Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Doggie Good Time

I “had” a pheasant cape hanging in my garage, which is adjacent to my office. Now I have feathers all over my office. I also “had” a deer cape in my garage but bits of it too are now scattered all over my office. Somehow the last time I went in and out of my garage yesterday, the dogs, Cookie and my Basset Hound, Buster, managed to open the door, or more likely in my haste to get back to the house I didn’t latch the door. To make a long story short, the dogs had a great time. When I went into my office this morning Cookie ran to greet me at the door and she had a pheasant wing in her mouth. At least she retrieved it. Anyway, the first hour of work was spent cleaning up the mess. I did salvage the tail feathers but there weren’t any feathers left for fly tying.
On to the whitetail hide they found in the garage. They didn’t completely trash it, just pulled a lot of hair out so that I now have bits of whitetail hair in every part of my office. I did manage to salvage the tail so I’ve got that for some tying.
At first I was furious with the two dogs but then, while I was cleaning up, I got to thinking, they were just being dogs and having a good time. Not unlike my kitten, Ophelia, that is trying to knock everything off my desk as I write this. Every animal, when given the opportunity, will play. When I was a deputy sheriff in Custer County, Colorado (a long time ago), I watched jackrabbits, coyotes, deer and antelope all play when they were sure they were safe. Sometimes there is a thin line between vying for dominance and play and frequently they are mixed. But, there as also a lot of play by all animals even after they have reached adulthood. The wildlife was the best part of the long back country patrols and I would frequently stop and watch the animals from a distance. Cookie and Buster must have been in doggie heaven when they were playing with the capes. It was my fault for not checking the door and I’m just glad they were distracted by the capes and didn’t get into anything that could have hurt them.
When I really think about it I know that we can learn something from animals--play, it won't hurt you. Oh, make your play something that isn't connected to the way you live your life. Step away from the fishing, hunting and everything that goes with them and just play with someone.
Two, maybe three more hunts and my season will be in the books. Over the winter I’ll tie some flies and get ready for spring and spend a lot of time just thinking. glg

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Late season hunting

Yesterday the weather was actually quite nice with the ambient temperature in the low twenties so getting out with Cookie for some pheasant hunting was a no brainer. I’ve only got a few more days of hunting available and I like to get out at least an hour or two each day but we’ve got a storm coming in tonight and tomorrow might be a little “iffy” for hunting, but day after tomorrow should be good for an hour or two in the afternoon.
I’m enjoying these last few days of the season and every time I go hunting Cookie is locating birds for me but the deepening snow and severe cold is putting a lot of stress on the birds. I don’t know how many of you live in parts of the country where weather can stress the birds but here in North Dakota it is a real problem and hunters need to think about that stress when planning late season hunting. As the season progresses I prefer to go a bit farther from popular hunting areas and hunt smaller, less likely looking patches of cover. These bits of cover seldom hold more than two or three birds but Cookie and I both get some exercise and the birds seem to hold a little tighter and I can get a shot or two. Hunting a popular area that is known for its pheasants is usually a lesson in frustration because the birds will flush wild, frustrating the dog and leaving my game bag empty.
The season will end on January 4 and after that it will be a long spring and summer. glg

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Brush With Nature

I’ve lost count of the number of continuous days of sub-zero weather here in North Dakota. I do know the weather turned cold enough to freeze the sloughs and drive the waterfowl south earlier than I expected and the bitter cold has cut into my upland bird hunting. Over the past three weeks we’ve also had our share of snow storms and now that winter is officially here we can expect more of the same for two more months.
Severe winter weather is the norm for North Dakota. I know there are other parts of the country, like upstate New York, that get hammered with much more snow but we get a combination of wind, snow, and more wind with sub-zero temperatures that will quickly kill anyone who underestimates nature’s brutality. I came close to making that mistake earlier this week.
The weather was finally clear, the wind was averaging 10 mph and the ambient air temperature was only about -10 (F) and I knew that the pheasant were holed up in the thick cattails of the frozen sloughs. After loading Cookie, my possibles bag, shotgun and two vacuum bottles of coffee (a small one for my bag) I was ready to go. Because I live in North Dakota I maintain a survival kit in each of our vehicles and that kit includes some high calorie survival food. I was not worried about needing the survival kit because the drive to where I intended to hunt ringnecks was less than 25 miles. Secondly, I would be less than a hundred yards from the road because I would hunt the cattails and frozen sloughs that bordered country roads.
Everything was going well and Cookie had pointed two birds (both hens) and she was getting birdy on another and I was sure it was a rooster (gut feeling). I decided to cut across what appeared to be open ground so I could angle to where Cookie was pushing the bird (did you know that pheasant will run under the snow). If everything worked right the rooster would flush at a right angle and I’d have a good shot. Cookie had already crossed the open snow once and I had taken several steps when suddenly I was in snow up to my hips and I knew that I could quickly flounder.
The commotion panicked the pheasant (a rooster) and it flushed in what would have been an easy shot except I was preoccupied with getting out of the snow. There was no way I could walk out so I worked around until I could swim out of the snow drift. While I struggled Cookie was barking furiously at me and once grabbed at my sleeve. (Was she trying to help?) It took me several minutes and by the time I was on solid ground I was exhausted. I pulled myself up so I could conserve my body heat while I ate a couple of glucose tablets and topped that with a small cup of coffee from my little thermos. After catching my breath and regaining some internal heat I pushed myself to my feet and walked, with Cookie at heel, back to my Suburban. I unloaded my shotgun, loaded Cookie and my bag in the back and then I pushed myself into the driver’s seat and started the truck to let it warm up while I drank more coffee and fished an energy bar out of the survival kit. The total exercise of the walk around the frozen slough, through the cattails and ultimately getting out of the snow drift had lasted less than thirty minutes. The wind chill was -28 which meant that had I spent much longer struggling in the snow drift I would have been flirting with serious frost bite. Fortunately I got out with nothing more than snow under my hunting coat and in my pockets.
This short flirt with the truth about nature sent me a wake up call—I wasn’t paying attention to the elements around me. This is something that we (hunters) need to remind ourselves of every season. As the season passes we sometimes become complacent about the elements that are nature and we make mistakes. Hunters cannot afford mistakes because nature does not let us beat her, we just escape—occasionally.
Stay safe when you hunt the closing weeks of the seasons.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Getting Colder and Answering a question

Our weather has turned bitter cold, which is the norm for this country, and it tends to cut down on the number of people willing to get out and hunt. I, for one, prefer to hunt the cold weather because the birds will sit longer. I’ve had Cookie out in some areas where I know there are no deer hunters but we haven’t had much success. On Thursday I am going to try and devote most of the day to bird hunting for both grouse and pheasant. For my money I like to hunt upland birds when there is about four inches of soft snow in the ground. They won’t flush as wild as they will when there is no snow, even when the weather is cold. I’ll let you know if we have any success. In the meantime you can get a chuckle out of Cookie relaxing in front of the wood burning stove. I don’t close the dogs up in the kennel (you can see the door behind her) but let them roam through my office. I suppose some people might not find a shop converted to office, with a dog kennel at one end, comfy but I do.

Recently I was in a discussion with a non-hunter (as opposed to anti-hunter) and this simple question was put to me: “if hunting is not necessary to obtain food then why is hunting allowed?” My answer was that “hunting has, for many people, a psychological value that is important to their well-being. Also, the protection of the right to hunt, more specifically the choice about whether to participate in hunting or not to participate, is often equally important to the non-hunter as a guarantee of the recognition of fundamental rights which therefore provides them with a sense of well-being.” The person who asked me the question, actually an elderly individual, nodded and said that was good enough for him. Is it truly good enough? Can we actually reduce ourselves, as hunters, to 75+ words? I’ve been working on a very complex series of essays for Whitetails Unlimited ( that will be addressing this issue of who we are as hunters. In my research for this series, my graduate work at UND, and continuing work as a critical thinking hunting writer (as least I hope so and is that word order correct? Norcal?) I’ve found that as complex as hunting is, and the more it is truly examined, it plays a much larger positive role in our well-being, whether we are hunters or non-hunters, than the pop-shrinks (who, for some reason, are generally anti-hunting) are willing to admit. Doesn’t that beg the question of what are they actually afraid of in the hunter or the person who is a non-hunter but actually supports it? I would really like to crawl inside their minds for a look around!

Isn’t thinking fun!? glg

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Last Day, End of Day Opportunity Or......?

The end of day western sky was a brilliant pattern of washed orange, purple and fiery red that seemed to be kissing the sun goodbye after another glorious autumn day. My short walk from the hide I had made for myself in the treeline was between a field of standing corn and a plowed field. I’d parked my Suburban on the ridge of the rise in the countryside and beyond the truck was another treeline that paralleled the road. I really wasn’t too disappointed in my failure to shoot a deer because my step-son, Michael, had killed a fat, dry doe and that deer was hanging in my garage. I had promised Michael I’d skin and butcher the deer. All-in-all I was content. As I cleared the treeline and could see into the plowed field I stopped and froze. Two deer were in the open field. They were not in silhouette because of the rise of the ground but their forms were clearly visible and they were, so far, unaware of my presence and they were within range of my muzzleloader.
I found myself trying to decide whether to take a shot at the larger deer. It was a big doe with her yearling offspring and she would put a good amount of venison in my freezer. There was one problem—it was now about fifteen minutes past legal shooting time even though I could still see the deer. I could shoot the large doe and I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a problem because the wildlife officers were seldom in this area so in truth I was on my own. The decision to obey both the letter and spirit of the law or shoot a deer in the last few minutes of light was mine alone.
I sighted in on the big doe and ultimately caved in to the ethics that were tugging at my hunting shirt and I didn’t shoot. I took two more steps and the deer saw my movement and took off with their tails flashing in the fading light. When I reached my truck I used my binoculars to scan the area around me and I couldn’t see a parked vehicle or one on any of the roads. I probably could have shot and tagged the deer then loaded it in my truck without anyone caring—except me. It is not that I walk to a higher moral standard than any other hunter but as with all hunters it is often when we are alone that we find ourselves being asked to honor the ethics of hunting—when no one will ever see us do it.
Interesting, isn’t it. Glg
PS Any of you who are interested can read a feature about Cookie (my dog) and her first retrieve of a Giant Canada Goose. The story is in the December, 2008 issue of Family Fish & Game magazine.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lead in Venison

Last summer I wrote an article about the issue of lead in venison for Whitetails Unlimited magazine (Fall, 2008, I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the issue but last March (2008), a North Dakota dermatologist, Dr. William Cornatzer, conducted a series of CT (CAT) scans of ground venison. (These tests are now known as the Cronatzer Tests.) The scans revealed tiny particles of lead in the venison (the photo is one of the CT images of the ground venison) and a result was that several health departments panicked and ordered several tons (that’s right—tons) of venison stocked by food pantries throughout several states to be destroyed. At the same time North Dakota requested that the Center for Disease Control conduct a study of hunters and non-hunters to determine if there is any evidence of elevated levels of lead among those who consume venison. When the results were finally published the CDC results did show that those who regularly eat venison do have an elevated amount of lead in their blood. But, and this is important, the amount of lead is negligible and should not be of any concern because it is not dangerous. Except, and this is the exception that proves the rule, any amount of lead, even an amount that is otherwise of no threat, can be a danger to women who are pregnant or to very small children.

The venison in lead issue is interesting because it is a very polarizing issue. Within the hunting industry an immediate, knee-jerk reaction has been to claim that the issue has been manufactured by the Peregrine Falcon Fund and other far left organizations as a means to ban lead hunting ammunition. Others in the industry maintain that there is absolutely no credible evidence to support the theory of lead in venison. I disagree with both. In researching the WU article I read the results of seven different studies on whether lead appears in venison. Admittedly most of these studies were focused on the lead question as it relates to raptors but the results are the same for both hunters and raptors—big game that is shot by hunters does have some lead particles in it. At least that is how I read the results of the various studies. When the ammunition manufacturers are asked about the lead issue they maintain that it cannot happen but when I asked a gunsmith if it can occur his answer was to weigh a bullet before shooting it into ballistic compound or an animal carcass then weigh all the parts of the bullet you can recover. “The amount of lead you recover will not equal the original weight. Where did it go?” His point is made.

There is no reason for anyone to panic and quit hunting or even to switch from their favorite ammunition—just exercise a little common sense. First, be sure your marksmanship is up to the task of a one shot kill and place your bullet in the heart/lung area and not the heavy meat areas of the shoulder. Second, before butchering your deer be sure to cut away the wound channel and don’t use any of the meat near the channel. You will not be able to see any lead particulates, they are microscopic. You could also be a true conservationist and if you hunt in an area that is home habitat for any threatened raptors hunt with non-lead ammunition, whether hunting upland game birds or big game you’ll be helping wildlife.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I cut my deer hunting teeth on mule deer even though I grew up in Oklahoma where today whitetail deer are like fleas (as they are in many parts of the country). There were no deer around my hometown in the 50s through 70s and to hunt deer we drove 557 miles to CaƱon City, Colorado. I was 12 when I went on my first deer hunt and although I was not allowed to carry a rifle the experience stayed with me. Sometimes, when I am tired of seeing my words on this screen, I slip the DVD of home movies into my computer and skip through it until I reach that deer hunt then I sit back to watch and relive it. Twenty-plus years after that hunt, in 1988, I wrote a short story titled “Coming Home” which is about coming home from the Vietnam War in 1969 and being unable to shoot a rabbit. It was another nine years after the rabbit hunt in that story before I could again hunt.
Now I live as close to my hunting as possible and on many of the days I don’t hunt I do something that is, in some way, associated with hunting.
This evening I went whitetail hunting and spent the last 45 minutes of shooting light sitting near a slough some deer call home. I’m hunting for the kitchen not the wall so I’m looking for a big, dry doe but today the only thing I watched was a jackrabbit and a true trophy whitetail buck.
Trophy hunting is an interesting issue. Some people detest it and others are wild about it. If you want to learn about successful trophy whitetail hunts you might want to get a copy of the 2001 book Legendary Whitetails II (Legendary Whitetails II: Stories and Photos of 40 More of the Greatest Bucks of all Time). This is a collection of 40 stories about some of the greatest whitetail bucks ever killed by hunters. The stories are fascinating looks into trophy hunting and the hunters dedicated to it. For many years I loudly opposed trophy hunting until several biologists told me those trophy hunters are important to opening the gene pool and insuring healthy herds of deer, especially in areas where the deer tend to concentrate. Okay, I can buy that argument.
I've even learned a few things from the stories in that book, however, because my deer hunting began with mule deer I have accumulated several shelves of books on whitetail hunting and a book that I actually refer to for sound advice was written by Dave Richey back in 1986 and reprinted by Lyons Press in 2001. Richey’s book, The Ultimate Guide to Deer Hunting (The Ultimate Guide to Deer Hunting: Tips and Tactics for Every Situation), has helped me transition my thinking from only hunting mule deer to successfully hunting whitetail deer. It is just a good good book on deer hunting and it has lasted because it is good.
Both of these books are about big deer—trophy deer. Maybe you don’t agree with the idea of trophy deer hunting and you are like me, hunting for the freezer. On the other hand I’ve never met a hunter who did not stop to marvel at a trophy buck and it isn’t uncommon to see a little green in the eyes of most meat hunters.
Whether you meat or trophy hunt I hope you have a great and safe season.
PS Next Blog I want to talk about lead in venison. I wrote an article on this subject for Whitetails Unlimited magazine and it is worth reading. I have my views and they are not popular with some people in the world of hunting.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Back from Woodcutting

Whew! The last two weeks have been a nightmare of too much work! We have been having some really outstanding weather and I had to take the opportunity to get ready for winter. Besides, for some strange reason the waterfowl that normally hang around this area until the sloughs and lakes are frozen have all left early. Without ducks and geese to hunt I decided to cut my winter’s supply of firewood. I have a wood burning box stove in my office and it is something that keeps me warm in both body and mind.
I am sure that most people would have been able to cut and split the same amount of firewood in a quarter of the time it took me but I work a lot slower than most people. I enjoy the exercise, the feeling of being closer to our world and in winter’s depths there is a connection that I truly enjoy. Unfortunately my writing (here and elsewhere) suffered while I cut firewood. Each day I came home, put Cookie in her kennel, put away my tools, showered, ate dinner and fell into bed! Now my wood is cut, split, stacked and I’m ready for winter—until something else comes along that must be done before the mercury plummets! Until then I’m back at work, only to be interrupted by fishing or hunting! Which will be every day!

A Friend Is Gone

I don’t know how many of you knew of the outdoor writer and broadcaster Tony Dean. He was very well known in the upper tier states and over his career won dozens of awards in broadcasting and writing. For sportsmen Tony Dean was more than a great source of information about where and when to go fishing and hunting, he was a tireless advocate of the rights of hunters and a proponent of maintaining the Conservation Reserve Program. Last week we lost Tony to complications following an appendectomy. Tony was only 67 and our world is a lot poorer without him.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Rained Out & Is there a link between computer games and hunting ethics?

If last weekend’s weather had turned any worse I would have needed a boat!
I was all set for the opening of pheasant season and then the weather turned to bite me where it hurts! There was rain, lots of rain, and it was cold. Sometimes the drops of rain felt like hail stones and not raindrops. Cookie and I put the hunting bag away to wait for better weather. At least next week I can take off in the middle of the week and go south for some pheasant hunting.
One task I did take care of was gun cleaning. My muzzle loader was showing the effects of being in the weather and there was the threat of rust. I scrubbed the barrels clean and worked on all the exposed metal surfaces until it was Marine inspection clean. Part of that cleaning included getting into the area of the hammer that falls on the primer (I have no idea what the technical name for that is). I’ve had some misfire problems with one barrel and I suspected it was residue building up inside that part of the hammer. I don’t know if that was the real problem but I did clean out quite a bit of nasty black stuff so I am hopeful that I solved that problem.
One problem not so easily resolved is that of increasing questionable behavior by younger hunters. Since the season opened I’ve discovered that many high school boys who are hunting unsupervised, if the hunting is slow, have taken to shooting songbirds. I think that every boy who owns a BB gun has taken a shot or two at a sparrow or robin, sometimes even with a shotgun, but after the initial experience and the accompanying guilt the practice usually stops. Is that no longer the case? I know one group of boys that spends a great deal of their free time playing extremely violent games. There is the sound of bullet strikes, moans of the characters being shot and splatters of blood to add realism. But everything is make-believe so it doesn’t count—right?
I’ve gone through several cycles where I’ve maintained the games are bad, and then I’ve decided they are just glorified versions of the role games my generation played as kids. Now I am drifting back to believing that these games, whether it is a WWII (Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, pick your war) game or attacking three-headed monsters, creates an emptiness toward understanding the value of a life. Is it really possible to play hour after hour of on screen mayhem and then go hunting with real guns and switch from no value on life (even though it is digital) to having a value for life? Certainly the hunter kills but not wantonly and not without consideration for why he killing an animal.
There’s a problem here I do not have a solution but it does deserve some serious thought. I would like to learn what others think. glg

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This is our time of year. It does not matter if you hunt with a bow, muzzle loader, “modern” arms, or more exotically with a bird of prey, the point is you hunt. We feel a stirring deep within our souls and it is linked to nature’s change of colors and the cooler mornings and evenings. At some point we wake up, look around and realize that the season most important to us is about to open and we have a check list of unfinished tasks. That’s where I now find myself except the favorite season is one that I may never hunt in again—the Greater Prairie Chicken season of Kansas. One of the few bird hunts I managed to make with my brother, Richard, was for Prairie Chickens in the flint hills near Wichita. At the time neither of use knew that cancer was already eating at him and we would never again hunt together. That weekend was a great hunt and it was made even greater by the presence of Gretel, my Springer Spaniel. When she flushed and retrieved a prairie chicken for Richard she became a special dog and after that moment she was welcome in the house and no longer regulated to the basement or garage.
Both Richard and Gretel are now gone and I doubt I will ever again hunt the flint hills of Kansas, but on occasion, when I need it most, a reminder of that hunt pops up in mysterious places. Oftentimes, when the stress of life begins to pile up on me and I feel the seams coming apart I’ll find a reminder of that hunt in unexpected places—a tiny feather. Why’s that important? On the day of Richard’s funeral, when we buried him, I reached into my London Fog coat pocket and found a tiny feather from his prairie chicken. Since then, when I am feeling the stress of life and I find a feather in a pocket I stop to look at the feather and remember that hunt when it was just my oldest brother, my dog, and me in the Kansas flint hills and the world isn’t quote so bad after all. This is something that can only be understood by the hunter, for others it is simply mystical nonsense and wishful thinking. I feel sorry for those people.
Have a good weekend of hunting; I’m headed south for pheasant. glg

Monday, October 6, 2008

CNN and Doggie Thinking

It’s Monday and we’re into our second day of serious rains. I did manage to get out on Saturday and got in a little shooting but Sunday was rained out, as was my plan for a Monday morning duck hunt. Oh well. I did finish some paperwork.
Tomorrow morning should be just about perfect for some slough hunting for mallards. I’ve got two sloughs that are within a few minutes and I can hunt them and be back to start writing by mid-morning. I think Cookie will be pleased. She has been pestering me to get out and hunt more. When she wants me to go hunting she’ll put her chin on me leg and whine, then when I ask her what she wants and I stand up she runs to the back of my office where my hunting jacket is hanging and she tries to grab it. Sometimes I think she is much smarter than I will ever be able to understand. I wonder what the world would be like if those of us who have a hunting dog in our family listened more to our dogs and less to CNN. glg

Friday, October 3, 2008

Free To Hunt and Night Flight

The weekend has finally arrived and by the end of today I will have finished those troublesome chores that have kept me from spending more time hunting. Judging from the weather in the West (which will get here in a few days) I am finishing the painting, repairs and other house maintenance work with only a few days to spare. This means, of course, that I am going to finally be free to do more grouse and waterfowl hunting without feeling guilty about leaving things undone. I realize that I am very fortunate because I can go out in the morning, spend an hour or two, come home and work in my office or do those pesky little day-to-day chores that are always waiting just out of sight, but not out of mind, then go back out in the afternoon for an end of day hunt.

I am sure that many of us have the experience of hearing night flights of waterfowl as they fly overhead. Usually these are flights of geese and their loud honking causes us to stop whatever we are doing and look into the night sky hoping to catch a glimpse of the birds. If there is a bright moon there is a good chance we'll see the birds and it will be like a painting coming to life. But how many of us have ever had the experience of seeing flights of waterfowl silhouetted against the stars? Last night, while I was working outside, I heard the geese and I looked up but there wasn't any moon to illuminate the flight. On a hunch I tuned off my work light and looked at the stars. At first I just saw the stars wink out then return. There were so many birds milling around, headed for the large sloughs north of town, that after a few minutes I could see them in the dark sky. In the light of the stars I could see the darker forms that were the geese--hundreds of them--circling over our small town and waiting for their turn to settle on the water. I forgot my work and let my eyes and my mind's eye picture the birds that were overhead. They were dark shapes that passed between my eyes and the stars and made my laugh out loud. At that moment I didn't care about hunting or guns, only about hearing and seeing the birds and knowing they were there.
Isn't that a feeling that from time to time all of us get and want to hang on to for as long as we can?
Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Nobility of Hunting

The other day when I missed a grouse I wanted to believe that it really wasn't a big deal, except maybe to Cookie, she wanted to retrieve the bird but I wasn't even close enough to do more than elicit that sharptail cackle of "you missed me." Cookie didn't give me a dirty look, just a disappointed look. I knew I was trying to fool myself.

Since the season opener this was the first grouse I've managed to put up in range and only the third or fourth I've actually seen. Had I been hunting with semi-auto, pump or even double 20 or 12 gauge and shooting decent high brass loads and not my 12 gauge double-barreled muzzle loader I am sure that grouse would have been dinner by now. Instead of a good, clean kill, however, I got a good, clean miss. Now, if I could lay claim to that title of the perfect sportsman who is in the field only "for the experience" I would write that it wasn't the kill but the thrill of watching Cookie wind, scent, find and point the bird that was my motivation for being out. I'm not a perfect sportsman. I wanted a bird in my game bag. I wanted the thrill of seeing through the thin cloud of smoke from the muzzle loader and watching the bird tumble to the ground. I wanted to feel the warmth of the bird when my dog brought it to my hand and I wanted to feel the weight of the bird in my game vest. I missed all of that. Instead, I got to sense my dog's frustration coupled with my own.

Hunting, we often like to claim, is about the experience of being outdoors with our friends and experiencing nature. That claim is a short distance on hunting's circle. Hunting is also about locating our quarry and bringing it to bag--killing the animal. It is within that act, the kill, that each of us, as the hunter, must demonstrate our nobility as a modern predator and dignify that animal's death by our satisfaction of accomplishment. When we deny our satisfaction with the fulfillment of our intent of the hunt then hunting is reduced to one of two extremes: a nature walk with friends or a justification for killing. The nobility of hunting is the savoring of the success of the hunt beyond the moment of the kill. Ted Kerasote masterfully writes about connections between the hunt, hunter and hunted in Bloodties: Nature, Culture, and the Hunt. Kerasote's savoring of an elk steak, and from the flavors of the steak experiencing the elk's life in nature before he killed it, reaches to that nobility of the hunt. It is not a rewriting or explanation of the famous Ortega y Gasset quote: "one does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted." (Meditations on Hunting) The difference between the texts is that one explains the steps on the circle of hunting after the kill and the other helps us, as hunters, to understand why, when we fail to put a bird in our game bag or to fill a big game tag we are left with a feeling we don't really understand--it is simply the understanding that we have not completed the hunt and we will not enjoy those things which come after the kill.
But, not to worry, at least for me, because tomorrow I will be back in the grasslands searching for my favorite bird--the sharptail grouse and my much loved German Wirehair will be with me. glg

Monday, September 22, 2008

Turn of Weather is the Time to Hunt

When I look out my window I can see a huge birch tree. A week ago the leaves were still green but two nights before last they began to turn. Not a slight tinge marking the advance of autum but a serious yellow that is overpowering the green. Other trees in the neighborhood have that weak tinge of color that hints at autumn. Not this tree, this one is serious about the change in season and is broadcasting that change to the world. An interesting thing about that tree is that when it turns the hunting also turns--from the easygoing shuffling transformation of hunters from summer sloth to full fledged hunter. Now the fields have color and the smell of dust in the grass has changed from summer's clinging bite to the softer, earthiness of harvest crops. It is time to go hunting. So, that's where I headed yesterday--out. I returned to the same grouse haunts that my best friend and I hunted last week. All the changes were there and could be felt and the birds we couldn't find last week were there, most of them flushing too far away for me to take a shot. Only one was in range and I missed it.
I wanted to go again today but the weather turned and the wind brought a stinging cold rain that forced me inside. Later this week I'll return to the fields and report on the hunting. glg

Friday, September 19, 2008

Special goose seasons, Excess Whitetail Tags and Game Hogs

Household chores and remodeling projects are interfering with my ability to enjoy the open hunting seasons. My household chores are currently centered on remodeling, refurbishing and painting the garage and my office, which is attached to the garage, so it is in my interest to finish them. But, I'd rather be hunting. Right now our small game seasons are open but the special early goose season will close after the weekend and I've missed it! Fortunately our grouse and partridge seasons will remain open until January so I still have lots of time to hunt and make up for the seasons I've missed.

I enjoy these special early seasons but I try to remember that the hunter, in any special season, is just a management tool--the early seasons and extra deer tags are attempts to gain some control over increasing wildlife population numbers.

I am all in favor of these special seasons and the availability of extra deer tags but I wonder what these seasons and tags are doing to the mindset of many hunters. Is there a danger that too many tags and seasons with generous bag limits encourage a "kill 'em and stack 'em" attitude that is opposite to hunting's traditions? Perhaps this diametrical positioning of the two attitudes is confusing us, as hunters, when we try to understand the "why" of our hunting. We want to believe we hunt for reasons that are personally esoteric and these reasons are removed from the actual killing of a game animal. Yet, when we go hunting and fail to kill our game we usually feel that we've missed something. I don't believe the honest hunter can deny the desire to bag the game being hunted. That desire to be successful must be put in perspective when it is compared to the abundance of excess tags and special seasons. If the "extra" game killed is going to a food pantry or given to the extended family is the hunter being altruistic to assuage a sense of "taking too much" from the field? Perhaps professional hunters could accomplish the same goals of population management and the meat still be donated to food pantry programs. If the hunter could be removed from the game animal population control tool box the delicate balance between the desire to kill a game animal, the demands of ethical hunting, and the principles of wildlife management could be more easily maintained.

Not too many years ago people who killed more game than they or their family could use were called game hogs. Today we seldom hear that derogatory term. Has wildlife management given legitimacy to the person who was once the game hog? True or not, I believe that the majority of hunters follow the old standards of conduct and kill only what they can use, whether they are hunting in a special season or using additional tags. Good hunters are, by nature, guided by a sense of what is right and that sense is not a product of management but is their nature as ethical hunters. glg

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Hunt of Season--First Blog--Accomplishments

For me this is a year of events. I'm working on a new book and I've signed with a new agent. After years of work I finally received my MA in English from the University of North Dakota and today I shot my first dove with my double-barreled muzzle loader shotgun. Now, to add to the mix, I'm entering the world of the blog. What's the connection between UND, a dove in the game vest, a new book, an agent, and a blog? They are all new and they are accomplishments.

I'll talk about the new book in later posts.

I've just finished my first hunt of the new hunting season but more important it is the first time my friend Chas been to my home here in North Dakota. We've spent the past four days trying to find some sharptail grouse. Unfortunately, after four days, the grouse are all safe. We did manage to shoot some dove so the dogs (Cookie and Jack) did get to retrieve something as a reward for all of their hard work. On the last day, using my muzzle stuffer shotgun, I shot a dove. It wasn't my first dove. Over my nearly five decades of being a hunter I've killed dove with all sorts and gauges of shotguns, including the problematic .410, but this was my first dove with the muzzle loader. I've now killed ducks, geese and dove with this gun and my confidence in using it is growing with every hunt. The gun is harder to handle, takes more time to fiddle around with and the learning curve is much greater than I expected, but with every day in the field with it and every shot fired, whether the shot connects or is a miss, I learn more about it. I also marvel that our ancestors managed to actually put game on the table using these guns. There is also, I have discovered, a deeper sense of accomplishment when the shot does connect and the bird falls. A single dove on a day-long hunt is not much of a bag but I'll take it and not voice a single complaint.

I hope to use my blog to discuss the world of hunting (and fishing) and how it is changing in the Twenty-first Century. Stick around, it will be interesting. glg