Where Have All the Woodsmen Gone?
I happen to belong to a collective group of people known as Generation X. Maybe you have heard of us? We were the last generation of kids to graduate high school without the help of the internet, we never spent a day in detention due to texting, and we had cassette tape players in our pickup trucks. I remember when gasoline was less than a dollar per gallon and you got up early on Saturday morning to watch cartoons. Ok, we weren’t exactly rubbing sticks together to make fire; but by today’s standards they were fairly simple times. The same holds true for the hunting equipment and methods of that era.
My first deer hunt ever; I found myself in a homemade wooden treestand (custom designed by yours truly), decked out in Woodland camo with a dash of original brown Realtree, a pair of leather hiking boots, some streaks of face paint on my cheeks, holding on to a Bear bow (that weighed slightly less than your average bowling ball), with autumn orange aluminum arrows tipped with a two bladed broadhead, and an amazingly efficient and nearly fail proof release (better known as my right hand). This was my complete list of hunting equipment.
Deer Tech vs. Woodsmanship
The equipment list of your average bow hunter today might look a little different. A multi thousand-dollar, lightweight and ridiculously fast compound bow, hair trigger mechanical release, fiber optic sights, drop away arrow rest, carbon arrows, high tech broadheads of every description, laser rangefinder, handheld GPS units, scent containment clothing, a multitude of calls, electronic scent dispensers, and flashlights that illuminate deer blood. All of this while sitting in a super comfortable aluminum treestand, looking over your food plot of the latest and greatest seed blend, forwarding pictures of a giant buck that your trail camera just sent to your smart phone, and attaching your action camera to your hat so you can put your kill video up on You Tube. Anything sound familiar?
Now, one could argue that the statistics show an increase in trophy whitetail deer harvests over the last 15-20 years, and that these stats directly coincide with the increase in technology. I certainly cannot dispute those numbers and the seemingly direct relationship to the advancements in equipment. I could also help substantiate that claim in saying that if you put all of this superior equipment in the hands of a seasoned hunter that it certainly could increase his odds of success. However, the bigger question is- Will any of these things make you a better hunter? The answer…… No more than a $2000 dollar set of golf clubs will make me a better golfer. The reason…..Technique, skill, patience and dedication is what determines your success as a golfer or hunter not the equipment that you take to the field. The combination of these traits in sports is known as “Athleticism”, and the combination of these traits in a hunter is known as “Woodsmanship”.
I have had the pleasure of sharing many Midwest hunting camps, dinner tables, and pickup truck rides with consistently successful whitetail hunters. While these hunters may all come from various walks of life and from different dots on a map, they all share a common bond. They all have an unrelenting passion for the game they pursue, and their skills are second to none. These hunters are not defined by the brand of gun they use, the broadheads they shoot, or the camouflage pattern they wear. They are driven by the desire to better understand the mature whitetail and develop techniques to improve their odds of success. They have an uncanny ability to read deer sign and anticipate the animals’ next move. The weather and wind direction are constantly on their minds as they contemplate their upcoming hunt. The terrain and how it affects deer travel is a riddle that has already been solved. These hunters, I can assure you, are not watching a cable TV hunting show trying to find the next gadget that will provide them instant success. These hunters fall under my definition of being a woodsman.
The Next Generation of Hunters
As I look through the pages of magazines and watch the occasional outdoor show on TV; I see the traditional “Woodsman” fading away just like the cassette tape and woodland camo. Generation X has helped to usher in a new era of deer hunter. A deer hunter obsessed with the hottest bow on the market and the latest clothing trends; who needs instant gratification with his trail cameras, scents, and food plots; and who seems to put more emphasis on gadgets and gear than on building a solid foundation of hunting skills.
The most unfortunate aspect of this trend is that for a beginning hunter this is all they know. They are somehow convinced by the media that if they buy this kind of bow or this hot new call that their walls will start to fill up with mounts of trophy whitetail deer. Add the occasional encounter or harvest of a nice buck only further convinces them that they are on the right track. Years down the road this hunter trained by technology may become a mentor for another beginning hunter. Somewhere during this evolutionary process, woodsmanship skills will be lost. Now, I can assure you there are still some real woodsmen left out there. They may be cleverly concealed under a layer of the latest camouflage fashion but under all that, there is a true understanding of what it takes to be a successful hunter. My only hope is that these true woodsmen continue to pass on their valuable skills and insight to the next generation.
As I head into this deer season, with my solo cam bow, titanium tipped carbon arrows, and my scent control clothing; I am going to do my best to slow down a little and get back to my roots as a deer hunter. I am going to be more observant of the deer sign around me when I enter the woods and try to learn more from the animals themselves like they did in years past. I will have my mental notebook open at all times ready to write down any wisdom from the ultimate teacher, the mature whitetail buck. I am determined to make fewer mistakes and, in the process, hopefully become a better woodsman and a better mentor for the next generation. With any luck maybe that old mature buck will come close enough for me to use all this expensive equipment I keep carrying around.
Corey J. Wilkinson
Last Updated: September 12th, 2022