Montgomery, AL Paper
By Mike Handley
Internet provides forum for anxious deer hunters
When the Detroit Free Press broke the news of an alleged new world record whitetail almost a year ago, the newspaper’s Web site became a mecca for computer-saavy deer hunters.
Now, however, since the Michigan man who arrowed the buck is refusing to submit it to record-keeping agencies, the Internet is no longer abuzz with speculation about the deer that would be king. With the dawning of a new hunting season, talk has turned to new gear, techniques and -- for Southerners -- whitetails closer to home.
Hundreds of Web sites exist for deer hunters who can navigate the information superhighway. These channels enable people throughout the world to get acquainted with the latest gadgetry, gawk at large-antlered bucks and to communicate with kindred spirits.
The spelling isn’t always correct, and the fragmented sentences might annoy lovers of the language. Yet the sites’ most popular attractions are the "chat rooms."
Stephen Franklin, 24, a graduate student at Auburn University, spends at least 30 minutes every morning surfing the Web and visiting his favorite hunting sites. One of his frequent destinations is the chat room at aldeer.com, which is dedicated to deer hunting in Alabama.
"I like to see what the other hunters have to say about deer management," he said. "I’ve had a lot of guys give me good advice.
"I also like the variety of topics. And you can ask a question and get six or seven answers by the next day," he added. "For getting information, you can’t beat (the Internet)."
Another Web site that Franklin often visits is Buckmasters.com, and he’ll sometimes view the pages of some of Alabama’s commercial hunting lodges.
Part of what draws him to Buckmasters’ Web site are the stories involving big deer. And when he tires of looking at whitetails bagged in other parts of the country, he’ll start surfing the pages of commercial lodges like White Oak Plantation, the Alabama River Lodge and Master Rack Lodge.
"I like looking at their pictures -- of the same type of deer that I’m actually hunting," he said.
Dennis Goldsby of Lucy, Tenn., feels the same way. When he couldn’t find anything about hunting deer in Tennessee, he built his own Web site, tndeer.com, in July 1998.
"All I saw was national sites. There was nothing there for my state," said the 40-year-old computer programmer and avid hunter. "I just thought I’d put something together with everything I know about deer hunting in Tennessee, then I started rolling."
Now tndeer gets about 700 hits (visits) a day, some of them from Alabamians who hunt north of the Tennessee River. It was one of those visitors, a man from Mobile, who persuaded Goldsby to create an Alabama Web site.
Goldsby launched aldeer.com, his newest of four, last March. It is already being visited more than twice as much as msdeer.com, which began six months earlier.
"It has blown the Mississippi site out of the water," he said, adding that Alabama’s gets 315 hits a day to Mississippi’s 120. "Even the North Carolina site (ncdeer.com), which also began about a year ago, is behind Alabama’s in traffic."
Goldsby designs and builds the sites at home, after he’s finished his eight hours as a computer programmer for Federal Express.
After he develops a site, he uploads it to a server in Memphis. After work, he usually spends a couple of hours a day -- all the time he can muster -- monitoring them from home.
Because of his limited time, these are not money-making ventures for Goldsby. He doesn’t actively seek sponsorships or advertisements, and he doesn’t promote his sites.
"People have just spread the word, especially down there," he said of aldeer. "It’s the type of site the hunters want -- all about their own state.
"The Tennessee site was a hobby," he continued. "I guess I did it for the other states because people asked for it.
"My wife keeps saying ‘Where’s the money?’ I think it’ll be there whenever I get the time to push it," he said. "For now, I’m just happy to be providing a popular service. Plus, I get a lot of new toys to try out from manufacturers because I’ll write and post product reviews. That’s pretty cool!"
The most popular areas in all of Goldsby’s sites are the chat rooms. Other features that draw a lot of attention are the classified ads, which are free to post, and the sunrise/sunset tables.
Visitors will also find their states’ seasons and regulations, a Trophy Room (photo gallery), venison recipes, weather information and the moon phases.
Lyn Wheatley, director of Internet marketing for Buckmasters, says that between 150,000 and 175,000 people view the Montgomery-based site each month, and they spend an average of 13 minutes online. The favorite destinations are the "Who’s the Buckmaster?" game, state-by-state hunting seasons, three different photo galleries of hunters with their deer, the "Buck Talk" chat room, pages listing outfitters and gear for sale, and the free, downloadable screen savers and wallpaper.
"They come for the products, services and information, and not necessarily in that order," he said of the visitors to Buckmasters.com. But he cannot paint a portrait of the average user.
"We know who reads our magazines, but, because of the sheer volume, we don’t know that about our Web site," he said.
The number of visitors has doubled for the past two years in a row, which Wheatley sees as an indicator that folks enjoy the content on the site’s 500 pages.
Goldsby has a better idea about who visits his Tennessee site. According to the responses to a survey posted recently on tndeer, the majority of users (96 percent of the respondents) are males between the ages of 30 and 40.
A third of them view the Web site three times a week; 17 percent call it up once a day; 15 percent visit it monthly; 12 percent more than three times weekly; 11 percent visit tndeer more than once a day; and 12 percent of the respondents were first-time visitors.
Sixty percent access the site from home, 30 percent from the workplace, and 10 percent visit from both locations.
Franklin’s forays into cyberland are limited.
Right now, he doesn’t own a computer; he uses one on campus. When he finishes his studies at AU, however, he plans to buy one.
"It’s at the top of my list," he said.