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Early next month a group of 25 sportsmen will board a transatlantic jet for the first leg of a big-game hunting safari. Their destination is not Africa, India or any of the other fabled shooting grounds of the world. These hunters are Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Britishers, and they will be bound for the U.S.
A major domestic attraction, too. Surprised hunters are beginning to find targets that never used to be there right in their own backyards and are discovering signs of still more just over the hedgerow. Some species that were threatened with extinction 50 years ago are not only holding their own but show bigger and healthier populations than ever before. Others, like the whitetail deer, now populate areas well beyond their native range, often in numbers large enough to be a nuisance. Animals like the bison and bighorn sheep, heavily protected a decade ago, are legitimate game as increased herds prompt increased harvests. This fall hunters in the U.S. will enjoy more hunting for a larger variety of game than ever before.
Deer hunters in particular can look forward to plenty of meat in the freezer. A national survey just completed by Dr. Edward Kozicky of the Olin Mathieson Conservation Department indicates that deer populations across the nation have reached unprecedented modern peaks and show no signs of going anywhere but up. From Hawaii to Maine, deer hunting forecasts read like rave notices.
Whitetail populations, which broke records in 1961, are still breaking them in '62. Twenty-nine states in the white-tail's 45-state range report major herd increases; 14 have maintained last year's highs, and only two states, Connecticut and N.J., note decreased populations. In spite of this, New Jersey predicts good hunting this season.
The most significant indications of the whitetail boom are in the south, where a solid block of states from Louisiana and Arkansas to the Carolinas and Florida report major increases in annual harvests during the past decade. In 1951 hunters bagged 5,000 deer in Arkansas; last year they took home 20,000. In Virginia the 1951 harvest of 7,500 jumped to just under 33,000 last season.
The story in the Middle West is the same. West of the Rockies, where the whitetail shares its range with the mule deer, populations are so high that Montanans can take two deer in some areas, and hunters in Idaho as many as five. With about 170,000 hunters expected in Idaho alone this season, the result could be a record deer harvest. But most of those hunters will be after even bigger game. The real attraction in Idaho, and in much of the West, is not deer but a variety of other animals that are as spectacular as the countryside.
Each year thousands of sportsmen go west for elk, and each year the hunting seems to get better. Fourteen states now have open seasons. Increasing herds in Oklahoma finally drew so many complaints from farmers and ranchers that elk will be legal game this fall for the first time in 90 years. The last elk hunt in Oklahoma, game personnel claim, might have been taken by General Sherman when he was stationed at Fort Reno in what was then Indian Territory.
Elk disappeared from New Mexico not many years later, and it wasn't until 1910 that a group of 15 were transplanted from Colorado and Wyoming. Today the herd has grown to 10,000 animals and is still increasing. An alltime record of 4,439 public and private elk licenses will be issued in New Mexico this season—some of them to Europeans—and hunters are anticipating considerably more shooting than their grandfathers ever had.
Conservation pays off