I love pulling up to a promising covert and finding nobody else parked there. So do you. To know with confidence that you’ll be the first – possibly only – one to hunt a field that week, immeasurable.
We all long for untrammeled ground … “first tracks” to use a ski analogy, when we open the tailgate and let the dogs out. Who doesn’t want to believe the birds are plentiful and naïve, will hold for our dogs, fly high and slow when we walk them up?
But what if that was always the case? What if you never saw another soul in the woods or on the prairie, because you were the last bird hunter?
Someone is fervently hoping it will come true, that they’ll be the last to inhabit this “ideal” world and be the only ones, getting all the shots, finding no footprints.
I wouldn’t want to hunt with him.
But we may all see a situation almost this dire in our lifetime, if you believe the pessimists in our midst. If you read the magazines or are a member of an upland conservation group, you know our fraternity is at risk of extinction. There are fewer new hunters coming on and more going out, usually by dying. We are an aging population, we bird hunters. And too many of us are a tad too selfish – relishing the situation described above – to bring on the next generation of uplanders.
Okay, maybe not selfish, but defeated, discouraged, disillusioned. I can’t blame them.
The almighty dollar usually trumps CRP payments and conservation easements. Ethanol is a wicked competitor, fueling the plowing of marginal ground for a few more bushels of corn. Deer hunters waving dollar bills will keep grouse hunters off a lease; the price of ammo will stop a 16-year-old from picking up a shotgun, as will a PETA lecture in kindergarten. The pressure of peers who don’t hunt, lack of a father figure, onerous regulation of gun ownership and even ammo restrictions have thinned our ranks. Bird populations are devastated by blizzard or drought, or nesting habitat is mowed early for another cutting of alfalfa.
The “barriers to entry” as statisticians call them, are numerous. But none are insurmountable. Unless you’re selfish. Or a quitter. Or brain-dead.
Why bother taking a friend, kid, spouse hunting? What do you get in return? Here’s my list … you can probably come up with more reasons:
New hunters’ license dollars fund management of habitat and game populations. Your neighbors, PETA members, and the Defenders of Wildlife might talk a good game, but only hunters put their money where their mouths are. When license money evaporates, don’t look to taxpayers to pick up the slack. So unless you plan to quit hunting the very day your state outlaws it, every new recruit ensures access and a modicum of managed game to chase.
New hunters are fresh and energetic, ready to pick up the banner and fight for conservation. We all burn out, and without new troops joining the battle against habitat destruction, the front lines will collapse. Oil companies and wind energy syndicates will claim victory.
New shotgunners who understand scientific game management can advocate for it among their non-hunting, anti-gun peers. Sensational claims by the anti-hunting cabal are best countered with cold, hard facts related by knowledgeable outdoors enthusiasts.
Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it. That includes gun control. The anti-gun crowd pooh-poohs the fundamental reason for a Second Amendment, but you shouldn’t laugh. You don’t have to pick up a textbook to learn that many tyrants modern and ancient started their reign of terror by disarming their citizenry. The death of gun rights starts with excessive government meddling in your personal life, an “imperial presidency” ruling by fiat not representation, marginalizing those with unpopular views. It is fueled by a sheep-like tolerance of more and more unreasonable encroachment on our rights. Whether it’s Big Gulps or Obamacare, a slippery slope might be around the next bend in the road.
We should fear any president’s desire to take away the last resort we have available for opposing a corrupt regime. Ask the Syrians fighting for freedom right now, or the Jews of 1930’s Germany, if you think that notion is silly and antiquated. Unarmed citizens become subjects. New hunters become Second Amendment advocates.
A kid who knows and understands guns is a safer kid. He handles one with respect in the field and knows what to do when a gun is found where it shouldn’t be. That kid is less likely to be a danger to himself or others. When the bad guy does break down his front door, that kid – or adult – might just stop a rape or murder. If some nut job is drawing a bead on your daughter at the mall, a fellow shopper (and hunter) shooting back might save her life.
Hunters are part of the circle of life. They have a realistic view of where food comes from and what is involved in making meat. Shotgunners take personal responsibility for some of their sustenance, and in this cynical world that makes for a more authentic life.
Shooting straight, find your way back to camp, starting a fire, cleaning a bird, training a dog are all skills that teach important character traits: overcoming hardship, accomplishing something tangible, self reliance, accountability. You won’t find those on the agenda at a public school. “Manliness” is scorned these days, but when the dam breaks or the woods catch fire, I hope there are hunters (and Boy Scouts) around to help.
Hunting is a direct link to our shared history. It has a body of literature that is beautiful. It is our connection to grandparents and our distant ancestors. Hunting is part of our DNA, and ignoring that suppresses a visceral element of our personhood. A new hunter becomes part of the chain, a standard-bearer for all things worth remembering including our hunting heritage.
Finally, a new hunter might take you hunting when you’re too old to venture out alone. Recruits will listen to our stories around the campfire, and pass them on. They will be our legacy, just as are pristine streams, wild places and thriving game populations
Now, go make a new hunter.