Friday, October 21, 2011

First Blood Pressure Results and "Sport" Hunting

This evening I took my blood pressure cup/gizmo with me to the nearby slough.  Now, the question is whether duck hunting, which is sitting in a duck blind, lowers the blood pressure or has no effect whatsoever. 
I took my blood pressure before leaving and it was 142/76 pulse 68.  After sitting in the blind for 30 minutes I took my blood pressure and it was 136/69 pulse 72.  I’m not sure what to make of it but this is only my first day of my not so scientific study of blood pressure and duck hunting.  What is interesting is that once I was back in my office I again took my blood pressure and it was 136/79 and my pulse was 82.  Now, the only thing I can say to explain it is that I was doing some editing--of my own writing! 

This project is turning into an interesting experiment and the more I think about it the more I think I can turn it into a not-so-scientific article.  I will haul the blood pressure monitor out with me every day I go hunting until I take the results back to the VA hospital.  I am really curious to hear what my physical therapist and my primary care physician have to say about the readings.  I’m sure they will both shake their heads in a little bit of disbelief--but then both of them must consider me a bit on the pixilated side of reality.

I’ve been doing some work on my notes and ideas from the Think Tank II.  I came away from the gathering wishing it had been at least one day longer.  There was a lot of free discussion about the present state of recruitment to the outdoors but I heard something that was, to me, very important for the future of hunting, and it was the simple statement that hunting would be referred to as “hunting” and not “sport hunting” or have any other adjectives affixed to it.  This is something that I totally agree with.  I believe that we must stop the practice of trying to hide hunting under a pile of adjectives.   I make this argument even after a great deal of research has shown me that the basis for “sport hunting” goes back to ancient Greece when the phrase “hunting for sport” actually appears in the writing of Xenophon.   One probably asks why I dislike the use of “sport-hunting” in today’s language when it has been in use for more than two-thousand years?  My answer is simple--times change!  For most of that 2,000+ years hunting was a very blurred activity.  Subsistence hunting and sport hunting existed side-by-side and often within the same activity.  For the past 100+ years, with only a few exceptions, subsistence hunting has fallen out of use as a “needed” activity leaving only what had been euphemistically called sport hunting in its wake. 
There are many, many people who rely on hunting to provide them with chemical free, healthy meat protein, but to call that true subsistence is to dally about with semantic spooks.  This sort of subsistence hunting is a choice by personal philosophy and not a choice based on true need.   I am not belittling modern meat hunting as a means of providing food--I opt for that with deer and other game--it is not, however, a requirement for our survival in today's world.  There are Alaskan and South American peoples who still subsistence hunt because if they didn’t they would starve for protein.   Could it be that the users of “sport hunting” are drawing a comparison against those aboriginal peoples?   

A brief look at the OED and other word research turns up some interesting information, primarily that “sport,” as was applied to hunting, did not necessarily carry positive connotations, even as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries.  In the middle of the 19th century “sport” began to increasingly be associated with athletics and less with what had been popularly known as field sports. 
The entire evolution of sport and sport hunting is more complex than my quick analysis but the point is that as we move deeper into the 21st century there is even less to be gained by adding “sport” to hunting as a means of modifying hunting.  We hunt.  We don’t harvest.  We don’t box with, play tennis or football with, or any other organized activity, the animals we hunt.  We don’t need to lie to ourselves or to the non-hunter by falling back on euphemisms to soften our language.  We can start by removing one word and simply saying that we hunt, we go hunting, we are hunters.  There is much more to be gained by being honest with ourselves and others than by trying to soothe the taste of words with imitation sugar.    

Is that so hard to do?
Think about it.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blood Pressure and Bird Hunting

Today has been a long day.  I was up and on the road before dawn but not to go hunting--I had VA eye doctor and physical therapists appointments.  The eye doctor informed me the eyes are slowly getting worse, which is expected, and my therapists, one physical, one occupational (I can’t keep ‘em straight) try their best to deal with me.  Jody is tall, looks like he should be a Marine (like me) and Vicki is petit, blonde, blue-eyed-cute and quite capable of chewing me out for not following instructions.  Anyway, my blood pressure decided to act up and Vicki made me promise to take my blood pressure several times a day and keep a journal with the results, then bring the journal with me when I go back to the VA next week and show the journal to my doctor.  Not a problem.  But here is what I am wondering.  Jody has repeatedly pointed out that I need to “take it easy” on the hunting.  He didn’t say not to hunt, just change things a little.
I got to thinking about a hunt I had earlier this week. . . .

The other day I took Cookie and drove out to our favorite grouse hunting area.  I wasn’t in a hurry and besides, I’m supposed to be trying to recover from the cardiac adventure, so, I walked very slowly and Cookie ran ahead.  When she got birdy I turned toward her and when that bird flushed wild and out of range I just watched it fly away.  “At least I don’t have to clean it,” I said to the wind.  Cookie was disappointed and was quickly off again.  I called her back then returned to the Suburban so we could try for a duck.
At the little slough where Chas and I had shot several ducks I pulled on my waders (I have got to get some new waders) and after unloading my gear, consisting of one bag with shells, coffee, camera, notebook, pen and goodies, and pulling four decoys from my decoy bag, I parked the Suburban and walked back carrying my shotgun and holding Cookie on a leash.  Back at the slough I carefully put my shotgun down, picked up the decoys and started into the muck.  By this time Cookie was having a good time and when I was about fifteen feet into the muck I noticed Cookie had switched on the “bird here!” attitude and was eagerly working scent on the far side of the slough, in the same grass were she’d retrieved two birds a few days earlier. 

Now, one of the things I am fond of saying is that Cookie is smarter than me and danged if she didn’t prove it again.  Twice she stopped working the scent and looked back at me with the “get your gun” expression that means she is going to be flushing a bird.  I figured she was scenting some ducks that had been there earlier so I didn’t get my gun.  I set the first decoy.  Then just as I was about to set the next decoy a mallard drake burst out of the grass.  It landed on the water and Cookie thought she had a cripple then it took off, scolding her as it climbed into the air. 
Cookie gave me “the look.”

Yeah, I stood stupid.  I set the other two decoys, went back to my gun, loaded it and sat down.  Once I was comfortable I poured myself a cup of coffee to chase away the end-of-day chill.  A little later Cookie tensed up and looked over her shoulder.  I followed her gaze in time to see the geese coming over the trees.   The loads I had were too light for the big Canadas so I sat and watched.  I watched them fly over, they were not seeing either Cookie or me, and I watched them land in a field a half mile away. 

Later, when the sun was getting that golden hue that is a signal to mama earth that for this part of the planet the day is over, a few ducks flew past but I forgot my calls.  Besides, I’d been writing notes for my journal and I’d talked myself into thinking that unless it was a fat mallard drake I wasn’t going to shoot.  The ducks were cooperative and avoided coming too close and in short order it was dark and time for me to pack up and return to my office and get some work time in. 

The evening was a good day.  I couldn’t ask for anything more.  Maybe I did overdo it a bit with the grouse walk, the walk to and from the Suburban, and of course wading into the thick, clinging mud that sucks at your feet and forces you to strain to take each step.  But it was worth it even if I did have to take a nitro pill later that night.  The geese were brilliant, the ducks were just enough to get the juices going and Cookie had a great time.  I am thinking about taking Cookie out tomorrow evening, maybe walking a different grouse field and then sitting on a slough.  Who knows?  I might get a mixed bag of a duck and a grouse.  I’m content with a couple of birds.  There’s still some pheasant hunting to do before the weather gets too cold.  Maybe a couple of pheasant to round out my larder would be a good thing, too.  But, then I am back to Jody, Vicki, my primariy care doctor, and everything about taking it easy.  So, I did promise to take the blood pressure readings and keep a good record.  I am wondering, however, if sitting on the edge of a slough, sipping hot coffee and sharing a sandwich with your hunting dog would really “lower” your blood pressure?  I’m going to find out by packing my blood pressure cup in my bag with the Thermos, box of shells, sandwich and duck calls.  I am not sure how my doctor or physical therapist will appreciate the blood pressure journal having duck blind doodles, probably some dried dog slobber, a little spilled coffee and no doubt it’ll pick up that deliciously thick aroma of rotting vegetation that is common to all North Dakota sloughs, and hopefully a drop or two of duck blood, but at least I’ll have a complete record.  Heck, if I get a shot at a duck or two maybe I’ll take it then, too.  It might be interesting to see the results of the blood pressure in a duck blind and prove conclusively that bird hunting is good for the blood pressure as well as the soul.
Think about it. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Friendships Forged by Hunting

            I’ve been lazy.  Okay, so I haven’t been “really” lazy, but I’ve been doing things that have a higher priority than my writing projects.  First, and most importantly, my friend Chas (The Southern Rockies Nature Blog, arrived on October 2 for four days of duck and grouse hunting.  We would have hunted the four days but I had to go to the VA hospital for my post cardiac therapy on one day and Chas graciously went along.  By the time I was through and we were back in Finley the day was shot.  Other than that one trip to Fargo we were able to hunt every day. 
            The great thing is that this year Chas got to take home a few ducks.  Not enough to fill a freezer but enough so he could know that he shot at, and hit some ducks.
            Chas and I first hunted together in the autumn of 1979 and it was a dove hunt that morphed into an elaborate dinner that has become a part of the lore of my personal history with Soldier of Fortune Magazine.  How that happened isn’t the point of this post, what is the point is that from that first dove hunt on to last week’s hunting Chas and I have hunted together at least one long weekend nearly every autumn, and will continue to do so as long as we can.  Of course, there have been a few hiccups along the way and several seasons were lost to work, but there have been more wonderful memories than disappointments, and a few of those memories are the fodder for some of the stories in my next collection of short stories--with names changed--of course.
            Whenever Chas and I have hunted together there has never been a competition between us.  We’ve never compared the number of birds in our game bags or tried to measure tail feathers.  We don’t even compare the number of shots each one of us takes for each bird killed!  Those details are not important to us. 
            I also derive a secondary benefit from our hunts--I bounce ideas off Chas.  I’ve always been pleased that someone of his intellect is open to exploring my zany off-the-wall ideas.  He is never derogatory or dismissive of what I propose and often the nudge he provides is enough to push my idea onto firmer ground where I can develop it more fully.  That’s the power of a true friendship, but more importantly, in this case, it is indicative of the sort of bonds that are often formed between people who fish and hunt together.  Over the decades since Chas and I first hunted doves in Colorado I’ve developed many, many other friendships, but I can honestly say that only one other friendship has the same strength as the one I have with Chas, that is with Robert K. Brown, whom I met just a few weeks before meeting Chas.  Like Chas, Brown and I met outside the realm of the hunt but the strong bonds of friendship were sealed while we were hunting. 
            Most of my other strong friendships (though none to the level of Chas and Brown); were developed because of fishing or hunting.  I believe that it is because fishing and hunting are two basic human activities that were once essential to survival that we form such strong and long lasting friendships with other anglers and hunters.  Every experience in the outdoors, shared with a friend, weaves fibers of trust that are not unlike the long fibers of steel that become the massive cables holding up bridges.  But what happens when competition is added to the experience?  Does competition become a corrosive that erodes the fibers, ultimately weakening them until they pull apart and the structure collapses under its own weight?  Even Hemingway, who thrived on competition, recognized its dangers and it became one of the foundational elements of Green Hills of Africa, his hunting masterpiece.
            Today, competitive fishing and hunting dominates much of outdoor television’s programming.  No matter how much “we” moan and complain about the programming, millions of Americans watch the programs, some of them as religiously as Americans once tuned in to Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It To Beaver.   I am curious as to how many viewers leave their favorite fishing or hunting program determined to catch as many fish (or one as big) as the host, or have convinced themselves they can kill a whitetail buck or other big game animal that will surpass the trophy their much admired host kills every Saturday morning, and are then discouraged to learn it isn’t as easy as they thought?  Does this discouragement turn the neophyte trying to glean helpful knowledge into a non-participant?  
The most recent entry into the competitive world is “Fantasy Hunting,” an online game in which participants select a team of hunters to score points on the game killed and win prizes.  If one were to ask “What’s next?” my answer is simple: “I have no idea.”  Somehow we’ve now gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. (Field and Stream, Fantasy Hunting)
Without the warm campfires, muddy bogs, the smell of wet dogs and the coppery smell of the cooling blood as we dress our game, to remind us how precious each life was that we took on the hunt or from the water, there cannot be truth in hunting or fishing.  Without truth there is no fishing or hunting--only consumption. 

Think about it. glg