SI Vault
Reginald Wells
September 17, 1956
The forests and mountains of the U.S. have their own version of the prey which brings the hunter his supreme thrill. Here, in words, color pictures and area maps, is a preview of what awaits the sportsman in the 1956 season
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September 17, 1956

Hunting Big Game In America

The forests and mountains of the U.S. have their own version of the prey which brings the hunter his supreme thrill. Here, in words, color pictures and area maps, is a preview of what awaits the sportsman in the 1956 season

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The sporting goods store operated by Charles Sutfin was broken into and 24 guns were taken.
—Entry in Sacramento police blotter last week

The above item, as far as motive was concerned, posed no great mystery to Sacramento's police force. Unmistakably, fresh hunting sign was showing up all over the place as 6 million hunters got ready for what should be the best big-game season in decades. Nearly all of the country's top big-game animals, most of them pictured in color on the following pages, have shown population increases in the past year, and seasons and bag limits are being increased on some to harvest the surplus crop.

Thanks to scientific management and the courage of those enlightened hunters who, for the sake of improving the herds, could last year bring themselves to shoot does, where legal, as well as bucks, the nation's No. 1 big-game animal, the deer, this year is coursing its nationwide range in healthier and bigger numbers than ever before. And a record-breaking number of hunters—most of whom haven't had a gun in their hands since last year—are out after them as seasons open across the nation.

Next to deer, the fleet-footed antelope will entice the greatest number of hunters, and by season's end 80,000 pronghorns will have been killed. Elk, with an expected kill of 52,000, is the hunter's third choice; then bear (24,000), javelina (8,000), boar (1,200), moose (900), mountain goat (300), mountain sheep (250) and buffalo (40).

And approximately 1,175 hunters will also be dead.

For the greatest danger the hunter faces is himself. A day's hunting on public lands near any big city was recently likened by one sportsman to the first 48 hours on the beaches of Dunkirk. "Going into the woods on opening day," he added, "is like dealing yourself in on a concealed game of Russian roulette."

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Bakersfield correspondent, Duane Spilsbury, reported from California: "Opening day at dawn on Saturday (Aug. 4) gave promise of a roaring season to come. Ten thousand hunters crowded through a check station at Frazier Mountain Park in the Tehachapi Range in a period of 48 hours. By Sunday night 155 bucks had been killed, one hunter had shot himself in the foot, a $12,500 forest fire was burning briskly, 50 citations for illegal fires had been handed out, another six had been given for illegal discharge of firearms within a quarter mile of campgrounds and roads. Theoretically, the 10,000 hunters were spread out over an area of 200,000 acres. Actually the hunters followed the ridgetops and canyons, cross firing enthusiastically at each other over the deer caught between."

Considering the amount of deadly ammunition which cannonades through the woods during any hunting season, remarkably few fatalities occur while hunting—less than while swimming, in fact. But as the number of hunters grows, so do the hunting accidents. The biggest hazard, as usual, is the hunter suffering from "buck fever"—that old hunting malady which can turn the most calm and placid citizen into a trigger-happy gunman the instant he steps into deer country with a gun. When this happens, nothing-that moves (and a lot of things that don't) is safe.

On opening day in the Los Padres National Forest this year, one eager hunter shot and killed a horse within a 100-yard range. Pot shots have been taken at pack horses carrying slain deer out of the woods; cattle—even such undeerlike varieties as Holstein dairy cows—have been particularly vulnerable, and Kern County Sheriff Leroy Galyen has seen empty handed and frustrated hunters actually shoot beef steer and make off with the hind quarters in lieu of venison. It is also a matter of record that a hunter in the Angeles National Forest carefully tied his horse to a tree, circled quietly around a mountain and seeing something move in the distance joyously shot—his own horse.

To the increasing danger of more and more hunters using the diminishing range, a frightening fact has now been added. It is known that, of the total population of the U.S., roughly eight percent is color blind in varying degree. With this in mind, the Fish and Game Department of California considered its figures of 650,000 hunters and came to a deadly conclusion: some 50,000 men without normal color perception are abroad in the fields and forests of the state with loaded guns in their hands. Under these circumstances, what good is a bright red, protective coloring?

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