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 http://natureblog.blogspot.com/has 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