No Deer Hunting Back Then

In the Borreson family, there are stories aplenty of baseball and skiing, but to my knowledge, there are no stories of the Emil Borreson picking up his gun and joining a deer hunt. In recent years deer hunting is such a part of Wisconsin life that it’s almost like high holy days on many a calendar. That’s not always been the case.

One of the summers I was doing carpentry work with my maternal grandfather, he told in lively detail and laughter of the first time a neighbor spotted a deer in this part of Trempealeau County, Ettrick Township. Within hours, he said, anyone who could find a gun was out in the woods trying to bring home a buck. I don’t know what year that was, but let me offer a look at whitetail deer coming to Trempealeau County. We’ll understand why Emil and his ancestors couldn’t be deer hunters – well, at least not in southern Wisconsin.

According to On the Hunt: The History of Deer Hunting in Wisconsin (Robert C. Willging, 2008) which often quotes an earlier source, this is what the deer herd looked liked in Trempealeau in the last hundred years.

1912. A state map showing the range of deer: in Trempealeau County, there were no deer indicated, not one. Our grandfather Emil turned 40 that fall.

1929. A survey of conversation wardens estimating deer taken in the state: in Trempealeau County, 10.

1939. A state map of the summer range for deer. In Trempealeau County, no deer except two isolated occurences and a “scarce” area for deer in the very southwest corner of the county.

1932-1954. The estimated total deer harvest for all those years: 3,000 in Trempealeau County.

1962. The Trempealeau County deer harvest was 45,835. (This was the year I graduated from high school. Many of the preceding years, my father Garven would hunt for days without seeing a deer. For better luck, he’d go into adjacent Jackson County, a deer haven long before Trempealeau.)

2007. The Wisconsin deer harvest was 402,563, almost nine times greater than 45 years earlier. Small wonder we “take” many with our cars too.

In the year 1900 when grandfather Emil was 28 years old,  the estimated deer harvest for the entire state was just 3,500 – and none of that was in Trempealeau County. If Emil were around today, he’d probably shake his head in disbelief at the deer stories told by his sons and their families about the days marked in orange on the fall calendar – maybe even on his own farm!

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