Monday, February 28, 2011

Pennsylvania Deer Wars: A Sea Change In Attitude Begins For Me

I briefly mentioned my father-in-law in the February 11, 2011 post, "Pennsylvania Deer Wars: A Different Perspective-The Early Years" ,and will expand a bit more on his ideas today.

Father-In-Law John McQuade, An avid hunter and fisherman

He was an avid hunter and fisherman, but was not someone who enjoyed killing for the sake of killing, although he was a deadly marksman and unsurpassed woodsman who had the capability and opportunity to kill large numbers of animals, yet he chose not to do so. He spent every day afield in rifle buck season, yet only killed one buck in the time that I knew him, although he had the opportunity to kill several each year.  He did this simply because he enjoyed being afield, and hunting for a buck was his excuse for doing so.  He said he was looking for a trophy buck, but he set his standards so impossibly high that he only killed one in the time that I knew him, which was the last year that we hunted at the camp where he was caretaker. He shot a five-point on the first day, which was completely out of character for him, but the camp was sold sometime after season and that chapter in life came to a close. I think he knew this was coming and wanted to kill one final buck there, so for once he did not hold out for the unattainable trophy.  The bottom line was that he did more deer hunting than most people, but killed very few and enjoyed his hunting more than anyone I knew.  His favorite sport was hunting mature Eastern Wild Turkey Gobblers and no one I knew was better at bagging one than he, yet he always stopped hunting when he took the one gobbler that the law allowed.  He grew up when all turkey hunting was done in the fall and hated spring gobbler hunting with a passion and called it, "hunting turkeys in the summertime".  He thought that hunting turkeys during the mating season was too easy.

The point of telling this is that I soon realized that he was seeing a lot more wildlife than I was, and my attitude slowly began to shift as I pondered on the situation, realized part of the reason why this was, and eventually found myself approaching some things in a different manner.

I was a dedicated woodchuck or "groundhog" hunter from the time I began hunting, until the time I stopped somewhere in the mid-1990s.  Like hunting deer, I thought I would hunt groundhogs as long as I was physically able.  There was nothing I liked better than getting on a stand overlooking meadows with large woodchuck populations and spending an evening shooting groundhogs.  One shot at the first groundhog that appeared, and in areas with good clover or alfalfa hay, which is prime woodchuck habitat, it was common to shoot several animals during the course of an evening or morning.  In most cases, other chucks would emerge to feed within fifteen minutes or so and one would have another chance.  We were taught from an early age that shooting this animals was a good thing as they made holes in the fields that caused injury to livestock, damaged farm equipment, and cut into the farmer's profits, by consuming forage that he could otherwise use for feed. (For more on this subject read Coy Hill's post "Groundhogs And Mid-Winter Thoughts" at Country Captures)

Woodchuck Hunting Habitat
 I remember an evening hunt which took place in the area pictured above, in which I decided to not shoot the first groundhog that appeared, but rather wait for awhile and see what appeared if I didn't fire my rifle. ( In the interest of full disclosure I must state that the color photos used to illustrate most of this post were not taken at that time, but rather in 2005-2006, after I was using a DSLR and good quality lenses, but they are representative of the wildlife that I saw that evening, and on many other occasions, when I didn't start firing at the first legal animal that appeared."

Eastern Woodchuck In A Marksman's Favorite Position
Soon after getting on stand on this particular evening, a woodchuck emerged to feed, but I held my fire and soon it was joined by several others.  Before long a turkey appeared, picking through the meadow for food.

Turkey Feeding In A Summer Meadow
As it grew later, deer also arrived  to feed in the cool of the evening, and I sat there absorbing the beauty of the surroundings and the wildlife, but I was there to hunt groundhogs and soon it was time to get down to business and all of the wildlife fled at the blast of my rifle.

Whitetail Doe And Fawn At Meadow's Edge
This evening still stands out  vividly to me over 30 years later. I don't recall  how many groundhogs I shot that evening, but I will never forget that by exercising restraint,  I saw a lot of wildlife I would not have  otherwise seen.  This was only the beginning of my attitude shift and in time I came to realize more and more, the lesson learned that evening, and to take it to heart.  At this point you are asking, "what does this have to do with deer and deer wars", but hopefully this will become clear as I pursue this subject further in the months to come.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


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Ruth Hiebert said...

My husband,once an avid hunter,lay down his rifle and picked up a camera.I believe he 'shot' more animals with a camera than he ever did with a gun.He always maintained that it was much harder to get a good shot with a camera.To my knowledge he never again used those riffles,as a matter of fact,he got rid of them and was never sorry.

V.L. Locey said...

What a lovely post. I`ve spent time a good amount of time afield with my hubby and even when I don`t have a gun the sights are well worth the trip!

Anonymous said...

Loved each of your pictures, especially mama and the baby deer!

eileeninmd said...

Wonderful photos, Willard. I always enjoy seeing wildlife. The mama deer and fawn are my favorite.

Peggy said...

Fantastic chapter Willard! I can't wait to read the next...

What is Deer Wars all about?

Unknown said...


Thanks for sharing. That is a very good post.


PaWingers said...

So much truth in what you write here. I echo these feelings.

This Is My Blog - fishing guy said...

Willard: What a neat post remebering your FIL: Love your stories and photos.

Willard said...

For Hannibal, and anyone who is interested in an excellent article defining what the Pennsylvania Deer Wars are, here is a link to an article dated July 21, 2005 in Field and Stream:

Dina said...

So good of you to share this personal story. It is very moving.