"I sure hope they don't outlaw drive-by shootings," Uncle Spud said with a grin, "That's how most of my friends get their deer." We were sitting on the porch with a big jug of church-approved lemonade, sharpening our bullets and getting ready for the big buck hunt.
"Things are sure different now," he said with a wistful look in his eye. "When I was a kid, there were big bucks everywhere."
"What's the best one you ever got," I asked as I swabbed the barrel of my shiny new 300-Thunderbolt magnum.
"That would have been old Mossy Horns," Uncle Spud said with a smile, "Yessir, old Mossy Horns was quite a buck. I hunted that deer for 30 years before I ever got a shot. He was that sneaky."
"And then?" I asked as I poured myself another slug of lemonade.
"Well," he said, "I hate to admit it, but I missed old Mossy Horns when I finally got a shot at him. He was so far away that I stretched the barrel of my old 30-30 two and a half inches just trying to reach him. I'd a got him but I forgot to allow for the rotation of the earth."
"Bummer," I said. "That's a common shooting error. Anyone could have made that mistake. How did you finally get him?"
"I got him on the grill of my Chevy one dark night in January on my way home from work," Uncle Spud said. "Did a thousand dollars damage to old Rusty Bucket, my favorite truck. Broke his horns in a hundred pieces and put the radiator through the fan. Old Mossy Horns sure had a hard head."
"That's too bad. We kill thousands of deer on the highways nowadays. It's sure a shame," I said as I tightened the crosshairs on my six pound, 12 X 28 powered riflescope.
"The glory years were the 1940s through the early 1970s," Uncle Spud said, "And then things went to heck. The fish and game people say it all has to do with diminishing habitat, too many hunters, and the weather, but I have some questions about that. The side hills and buck bushes in Nine Mile are as open and full of leaves as they were in the 1960s. There are just no deer there anymore."
"I was at a meeting where a fish and game guy said the big bucks are still there, they are just smarter now and we don't see them as often as we used to," Uncle Spud said. Then he smiled. "I told him they must be real smart out in Nine Mile. They don't even leave tracks."
"Maybe it's the weather," I suggested as I rubbed a fresh coat of oil on my lucky hunting boots.
"I don't think so," he said. "If we have a wet year they tell us deer numbers are down because of winterkill. If we have a dry year they tell us the numbers are down due to drought conditions on the range. No matter what the weather guy says, you can be sure the deer numbers will be down. Weather doesn't seem to be a factor."
"Are there too many hunters," I asked.
"I doubt it," he said. "At one time we had almost 250,000 deer hunters in Utah. Today they restrict it to about 100,000. Schools used to shut down so families could go hunting. We don't do that anymore. There are fewer than half the number of hunters now than in the 1980s."
"You don't suppose that predators have anything to do with it," I asked innocently.
"Not a chance," he said. "Our grandfathers killed off nearly all of the predators by the 1930s, back when the deer hunting started to get real good. According to some animal-rights groups, the predator populations have never recovered. Utah is still so short on predators that the state is importing wolves and putting strict limits on the hunting of cougars and bears. In fact, coyotes, cougars, and bears are so few in numbers that they are coming right into town. I hear they get lonely out in the boondocks all by themselves."
"I heard that a lonesome cougar tried to make friends with a bowhunter up by Joe's Valley a few weeks ago," I said.
"Yes, and the guy shot it when it reached out to shake hands," Uncle Spud said. "Predators are so misunderstood."
"That's what I hear too," I replied thoughtfully. "Gee, I wonder what happened to the deer herds?"