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(editor’s note: I asked my good friend Dave Roll of Eau Claire Wisconsin, to write this page as he not only is my definition of an ethical hunter, but my mentor as well)
Why Hunt? Why Not?
I was sitting in a makeshift goose blind during a recent mid-morning on an
abnormally warm and breezy early September day. The sky was a perfect shade of
blue and the big loud birds had long since made their rush hour commute between
the nearby overnight roosting pond and surrounding fields of cut corn. With 3
honkers already in the bag and hopes of filling a 5 bird limit, the down time
gave me the chance to contemplate my navel, which in this instance included
thinking about why I was out there sitting in the tall grass – short on sleep
and long on mindless meanderings. My enjoyment of hunting is still as strong as
it was many decades ago when my dad took an overly ambitious gangly teenager
out into the woods with a hammer action single shot 20 gauge. But even though
the level of enjoyment is still front and center, it’s evolved and morphed in
new and interesting ways.
Sociologists will tell you that hunters go through fairly predictable stages over the
courses of their outdoor careers. These can be somewhat age related but it’s surprising
how similar the attitudes of a middle aged new recruit resemble those of a
fresh faced 12 year old who just passed hunter’s education.
In the early going a hunter craves something/anything in front of his or her
weapon. It’s all about the thrill of the kill and the power that is wielded by
that shotgun, rifle, or bow. Eventually the desire for an impressive body count
changes into choosing quality over quantity. This is the stage when small bucks
are passed up in the hopes that Mr. Big might walk under the tree stand at any
minute. With a past history of reliably putting packages of wild game in the
freezer, a seasoned hunter may apply for limited draw tags in trophy areas and
preference points are accumulated in anticipation of the hunt of a lifetime.
Once a few (or many) trophies are hanging on the wall there comes the realization
that it’s just “being out there” that’s the real star of the show.
Enjoying sunrises, sharing the camaraderie of good friends, or maybe appreciating
quality dog work begin to take precedence over numbers, inches, or weight. You
can’t help yourself from ribbing your buddy about missing that “can’t
miss” shot or congratulating him on making a seemingly impossible one. The
hunter takes a more contemplative stance and bag limits, while still nice, takes
a back seat to the esthetics of the total outdoor experience.
Finally, at the apex on one’s hunting journey, comes the need to give something back to
the sport. This may be in the form of mentoring a new hunter, donating money to
a hunting cause or organization, or even rolling up those sleeves and becoming
involved in planting trees to enhance habitat or help out with fund raising for
hunting related projects. The penultimate gesture might be including either a
financial donation or one of land in a legal document such as a will, a trust,
or some other method of estate planning to provide a lasting legacy of hunting
and conservation even after death.
Academics and social studies aside, hunting provides a feast for the senses. The smells
alone are enough to make your head spin: spring blossoms during the turkey
season, the crisp fall air while waiting for a flock of mallards to come into
sight, pack horses and oiled leather, even that whiff of gun powder floating on
the wind seconds after making a great shot. Sounds include songbirds keeping
you company, approaching hooves tip-toeing on crunchy leaves, the playful
splashing of a rocky stream crossed on the way to a favorite stand. Food, no
matter how simple, always tastes better when eaten outdoors. A different type
of banquet that greets your eyes might be a postcard-perfect mountain range, a
sunrise, or a honey bee landing on a blossom. Try looking straight up from your
layout blind on the Dakota prairie at a hundred thousand snow geese creating
interwoven diamonds in the sky and not feel a sense of awe and inspiration. And
let’s not forget the effect of excitement – that pure rush of adrenaline that
races through your veins when you’re staring through your peep sight at a
bugling elk bull or perched in a tree 20 yards from a black bear that weighs
twice what you do.
There are tons of other good reasons for hunting that I could tick off: the strong
heritage and tradition, a family activity for virtually all ages (even underage
youngsters can appreciate hunting as observers), achieving skill and
proficiency in woods craft, putting clean and healthy meat on the table,
exercise and fresh air, learning safe and responsible use of weaponry, and many
more. It’s also important to note that the revenues generated from license
sales, habitat fees, and specialized stamps, along with federal excise taxes on
sporting goods that are returned to each state based on hunter participation
(Pittman-Robertson Funds), make hunting a “pay your own way” sport.
Those monies help open up land to hunting access, pay salaries for game
managers and wardens, and educate new hunters to be safe and knowledgeable
members of the conservation community. The game benefits too – by having regulations
and bag limits in place that guarantee a healthy number of critters will be
available to propagate their respective species for generations to come, along
with a research and knowledge base that creates sound and scientific management
As I sat there in that goose blind, I was amazed at the long road I’ve travelled
as a hunter and outdoorsman, and excited at the prospect of what lies ahead.
There’s an old saying that goes, “It’s good to be the king”. Well, I
have no illusions that I’ll ever wear a crown of any kind, but I can say with
plenty of optimism and enthusiasm that “it’s good to be a hunter!”