The rifle Roy Boyer used back in the 1950s was a 30-30.

It was the opening hours of the rifle deer season with a flurry of activity in Roy Boyer’s farm kitchen in Rush Township, Northumberland County. Fresh aromas of coffee, toast and eggs lingered as family and neighbors gathered for their annual rendezvous. Hunting stories were always on the menu.

“Remember the time Harvey shot that doe and didn’t even know he shot it?” commented Boyer.

“Yeah, and the shells were only 15 steps away from where we found that doe, too,” piped up another.

Laughter rings out from the table. On and on the stories continue as they gulp down coffee. The year was 1955.

Don Cotner Sr., Henry Reeder, Ray Hendricks, Glenn Mettler, Joe and Ed Gross, Carl Yeager and brothers Paul, Jack and Bill Boyer were just a few of the local farmers and family members who gathered at Boyer’s farm throughout the 1950s. Most of those hunters have now gone on to happier hunting grounds, but the memories of those days still linger.

From his home near Selinsgrove, Boyer took a step back in time to reminisce about his hunting days.

“I remember ol’ Henry Reeder was really a good shot,” Boyer recalls. “Some said he just liked to show off, but he didn’t miss. In fact, when he stopped hunting he still had his first box of rifle shells.”

Now 85, Boyer was 16 when he first hunted with his father, Asher Boyer. “My mother wouldn’t let me hunt,” he said. “ I had two uncles killed by guns. One was shot at a shooting match, and the other was handling a revolver and it went off accidentally.”

He doesn’t ever recall his father teaching him hunting techniques or safety. “I just tagged along and watched what he did, I guess,” he said trying to remember.

Oftentimes on the first day of deer season, the hunting gang would have enough names to fill two rosters. “We never had less than 15 hunters in our group.”

Because of the harsh frigid winter weather, oftentimes hunting in snow, he made the decision to purchase a Woolrich hunting outfit consisting of lined woolen pants and a coat. “I think it cost around $45, and that was a lot of money back in those days.”

Boyer recalls one year in the 1950s attempting to hunt deer in more than 18 inches of snow. “The wind was blowing snow all around, and it was really, really cold. We tried to put on a few drives, but oh my, it was rough walking. We gave up at noon.”

He agrees that current winters are simply no match for what winters in the 1950s were like. “We certainly have milder winters with less snow now,” he said.

The motley group of hunters would often ride on the back of pickup trucks to their destinations. “We hunted for deer by putting on small drives,” Boyer explained. “There were very, very few deer around.”

In fact, on his 153-acre farm, one or two were seen throughout the year. Still they hunted. “We never worried that we’d run out of deer; there was always some around to hunt.”

This group of hunters knew what it was like to really hunt for deer. There was no easy way if they were going to score. They paraded through woodlands from Rush Township to Klinesgrove to the Snydertown hollow and farms beyond. “We never asked permission to hunt,” he said when asked. “It was just an accepted thing among farmers.”

Boyer was never one to be on stand. “I just didn’t have the patience to sit and wait.”

He was one of the hunters who traipsed through fields and woodlands and estimated that perhaps the gang covered a couple thousand acres during the span of the two-week buck and three-day doe seasons. “If I did take a stand, I’d take a location no one else wanted.”

Though his memory isn’t what it used to be, he did remember a rare treat. “It was the last day of buck season, and we kicked out 25 doe.”

Thinking they would harvest some of the doe in doe season, they later returned to the same area. “We didn’t see a one.”

Boyer also remembers the time he saw a large buck. “I guess I got what they call buck fever because I missed with my .308 Winchester,” he said, disappointment still in his voice.

“I never got a really nice buck,” he said. “They all had small racks.”

In all the years he hunted, Boyer never once heard of a woman hunting. Hunting was totally a man’s sport. Boyer’s four sons hunted for a few years, but once the farm was sold, they lost interest in the sport. Ironically, his only daughter is the one who continues the hunting tradition in the family. Her name is Connie Mertz, the author of this story.

n Connie Mertz is a hunter and nature enthusiast from Danville. Contact her at:

Deer hunting in the 1950s

*** In 1953, bucks were legal if they had two or more points to one antler and a three-inch spike.

*** In 1952, special doe licenses were under a county quota system, each one costing $1.15.

*** In 1958, the Pennsylvania Game Commission inaugurated a firearms and hunter safety education program.

*** In 1958, the Safety Zone Program was created. If landowners owned at least 50 acres and permitted public hunting, the commission provided signs and free subscriptions to Pennsylvania Game News.

*** In 1955, close to 900,000 hunting licenses were sold at $3.15

*** In 1955, there were 547 hunting-related shooting incidents; 19 were fatal.

*** In the 1950s, there were no flourescent orange regulations.

*** In 1950, the total deer harvest was 54,817. By 1958, the harvest had increased to 111,925.

(In 2007, the total deer harvest was 323,070)

*** In 1954, and again in 1956, no antlerless season was held.

— Information taken from the Pennsylvania Game Commission Web site as well as “Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Conservation History.”

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