I have spent quite a bit of time with my grandparents this year. Luckily for me, my job leads me to their area several times a month. They are both in their 90’s, are great people and a wealth of information. We talk about everything from local sports to national news to what is going on in the family. And I hear stories from the past that I find myself reprocessing, long after I leave their home. Yes, I am a lucky guy to have them in my life.
They know I am an outdoors nut so they often ask me about my latest bow hunting projects, my food plots and work we have lined up to do out at our 52 acres of land. Recently I showed my blog to them. My Grandpa was interested and asked who could read it. I told him anyone can. He thought for a second and said, “In the world”? I said yes, and we laughed about it.
I decided to ask him about his first deer hunting trip. He seemed a little hesitant but answered my questions. The conversation was not long, but it drew a clear picture in my mind of what hunting used to be like for him. I hope you enjoy hearing about a hunting trip during gun season in Wisconsin, the year was 1942’.
“When did you start hunting? Is there a season that stands out?”
Grandpa Jack- “I was probably 17. We had just won the high school conference football championship and I was given the choice between going to see a Badger football game and going hunting. I wanted to go hunting with my Dad”.
“Sounds like a special trip. Where did you go? How many others came along?”
Grandpa Jack- “We went near Mountain, Wisconsin. I remember it being me, my Dad and a few of his friends. I think we had permission to stay at a place and hunt the surrounding land.”
“What was the place that you stayed at like?”
Grandpa Jack- “It was an old cabin. I remember it being more glass than wood. Which was bad, it was really cold. We all huddled around the wood burning stove to try to keep warm. They had this Victrola that you could wind up to play music. I remember it had one song, “Whistling in the Wild Wood”, I kept winding that up and playing it until a guy got cranky and told me to stop.”
“Sounds brutal. Not the music, the cold. What clothing did you have then?”
Grandpa Jack- “We just had wool. It was plaid, red and black. Our boots were galoshes and you put on these felt shoes first then slid them into the boots. I don’t remember us having much for gloves”.
“What did you eat?”
Grandpa Jack- “One guy would get there and take a deer. Nobody cared back then and we would eat that the entire week”
“Sounds very different from camps now! What was the reason you went? For food?”
Grandpa Jack- “No, my Dad was a big sportsman. I have old pictures somewhere of him next to a deer and a bear. He really liked hunting”.
“What did you have tags for? Where there many deer?”
Grandpa Jack- “You only got one buck tag back then. And no, I think I only saw one deer on that trip”.
“How did you hunt? Drives? Standing? What guns did you use?”
Grandpa Jack- “We all had spots to sit and didn’t do any drives that I remember. For guns, the most common was a 30-30 lever action but you used whatever you could borrow. The big issue then was ammunition, the war had just started and you couldn’t find ammo for any guns. I remember one guy there had just one bullet and he said, “That’s all I need”. He was right, he was one of the few to get a deer that trip.”
After we were finished talking I looked at the notes I had written and thought about how things were then. As you can guess by the date, my Grandpa soon graduated High School and joined the Navy. So that was his last hunting trip for a while. At the time, hunting took a back seat to the war over seas. Those that didn’t go, supported the effort at home.
I also thought about my family and the hunting heritage. My Great Grandfather was an outdoorsman, he passed it to his son, my Grandpa, who passed it on to my Father and then to me. That is over 100 years of hunting in the state of Wisconsin. How far back does that line of outdoorsman run? And where did my relatives hunt? I don’t mean in the U.S., I mean in the world. How would I have fit in with them? I love working hard on the land to get the herd in the area as healthy as possible, get them to a mature age by providing the habitat they need and fair chase with a bow. I am betting the bow part of the equation would be EXTREMELY strange to them. But hours spent working hard on the land, the love of the outdoors and respect for the game being chased would fit in nicely at any time in my family’s hunting history.
An obvious topic is the clothing and gear. Staying warm was the only concern then and from what I heard, a big concern. No scent control then! I am betting they played the wind for scent control and that was about it. Something that still holds true today regardless of how much scent free clothing you have. You can shower, wash your clothes, pack them in air tight boxes, put them on when you reach the field, but if you forget about the wind you might as well wear the old wool outfit on that they used.
Also, who goes into the field with one bullet now? Or one arrow for that matter? And try to watch a hunting show or read an article without commercials and ads popping up for the best new gear you need to have. Impossible. Back then you borrowed a gun and tried to find bullets, grabbed your wool outfit and then went out and enjoyed the time in the woods the best you could, simple, and refreshing.
And finally, the deer herd. Wisconsin has a much larger deer herd compared to the way it was in the 40’s. Grandpa didn’t get into the amount of deer around but it was obvious they were pretty scarce in his area.
I will remember my talk with my Grandpa this bow season, and for many seasons to come. We are lucky now with the herd we have in Wisconsin, and in many parts of the country. Enjoy it, support conservation, and respect the animal that has tied generations of sportsmen/women together.