Thursday, May 11, 2023

Book Review: On the Hunt: The History of Deer Hunting in Wisconsin

On the Hunt: The History of Deer Hunting in Wisconsin. 224 pages, 100 illustrations, by Robert C. Willging, Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2008.

On the Hunt is a well written and comprehensive history of deer hunting in Wisconsin. It is that rare treat, a factual, scholarly history combined with numerous anecdotal accounts and local histories integrated to make an easily readable, smooth flowing and factually loaded book. It has about a hundred illustrations.  The illustrations and stories will appeal to a broad range of ages and interests. The book opens with a recounting of Robert C. Willging's, transformation from a Chicago city kid to a full fledged Wisconsin deer hunter.

This writer purchased On the Hunt  for his brother as an adjunct to the long term family tradition of deer hunting in northern Wisconsin.  The book is available from the Wisconsin Historical Society in oversized softcover for $25. Hardcover copies show up online from time to time.

On the Hunt portrays pre-historical hunters as they populate the Great Lakes area with its retreating glaciers, thousands of years ago. The Paleo-Indians were armed with the atlatl, or spear thrower, a device which significantly increased the range of a hunter's reach. The atlatl stayed in use up to the discovery of the new world by early renaissance Europeans. It's use by Aztec warriors was noted in the first hand account of Bernal Diaz in his seminal work, the Discovery and Conquest of Mexico.

The atlatl is limited in effective range to about 30-40 yards. It requires a fairly open space to work. The next advance in hunting hardware was the bow and arrow, which became common in the Americas a few hundred years before the Europeans arrived in significant numbers. As an aside, the bow and arrow were not used, at least to any appreciable extent, in Australia, where the atlatl is known as the womera.  The bow became the principle device for hunting deer in the Americas until the introduction of firearms.

This correspondent grew up in the Wisconsin northwoods, and experienced a significant number of the events Willging writes about.  The book appears accurate in every significant detail. By necessity, the work concentrates on history from about 1850 onward, although the pre-history from the discovery of the area by humans until the 1600's is as well done as can be expected.

Th history from 1850 onward is the history of the enormous success of the European immigrants in taming the land, and increasing agricultural productivity.  As the European immigrants did this, they realized whitetail deer were a resource which was being lost, and required management. Starting in the late 1800's, management of the whitetail deer gradually changed from prohibitions on hunting during spring and early summer, to the sophisticated system of licenses, permits, quotas, and limited hunting methods modern hunters are familiar with.

The number of whitetail deer in Wisconsin is much greater than it ever was before the entrance of Europeans on the scene.  Today the whitetail herd in Wisconsin is over one and a half million animals. Hundreds of thousands must be harvested every year to stave off overuse of the range, and the inevitable winter starvation which follows. The management of the deer herd has been an incredible success of the wildlife conservation movement. The book is highly recommended for anyone who desires to understand the complex interaction of modern man and game animals.

Opinion: The reason Wisconsin can support such an enormous increase in whitetail deer is the Europeans immigrants and their technology made the land far, far more productive than it was previously. Virgin forest is not very productive. It produces a heavy biomass of wood, which few animals can use for food. Whitetail deer profited enormously from the cutting of the virgin forest in the north-woods of Wisconsin.

The largest population and concentration of whitetail deer today is in the southern part of the state. In the petroleum age, fertilizers have made the land many times as productive as it used to be. The whitetail deer living in woodlots and feeding on the edges of cornfields benefit tremendously from the existence of this largess.

©2023 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch



No comments: