2007-08-30 / Outdoors

Exhibit explores hunting's historic ties to state's culture

Since prehistoric times, deer hunting has helped define the essence of life in Michigan. While it has evolved over the years from a fundamental means of survival for Native Americans to an enormously popular sport enjoyed by more than 700,000 hunters every year, deer hunting remains integral to Michigan's very identity. From the traditions and culture of deer camp - so familiar to Michiganians they became immortalized in Jeff Daniels' movie "Escanaba in da Moonlight" - to the prominence of hunting-based businesses like Jay's Sporting Goods and hunting advocates like Fred Bear and Ted Nugent, deer hunting is a key part of Michigan's distinctive character.

"A-Hunting We Will Go: Deer Hunting in Michigan," a special exhibit that opened Aug. 4 at the Michigan Historical Museum in downtown Lansing, will tell the story of deer hunting in Michigan, with a glimpse at its beginnings and a focus on its development into the widespread pastime it is today. And it's a story the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries and Department of Natural Resources are eager to share.

"Deer hunting has changed dramatically since prehistoric times - even in the last several decades - but the connection between those early Michigan hunters and modern hunters lies in a shared understanding of and respect for the animals they hunted, a love of the outdoors and a joy in the camaraderie of the hunt," said Phil Kwiatkowski, director of the Michigan Historical Museum system. "This common bond is at the heart of what makes deer hunting a unique and important part of our state's heritage, and we're proud to fully share that story through this expansive exhibit."

Michigan, which offers more state-owned public land for recreational hunting than any other state east of the Mississippi River, ranks third in the nation in the number of licensed hunters. About 700,000 hunters take to the woods each fall in pursuit of the more than 1.7 million whitetail deer that live in the forests and fields of Michigan.

Since its formation the Department of Conservation, now the Department of Natural Resources, has sought to manage the deer herd and its habitat and to improve conditions for hunters, using the knowledge gained from research.

"Hunting is such a positive for Michigan, in that it contributes to wildlife management and conservation, provides a great opportunity for outdoor recreation and a shared family experience, and has a roughly $500 million impact on our state's economy," said DNR Director Rebecca Humphries. "The DNR, by aggressively and wisely managing the deer herd population, aims to ensure that Michigan's long, rich tradition of deer hunting continues to thrive."

"A-Hunting We Will Go: Deer Hunting in Michigan" will start with a look at the roots of Michigan's deer-hunting heritage and continue through the years to the present-day age of high-tech hunting.

For thousands of years, long before Europeans arrived in Michigan in the early 17th century, native Americans relied on deer for food and as a source for bone tools and other byproducts, Kwiatkowski said. "In the late 19th century, most deer hunting was done by professional hunters to acquire venison to sell as provisions for logging companies and railroad construction crews," he noted. "During the early 20th century, deer hunting became a sporting endeavor, but could only be enjoyed - for the most part - by the wealthy, who had the leisure time, the money and the travel capability to go on hunting trips."

It wasn't until the automotive industry gave the general public access to good-paying jobs, cars and vacation time that deer hunting became the popular and widespread sport that it is today.

Kwiatkowski said the exhibit will touch on various facets of Michigan's long relationship with deer hunting - deer camp culture, elite hunting clubs, the Department of Natural Resources and scientific research, "Escanaba in da Moonlight," Jay's Sporting Goods, Bear Archery, the connection between hunting and labor unions, the Mackinac Bridge, the lumber and railroad industries, and more - and will feature artifacts from tools used by prehistoric hunters to firearms through the ages to Ted Nugent's loincloth.

Hunters will have the opportunity to add their own buckbagging stories to Michigan's whitetail lore, as the Michigan Oral History Association will invite hunters to share their personal accounts of hunting, to be recorded and saved, during its annual meeting in November.

The Michigan Historical Museum is inside the Michigan Library and Historical Center, 702 West Kalamazoo St., two blocks west of the State Capitol in downtown Lansing. The main entrance and visitor parking are located north of Kalamazoo Street, just east of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Museum hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Admission and weekend parking are free. The exhibit will run through Jan. 15, 2008.

The Michigan Historical Museum, the flagship of the Michigan Historical Museum System, is fully accredited by the American Association of Museums. For information, visit www.michigan.gov/museum or call (517) 373-3559, TDD (517) 373-1592.

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