountry.

Hunting wilderness area deer isn't entirely care-free, though. These pristine tracts of land are open only to those willing to overcome the distance and rugged terrain with their nomad home on their back. Austerity is a prerequisite, for everything the hunter needs to survive and pursue his quarry must be packed in on foot or horseback. How far you penetrate the wilderness will depend on how well you can carry and use your limited allotment of equipment. Wilderness deer hunting doesn't begin at dawn, break at noon and end at dusk. It is a total sporting existence lasting every minute of every day and night spent in the wild.        

The U.S. Forest Service offers this reminder to wilderness explorers: "As a wilderness area visitor, you should be aware that you are entering a primitive environment where you will be faced with the challenge of being entirely self-sufficient for whatever time you plan to remain there. There are no shelters, campgrounds, tables, fire grates, water spigots or detailed trail signs.  You will be either afoot or on horseback, because no motorized vehicles are permitted in these areas. You will meet and live with nature on its own terms, and become familiar with the sometimes scary feeling of being completely on your own far from the nearest trace of civilization. ... A few trail signs, foot bridges, and other basic facilities may exist, but only where they are essential for safety of the hiker or protection of the wilderness itself."        

For most, though, the rewards of a wilderness hunting experience far exceed the investments. A friend of mine, Bill Jones, has been hunting deer in wilderness areas for decades, backpacking in and camping for periods up to nine days. The allure of these natural sanctuaries keeps drawing him back.        

"When I'm walking into a wilderness area, I can feel the stress draining away from me," Jones says. "You may spend a whole day and not ever see another individual. The only noise you hear, other than woodland sounds, might be the low drone of an airplane. It's quiet. You don't have someone ripping and roaring around in a vehicle. You don't have someone running a bunch of dogs through your place. If you run into someone, you know he's a real woodsman. The folks who are trigger-happy, shooting at sounds, things like that, are left behind, because they won't get more than 100 yards from the truck. You're able to regenerate your values, to contemplate the reason for your existence. It's almost a religious experience."        

Preparedness, says Jones, is important to enjoying the wilderness experience. He notes that hunters should be in top physical condition and should be well versed in first aid, map and compass reading, outdoor cookery and backpacking.        

"You may be miles from the nearest road," he says. "You've got to know your stuff. You can't just go in there and do it. There are no vehicles, nobody to take care of you. So you must know all your camping skills and be able to take care of health and safety on your own. Getting lost is the most likely thing to happen, so be sure you're an accomplished map reader. Leave a map with family or friends so someone knows where you are and when you're expected to return."        

Some hunters are drawn to wilderness areas because the chances of bagging a nice deer are excellent. Hunting pressure is less on these sites than it is on more accessible areas. Bucks live longer and grow bigger.        

For some people, though, bagging a deer is secondary to the aesthetics of a wilderness hunt. "The group I go with has hunted one wilderness area for seven or eight seasons, and we've only killed two deer," Bill Jones says. "But we keep going back because of the way it makes you feel. I realize once I'm out there how important my wife and my family are to me. In fact, I realize how important everything around me is. I think; what in the world would I do without Gore-tex? How do you suppose an Indian would have lived through that rainstorm in a buffalo robe? It puts things in perspective.        

"As you get to the last night," Jones continues, "you sit around the campfire, and you know tomorrow you've got to load up and go back to the real world. It gets a little bit emotional sometimes, because you know you will not have this experience again. Each and every one of these trips is entirely different. And you realize this is something that's in your past now. It'll never happen again.        

"You don't want to leave. You get everything gathered up, and you huff and puff and sweat as you carry your gear back to the vehicle. Then, when you get close to the road, you hear a car coming up. It kind of tightens you up just a little bit. It pulls your drawstring tighter. And before you've even left, you're already thinking about the next trip."        

The thrills of deer hunting are one reason for a wilderness area visit. But if you go to all the trouble, expense and sacrifice of journeying into these remote places for just one purpose-hunting-then you're wasting your energy and missing the point. The common denominator of wilderness areas is their difference from the tame lands you leave behind. Learn to comprehend the difference, then you will truly enjoy the soul-wrenching pleasure a wilderness deer hunt can offer.      

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Last modified on Monday, November 11 2013 12:23 pm
Keith Sutton
expert

With a resume listing more than 3,500 magazine, newspaper and website articles about fishing, hunting, wildlife and conservation, Keith Sutton of Alexander, Ark., has established a reputation as one of the country’s best-known outdoor writers. In 2011, Sutton, who has authored 12 books, was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a “Legendary Communicator.” Visit his website at www.catfishsutton.com.

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