Deer hunting: a Natchez tradition

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Deer hunting is a tradition for this area that goes as far back as the first native people who inhabited the region.

By the time the French came to settle the region in 1710s, hunting of deer was a major necessity for the native people. The meat was one of their main sources of protein, the hides were their major source for leather, and the bones were used to make implements such as hoes for their gardens.

Antoine Simon Le Page du Pratz, a Frenchman who lived in French Louisiana from 1718 to 1734, and for eight of those years resided among Natchez, wrote that when a native hunter hunted by himself he took with him a dried deer head with part of the skin of the neck fastened to it which was stretched out and kept in place by split cane inside the skin, so that hunter’s hands and arms could fit inside.

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When he sees one he approaches as slowly as possible, hiding behind a bush which he also carries, until he is close enough to take a shot. Should the deer begin to shake his head and appear ready to run the hunter then makes grunting and snorting noises like a deer. This usually entices the buck to advance toward the hunter.

The hunter further adds to this deception by moving the deer head up and down to give the appearance of a grazing deer. When the deer gets within an easy shooting range and turns sideways to the hunter, the hunter fires at the shoulder of the deer, and this usually kills the animal.

By the early 1800s a large male deer’s hide was equivalent in value to a dollar, and a dollar was worth about 10 times what it is today. This led to people comparing the price of an item to male deer hide, and if it were worth a dollar then it was worth a buck.

By the 1830s hunting deer became a recreational sport for the most of the plantation owners. Joseph Holt Ingraham, who taught foreign languages at Jefferson College in the 1830s, and who authored two travel books about the south in 1830s wrote about a deer hunt he participated in south of Natchez in his second book.

Ingraham wrote that at that time deer were in great abundance in river bottom lands and scattered forest throughout the region. In all the great houses there were found deer heads with impressive antlers mounted on the walls and that almost all the planters were avid deer hunters.

The deer hunting tradition continues to the present and hunters, both local people and those that come from out of town and out of state, spend a lot of money to hunt deer here.

Clark Burkett is a historian at Historic Jefferson College.