The Essential White-Tailed Deer

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Published on: Jan. 2, 2004

Last revision: Nov. 16, 2010

"When Daniel Boone goes by, at night,
The phantom deer arise
And all lost, wild America Is burning in their eyes."
--Stephen Vincent Benét

Peering through the green leaves of the river bottom forest, the hunter searched the edge of the densely wooded hillside. The rain had stopped. Mist and low clouds moved rapidly south as a north wind pushed the summer storm ahead of it, rippling across grasses and wildflowers.

Water dripped occasionally from the massive hackberry tree under which he had taken refuge, threatening to dampen the priming in the lock of his muzzle loading rifle. Flipping back the frizzen, he quickly inspected the powder in the pan and then closed it again. The powder was dry and would ignite if he needed it.

Already the woods were coming to life after several hours of rain. A slight movement at the dark forest edge riveted his attention. A few moments later, he made out the doe's ocher-colored head as she flicked at the flies with her ear. When she stepped out into the open, he slowly raised his rifle...

This hunt could have taken place a few months ago, during the muzzleloader portion of the deer season, or 200 years ago, when the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled up the Missouri River. White-tailed deer were abundant then and are again abundant today.

The white-tailed deer was without a doubt the most important wild animal during the settlement of Missouri. For the first frontiersmen, as well as for tribes like the Sac, the Fox, the Osage and the Missouri's, the white-tailed deer meant survival.

Trappers and voyageurs also depended on the dried meat of deer for sustenance as they probed up every stream and river that fed into the immense Missouri river drainage. They made knife handles from the antlers of deer and wore moccasins of deer skin.

More than any other animal, white-tailed deer were the reason these hunters stalked the shadowy edges of the hardwood wilderness. They also hunted elk and buffalo and trapped beaver and otter, but deer skins were a valuable medium of exchange. So common was the known value of a skin (about one dollar) that it became synonymous with "buck."

The seasonal take of deer skins allowed the first Anglo-American hunters to pay off their notes of credit and re-supply their hunting parties with powder and ball, as well as shirts, rifles,

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