Using World War II to start a deer-hunting column is not just an attention-getting ploy: It offers a comparison of the changes -- in deer hunting and in war -- over the last two generations.
These comparisons were sparked by a 62-year-old pamphlet shared by Frank Panasuk.
For a start, today's war on terrorists is not a conventional series of battles between large armies, but a conflict fought by a much smaller, more flexible military against small, hidden cadres of suicidal jihadis.
And the "Home Front" is not being urged to recycle cans and scrap for steel-making, or to ration gasoline and tires, as was done during World War II.
The New York Conservation Department issued an extra pamphlet with the 1942 hunting rule book that urged hunters to "Keep Fit to Fight" and save deer fat, used to make explosives.
"The booklet wanted to impress upon the public that deer were a very useful natural resource that could contribute to the war effort, and were not to be wasted," Panasuk said. "They even put a patriotic federal shield over the buck on the front page."
The pamphlet contained homilies ("If you want to shoot somebody, do your aiming over there!") and hints on tanning hides and converting a deer into steaks, roasts, stews or sausage.
It had directions for preserving the meat, too. In those days, many still used block ice in ice boxes -- home freezers were still a future dream. You might rent space in a commercial meat locker after wrapping the cuts in waxed paper (that was it, in pre-Saran days). You could store the packages outside in winter, perhaps using sawdust as an insulator. There were directions for salting, pickling and smoking the meat, too.
But the most intriguing comparisons regard the success rate and the number of hunters.
The Southern Tier had opened its first deer season just a few years earlier. There was a six-day, bucks-only season in 1942. Compare that to today's four weeks of shotgun and an extra five weeks for bow-hunters.
I could not find how many deer were killed in 1942, but the pamphlet says: "You are one of 180,000 hunters who will harvest 2 million pounds of meat this fall."
Last year, 600,000 hunters killed 253,000 deer in New York.
Obviously we have way more deer, and hunters, than 62 years ago -- even allowing for the fact that lots of fellows would have preferred to stalk whitetails, rather than survive in foxholes!
"In 36 years of experience I'd say the average deer taken in New York yields about 50 pounds of boneless meat," Panasuk said. That would make the 1942 take around 40,000 animals. That seems likely, and works out to one deer for every 4.5 hunters. In 1970 the DEC believed one hunter in 10 would be successful. And last year's statistics suggest one deer for every 2.4 hunters.
Today, besides longer seasons, we have doe tags -- in some cases two per hunter -- plus an extra deer allowed if you kill one with a bow and arrow or with a muzzleloader during the black powder season. Naturally, some kill several deer while others will be skunked. But the odds have sure improved!
"There were other things at work in 1942, too," Panasuk said: "For one thing, ammo was scarce. Most hunters had to rummage around the attic to find a few shells. And old-timers tell me that deer slugs were awful then . . . they fired round 'pumpkin balls' -- you were lucky to hit what you aimed at."
Panasuk, by the way, still hunts with round balls today. But he uses a handmade, replica flintlock Kentucky rifle. The rifling makes for a very accurate weapon.
"By the time the muzzleloading season is here -- in the Southern Zone, the week after shotgun season -- you are lucky if you can get a flintlock to fire one out of the seven days," he said. "I usually wind up using a .58 caliber percussion Enfield carbine, made in England on mostly original Civil War tooling."
You now see why Panasuk appreciates our deer hunting heritage.
But judging from the numbers, the limited travel opportunities, scarcity of ammo and terribly short season in 1942, these are the "good old days" for hunting whitetails.