Welcome To VIR: Your last place to be a Man

“Mistah Harris…Oh, Mistah Harris…” crooned Bing Crosby as he raised his over-under shotgun to swing on a specklebelly goose. The whitefront goose tumbled to the ground at the shot. “Mistah Harris, it’s so good to be in a goose blind again…”

“Good shot Mistah Crosby! Ah but yes….goose for supper! Congratulations to you Suh!” responded Phil Harris taking a swig from a Thermos setting between them. With that both broke into song from the original Jungle Boy movie as they awaited the next flight of geese. A few minutes earlier Curt Gowdy had introduced both middle of the 1900’s singer/movie stars as being guests on ABC’s “American Sportsman”, the premier and at the time the only hunting/fishing television show on a national network. I was not into hunting waterfowl, even though I grew up on the edge of the Texas Gulf Coast prairie where Crosby and Harris were being filmed. But, I loved the interaction between the two old friends who obviously cared about each other and loved sharing hunting camps and the great outdoors together.

It was the 1950’s and 1960’s. Hollywood actors were travelling to Africa on safari, movies were made based on books by Hemingway and touted hunting and the “great white hunters”. Ruark wrote about growing up with “the old man” his grandfather, and Africa in the pages of “Field & Stream”. Russell Annabel wrote about sourdoughs and cheekackos who hunted for sport but also to eat. In the pages of “Outdoor Life”, arguably the greatest and finest outdoor hunting and guns writer, Jack O’Connor was adored and glorified!

The stage had been set during the opening years of the twentieth century when President Teddy Roosevelt, hero to many, had popularized and championed hunting and conservation. He had written of hunting and the outdoor lifestyle and way of life. He and a few others formed the Boone & Crockett Club which even today is one of the premier hunting-conservation organizations.

During those early years of the hunter/conservationist there were a limited number of periodicals and books promoting wildlife and the outdoors, and a few books. Those who wrote of such things were considered national heroes. For many hunting was a way of life, not just a lifestyle.

Whitetails had not yet become “America’s Deer” and bucks were measured in terms of their body weight and number of antler tines, no one talked about scores. In the mid-1960’s Leonard Lee Rue III photographed deer, not monster bucks. But change lay just around the corner in the early 1970’s Texan John Wootters started writing about hunting mature whitetail bucks. Wildlife photographer Jerry Smith began photographing mature, large antlered bucks on the King Ranch in southern Texas. For the first time big antlered bucks appeared on covers of and inside magazines. About the same time Al Brothers and Murphy Ray, fellow Texas wildlife biologists, wrote their revolutionary “Producing Quality Whitetails”. This would soon become the bible for the new emerging quality deer management. Shortly thereafter the Dixie Deer Classic, the first consumer show devoted to whitetail deer, was born, followed quickly by the formation of the Texas Trophy Hunter’s Association and their annual Extravaganza whitetail deer consumer shows. It wasn’t long before there were other groups devoted to whitetails such as the Stump Sitters which started publishing a magazine that would become “Deer & Deer Hunting”. Other magazine devoted strictly to whitetails soon sprang up such as when David Morris, Steve Vaughn and Chuck Larsen started “North American Whitetail”. A little while later BuckMasters organization came on the scene as well.

A huge industry of whitetails and whitetail deer hunting formed very quickly. Camouflage clothing including TreeBark by Jim Crumley, followed quickly by Bill Jordan’s Realtree and Toxey Haas’ Mossy Oak became the outdoorsman’s official uniform. Deer call companies, scent and other attractant, as scent free product companies quickly sprang up throughout the whitetail’s range and beyond. Deer blinds, which previously had been boards nailed to a tree became small “houses” on raised platforms and on the ground. Treestands and tree climbers became popular. ATVs became standard means of transportation.

Later the Quality Deer Management Association was formed by those who believed bucks should be allowed to attain some age before being harvested in the presence of better nutrition, which included proper harvests of does as well as bucks and habitat manipulation. Dallas Safari Club championed hunter/conservationists both at home and around the world.

Whitetail populations, thanks to habitat changes, conducive weather flourished and changes in landowner and hunter attitudes. Hunting with bows and arrows and muzzleloaders became popular, primarily because of addition of new seasons and longer hunting opportunities. The same could be said about wild turkeys, black bear and elk., and some other species.

Bass Pro and Cabela’s as well as other larger outdoor stores became popular.

Hunting videos became popular, followed quickly by television shows, which essentially started with TNN, after ABC’s “American Sportsman”. These soon evolved into entire networks such as the Outdoor Channel, followed by others which were devoted entirely to hunting and fishing shows.

Television shows like “Realtree Outdoors” immediately became extremely popular, as did other shows. Manufacturers saw television as a way to reach large numbers of potential buyers, viewers saw television as a way to be entertained and learn about their sport of hunting.

In time women hunters started appearing on television shows, perhaps to attract more male viewers, but also to demonstrate it’s OK for women to be hunters.

Then along came the internet with websites, but also YouTube and other sites where hunting and fishing shows, as well as product advertising could be seen whenever a person decided to turn on their computer. Facebook came about and similar sites. Hunting was opened to the world, and not just the world of the hunter/conservationist, also to those who oppose hunting, wildlife conservation and the hunting life style.

With the opening of Facebook, Twitter and similar social media sites hunters started coming under fire from ill-informed who oppose hunting, complete with death threats to those who hunt and their families. All this could be done without any accountability or recourse. The times they have and continue to change.

What effect have publications, television and social media had on hunting over the past fifty or sixty years? A considerable amount! I grew up in rural Texas just off of the Gulf Coast. I cannot remember my first hunt, I was still in diapers when my dad and granddad took me. I do remember my first whitetail however, like it was yesterday. I shot a spike antlered buck, with my maternal granddad’s single-shot 12-gauge shotgun using 00 Buck shot from a deer stand that was nothing more than boards nailed on the trunk of an ancient oak so I could reach a fork in the tree high above the ground. The year was 1961. I grew up loving and appreciating the outdoors, hunting and guns. Being read to before I could read. and then later reading from the pages of “Outdoor Life” and “Sports Afield” shaped my life and played an integral role in my graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in Wildlife Science, my becoming a wildlife biologist, an outdoor writer, an outdoor television personality and a book author.

When I started writing we used typewriters and 35 mm film cameras for slide photos. We sent hard copies. These days all submissions to publications are written on computers and sent via email to editors. Digital photos have replaced hard copy photos! Times have changed.

I suspect many of you who read this were influenced in similar ways when it comes to shooting and hunting, outdoorsmen and women. How and at what point depends upon your age and when you became involved.

Knowledge is golden and practically everyone who hunts and shoots has learned from reading publications, websites, digital magazines, social media; from watching videos, DVDs, blue rays, YouTube; and from watching outdoor television shows. Many of us learned through being entertained, which to me personally, is the best method when it comes learning.

In many ways outdoor press started with “Me and Joe” stories; tales about going hunting with a friend or family, stories told around the campfire either in hunting camp, or when someone was wishing they were in hunting camp. Times have changed, but hopefully some things will never change!

“Did I ever tell you about the time Barnett and I hunted…..”


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