Film: 1930’s Regulated Deer Hunting – A Forest Service Picture


Article contributed by Editor-in-Chief J. Townsend

I stumbled across this vintage silent film which was recently edited and reposted by Jeff Quitney. The original film was silent with titles. I watched the film and transcribed the titles below if you want to read versus watch the film. This proves to be an interesting watch from a hunting and conservation perspective. The film gives insight into some of the deer management practices taking place in the Pisgah National Forest in the 1930s. The film is highlighting how both hunters and game wardens are used to address issues of deer overpopulation. Enjoy the film below or give the transcript a read further down.

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–Begin Transcription—

Our Nation Forests are dedicated to the production of forage, timber, and game; to the control of erosion, and the regulation of stream flow. They provide places of recreation and are the home of wild life. Where over grazing is permitted, good forest-land management is not possible. Excessive browsing endangers the future timber supply, injury to the laurel bush. When game animals are too abundant there is competition for food. For example, laurel leaves are eaten and the laurel is killed. Rhododendron is eaten and injured, as is also greenbrier, and even young pines.

When it becomes necessary to remove the surplus, deer are trapped and moved to other areas. Deer are lured into the trap by baiting it with apples. The deer are handled with greatest care in order to avoid hurting or frightening them, for deer can be “scared to death”. They are shipped to other protected areas that are understocked.

Another method of taking care of surplus (is) the artificial rearing and shipping fawns. Fawns are caught before they are old enough to elude the game wardens. A metal identification tag is clamped on the ear, where it remains for life. A record is kept of the weight of each newly-captured fawn.

Cow’s milk is a very satisfactory food for young fawns after it has been properly prepared in an up-to-date sterilization plant. At first, the fawns are wild and hard to feed, but the well-known milk bottle seems to affect them as it does human babies. Young fawns are fed three times a day, morning, evening, and midnight. These older fawns are fed but twice, morning and evening. When fawns have reached the weaning age, in three to four months, they are transferred to understocked game preserves.

Planning the Hunt

Hunters help to maintain the balance, since shooting removes some of the surplus from overstocked areas. The public is notified, through the press, that the area will be opened to a limited number of hunters. In such cases, the surplus in the overstocked are is calculated. Hunters may write for an application to hunt or fill it out in the Supervisor’s office.

The hunters are selected by lot. Applications are grouped as received and a number assigned to each group of ten. A Chamber of Commerce official assists in the public drawing to ensure that there will be no favoritism. Extra numbers are drawn as alternatives to take care of applicants who fail to take out permits.

After the successful applicant has been notified, he must pay a small fee to cover the cost of overseeing the hunt. He then receives a permit to hunt and kill one deer, during a specified three-day hunt period. He doesn’t always get his deer, but he does get his permit.

Field Preparations

Federal Game Wardens post the boundaries of the shooting area. A checking station is located at the edge of the shooting area. The Ranger in charge gives thorough instructions to the patrolmen who are to assist in the hunt. Even experienced hunters entering a strange forest may become lost, hence the special signs along the road. Private autos are not allowed inside the hunting area. They are parked near the checking station.

The Hunters Check In

When the hunter first arrives at the checking station, and each evening after he returns from hunting, his gun is sealed to prevent accidents and poaching. Sealing thru the barrel. Sealing lever guns. Automatic guns are not allowed. (Rifles must be of not less than 25-20 caliber and shotguns not less than 16 gauge, shooting single ball. All ammunition must be of soft nose type.)

Sunrise finds the eager hunters waiting to check in and start the day’s sport. The hunter’s credentials are inspected; he signs the record and is given his identification badge and red warning cloth. Each hunter is required to wear a red, numbered shoulder badge and a red cap or warning cloth. The guns were unsealed and the hunters are ready. Hunters are requested to study the topography of the area in which they will hunt so as to avoid trespassing on other areas or getting lost.

The Hunt

Government trucks convey the hunters to the various units in the shooting area. Only five or six men are allowed to hunt in a single unit. A patrolman accompanies each group. The patrolman gives specific instructions for hunting the area. He “stands by” all day to assist the hunters. Game wardens are ever on the alert to protect deer from poaching. This poacher, just caught, consented to reenact the scene of his arrest.

A case of “buck fever”. Never touched him! Deer-stalking takes patience.

Better luck this time! The trucks make regular runs to bring in the hunters and their game. Each deer is tagged with a serial identification number. All hunters are checked in and everybody must be accounted for each evening. Careful records are kept of each hunter’s activities. The lucky hunters are proud of their skill.

The Recording

A record is made of the measurements, weight, age, etc, of each deer killed. A place is provided for dressing deer. A special tag, granting authority to transport deer out of the Game Preserve and State is fastened to the carcass. Around the campfire the hunters talk over the day’s experiences.

On this particular regulated hunt, 250 deer were killed, during the three weeks the hunt was on, without a single man getting lost or injured. The hunt ended with everyone satisfied. Thus, after being protected for sixteen years, the surplus deer were removed from this congested area. 

–End Transcription—

Wow… what a flick. It was pretty cool looking into the hunting and conservation culture from that era. Some points I definitely had questions which have inspired some further research. Why was the consumption of laurel, rhododendron, and greenbrier identified as an indicator of overpopulation? Why are they so valuable that they need to save the plants? I can understand the pine, but how many pines are being eaten by deer? Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. A big thanks to Jeff Quitney for bringing it to light!

Justin Townsend

Justin (Choctaw) is an avid hunter, angler, and chef whose passion for the outdoors lead him to create Harvesting Nature in 2011. He continues to hunt, fish, and cook all while sharing his experiences with others through film, podcasts, print, and with recipes. He also proudly serves in the United States Coast Guard.

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