Posts Tagged ‘why we hunt’

The reason we go

The reason we go

Protein is not the prime objective for Wingshooting USA TV viewers when they take to the uplands in search of pheasant, quail and grouse. That’s one revelation in show host Scott Linden’s fourth annual “Upland Nation Index,” a national survey of his viewers. The languishing economy might prompt big-game hunters and waterfowlers to make meat for the pot a priority; in fact, a recent more general survey identified a rising trend among hunters going afield primarily to supplement their pantries. But Linden says for upland bird hunters, food isn’t their primary objective.

“Watching my dog work” is the main reason Linden’s fans go hunting, according to his survey. With over 33 percent of Wingshooting USA viewers owning two or more dogs, that shouldn’t be surprising. And while that may be a full house for some, 28 percent of Linden’s fans are planning to buy another dog soon, say respondents.

“Being with friends and family” is the number two reason viewers hunt, being in natural surroundings ranks third, and “bringing home food” ranks dead last among choices in the Index. Speaking of priorities, Wingshooting USA TV fans live, eat and breathe shotgunning and bird dogs. When they’re not hunting, their principal free-time activities are dog training and clay target shooting (42 percent each).

Where are they going in pursuit of their passions? Forty-five percent hunt public land almost exclusively. Forty-two percent hunt private land via one of the landowner access programs or by asking permission, and the remaining 13 percent hunt primarily on preserves.

Linden’s fans are a restless lot too. Fifty-six percent plan to hunt outside their home state, with South Dakota the prime destination (25 percent of all out-of-state trips) and Kansas capturing the interest of another 17 percent.

The Upland Nation Index surveyed 1,700 viewers of the Wingshooting USA television program in January, 2013. The margin for error is plus or minus five percent. Wingshooting USA is the most-watched upland bird hunting show in the U.S., airing on seven networks including a debut on Discovery Channel’s Destination America this summer. It is the official TV series of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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Oh yeah, then there's the scenery

We are three fly fishers with a bird hunting problem. Or the other way around. Whichever it is, two of us have been meeting twice annually since we left music school some three decades ago. The third joined us when he took up fly fishing 15 years ago. They are a good friend and brother, and I hope they would say the same about me.

We plot these trips, conspiring from afar with maps and Google searches, recalling distant rumors and eavesdropped conversations. Our hope is to find places with the promise of birds or trout that are equidistant from all of us. We often succeed.

But the true measure isn’t quantifiable, measurable, tangible. It is not a tally of birds shot or trout netted. We keep score in different ways.

There’s quiet talk of those who can’t share the diamond-studded night skies we sleep under or sparkling waters we wade. We’ll hoist a tall one to a mentor no longer treading rocky chukar slopes in this realm. And we commiserate about the thousand mundane details that make life a little less elegant, then celebrate this brief weekend where the natural canvas is a perfect composition of colors, textures, smells.

Was "Domino 1929" a cowboy? Outlaw? Or just a wanderer like us?

Microsoft Outlook lets us declare emails as “urgent,” but there is no icon for the communication that takes place while resting a trouty pool. Video games can’t match the adrenaline rush of a chukar chittering up in front of your young dog’s wide-eyed gaze. Both are better, still, when someone close is there to share them.

Conversations come in bits, observations in pieces. Totaled, they comprise a 48-hour string of communiqués that enrich our lives for another six months, tiding us over until we can again share the stillness of a new wild place.

It’s not all deep and serious. We drink too much and eat stuff our wives won’t let in the kitchen. (Maybe in truth we are bird hunters with a drinking problem. Or drinkers with a bird hunting problem!) Pleasure comes from different sources than during our Little League years: rising fish get five casts, then you’re out and it’s someone else’s chance to hook up. Dog breeds are disparaged – in jest – and shooting skills are mocked. We embark on our share of wild goose chases, some literal, some in pursuit of mystical places and legends.

We open our hearts and our minds (politics and religion are fair game), our 30 years of tolerance dictate when to change subjects. Besides, there’s more fun in comparing Charlie Parker to John Coltrane. Or in standing under a sky so rich with stars there is more light than dark. (On the former: it’s unanimous – Bird rules. You gotta problem with that?)

We try to walk canyons without footprints other than ours, wade streams too small for anglers seeking validation in their trout. Consequently, our bags are lighter and there are few hero shots of squirming fish. We’ve been there and done that, would rather be here and do this in the company of souls who don’t need the affirmation that comes from tape measures and “legal limits.”

Once you “grow up” there aren’t a lot of experiences that qualify as fun, in the yahoo-roller coaster-look-ma-no-hands sense. Yes, more subtle, but catching four jewel-like rainbows from one tiny pool qualifies. As does a tumbling downhill one-legged shot at a towering chukar that connects, especially when your young dog pointed it. I’ll take them over the stuff of adolescence any day.

Would you?

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In Denver last weekend you wondered aloud why we hunt. Why anyone would work so hard and so long for a few bits of protein. I thought about that while hunting chukars today. Thanks for the motivation – everyone should go through this exercise periodically, taking stock of why they wander the ridgelines and prairies. Other hunters may have their own reasons, but here are some of mine: 

Oh yeah, and then there's the scenery

It starts, and ends, with the mystery and magic of a dog at work, centuries of genetics and instinct in a furry, panting, slobbering package … the manic excitement of that first 15 minutes out of the truck, trembling, intense points, the way at the end of the day he lays his head on my lap as we drive home. A hunter knows where the term “dog tired” came from. Dog and man, hunting, speak a language others don’t understand, and both of us are better off from our time together. There’s tiny towns like Fields, Oregon, population 9, opening its arms and hearts to me. Rural America is alive and well if you know where to look. Hunting places are full of honest, kind, helpful, hard-working people and we are lucky to share their world if only for a few days. 

There’s the chance to spend time with the only person from college worth spending time with. Sure, it’s just an excuse and we could do the same on the golf course or in Vegas … or could we? Sharing a wild place puts things in perspective. There is no posturing, there are no walls, literally and figuratively. Knowing you’re in a place where humans aren’t at the top of the (more…)

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