Tag Archives: deer

Deer Hunting Traditions of the Apache

The following notes are from this book:

People called Apache. Mails, Thomas, E. 1974. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Chiricahua women hunted when necessary, but it was a man’s responsibility.

The Apache practiced fasting before hunting deer. They would not eat onions or put on anything aromatic. Such taboos were the norm among American Indians, and worked (including fasting) to greatly reduce the smell of the hunter that the deer may otherwise detect. No baskets brought along for a hunt, since that signaled overconfidence.

The Apache hunted alone or in groups. Mostly they hunted with bow and arrow. Sometimes mounted men or relays of footrunners ran deer till they were exhausted, when the men then roped and strangled them. Running deer negatively affected the taste of the meat, so it was not a preferred method.
Deer head and antelope head masks were used for stalking, but not elk-head masks, since the hunters did not think the latter necessary. Perhaps elk are wiser, or probably just less friendly to strange elk. The deer heads were filled out with grass and the skin was sewn and tied to fit the head and stay on. Clothing or covering the color of the deer was worn, and while stalking, the hunter acted like a grazing deer. Deer were approached from downwind. If they were in the open, the hunters crawled long distances while keeping brush in front of them to hide. The deer were called by making a whistling sound through a leaf held horizontally along the lips. This may be in imitation of the bleating of a fawn, as some California Indians practiced.

Deer were sometimes hunted by the Apache after heavy snows and cold drove deer down into the flatlands.

The Apache cultivated corn, pumpkins, beans, melons, and potatoes, so were well aware that a field of half-grown corn became an excellent hunting ground when deer and other animals were attracted to the produce.

The Mescalero snared deer by hanging a string of head nooses along the deers’ favorite trails.
The kill was skinned and cut up immediately. This was done by traditional rules as where to begin and ceremonial gestures to use. The head and hoofs were brought home to assure future luck in the hunt. These were also valuable parts, the brain being mainly used to tan buckhides, hoofs used for glue and rattles, and both had many other uses. The hides were tanned or left as rawhide, either way with hair on or off, and used for moccasins, robes, blankets, saddlebags, and many other articles. The Chiricahua used thread from sinew along the backbone and leg bones of large animals, preferably deer, but also horses and steers. Sinew from alongside the backbone and hind legs were used by the Apache for bowstrings. The ends of two or three wet pieces were spliced and stuck together to form a long string, which was doubled over and the two parts were twisted  by putting a stick through the looped end. The finished string was placed on the bow and its length was adjusted as necessary. Awls were made from wood and from the sharpened leg bone of a deer. Deer’s blood was mixed with poisonous plants or spit and allowed to rot, then placed on arrowheads as a arrow poison. These are a handful of the dozens of other uses for deer parts.
Meat was jerked (preserved by drying into jerky) by cutting into long thin strips with the grain, then spreading it over bushes such as mesquite to dry. When dry, it was pounded until it was compact and stored in cowhide bags.

One method to cook deer meat was to roast it on a spit hanging over a dry cedar fire. Venison stew was also made.

The Chiricahua made acorns into a kind of pemmican. The acorn meal was mixed with ground dried deer meat and fat, then rolled into little balls that stored all winter and served as high-quality nutrition emergency food for trips.

In 1980 it was estimated that 50% of California was covered by deer, at a density of about 13 per square mile (Hiezer and Elsasser 1980). Just harvesting 1/10th of these deer, or 125,000 out of 1,250,000, would provide about a little more than a pound of venison per person per day (Hiezer and Elsasser 1980). [Ref: Natural World of the California Indians. UC Berkeley Press.]

See other recent posts about deer hunting:

Hunters Take Aim for Conservation

Deer Drive Hunt Method of California Indians

My colored pencil drawing of a deer fawn standing in water.

Deer Drive Hunt Method of California Indians

It’s open deer season for about another month here in California, and many hunters are afield trying to shoot a buck. I just spent 5 days stillhunting for deer (plus squirrels and mountain quail) with my bow and arrows. I only saw a few does, so plan on an ambush-style hunt next time. Common modern methods include sitting in a blind at an area deer are known to visit, stillhunting/stalking, luring with calls, decoys, and scents, and perhaps most effective of all, group drive hunts.

The California Indians employed all this methods, and had many more elaborate and clever ways of capturing deer. They often disguised themselves as deer, taxidermied head with antlers and all, imitating a grazing deer while approaching, getting as close as inside the herd if necessary before shooting several before they could all escape. Such a method is risky now since other hunters are liable to see and shoot you. The Indians usually knew everyone in the area and when and where they were hunting, and were also probably more able to distinguish a imitator from a real deer. The Indians also used snares to catch deer, sometimes made from the fine edges of the leaves of Iris douglasiana.

Group drive hunts of many varieties were the norm among California Indians, and such hunts probably served to provide the majority of the deer meat and other products throughout the year for most tribes. Modern hunters do group drive hunts; they post half the hunters in a line at a good shooting spot, then the other half walks spread out in a line, driving deer toward the posted line. The Indians often did this with the posted line on the opposite side of a creek, shooting the deer as they crossed the water and were in the open and vulnerable while swimming. Shooting animals near watering areas is illegal in California now, but other natural or artificial formations can assist in a drive hunt. The Indians in the Mendocino County area of California used a long fence of maple bark to form a trap line to direct deer to a central spot to be killed by hidden hunters there.

The inner bark of bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) was used to make a deer trap, being cut into bands about an inch wide, and fastened together for over a mile long into a continuous roll, which was then carried to the appropriate spot, and the band strung on stakes about four feet high to create a very long V-shaped fence, with the apex extending into a valley and the ends terminating at the mouth of two adjacent canyons (Chesnut 1902). This location was chosen for its excellent browse with deer known to feed there (Chesnut 1902). When the fence was strung taut, and deer were feeding inside the V, Indians disguised like animals, and each carrying brittle sticks, a piece of smoldering oak, and a bone dagger were stationed at the end of the lines and in the middle, and some then stealthily approached the deer from the open part of the V (Chesnut 1902). If deer came near the band of maple, one of the Indians would shake the band, frightening the deer back, and if deer attempted to pass an approaching man he would break a stick, or expose the glowing oak bark (Chesnut 1902). In this manner, the deer were corralled into the apex of the V, where the Indians would suddenly jump up and kill the deer with bone daggers (Chesnut 1902).

A maple band seems easily replaced with metal or plastic banding that similarly made an alarming noise when rattled. Since making a long band of inner bark of maple is the most time-consuming part of this method, modern hunters might profitably mimic this method to legally hunt deer. Of course the bone daggers would need to be replaced with bow or firearms legal for taking deer.

The deer provided a principal meat source for California Indians, and provided bones, antlers, hide, sinew, brains, and hoofs to make dozens of essential daily tools of the Indians. Colonists stove to extirpate all predators they encountered, so in current times, deer overpopulation is a major problem throughout California and the US. Hunters, especially deer hunters, are the number one group of (financial) supporters of conservation in the US. So do your job to help conserve more public lands such as our National Forests and BLM lands and keep the deer populations at healthy numbers for them and the ecosystem by buying a hunting license and deer tags and feeding your family the healthiest and cheapest meat in the world!