Cold Weather Honkers.

Bundled up and braving the bitter cold temperatures, my little group of hunters learned a few valuable lessons on this hunt.

With snow on the ground already, my mind drifts back to a very memorable hunt that myself and the guys I hunt with learned some valuable lessons on.

Our duck season closes prior to the end of the goose season, so our focus is able to shift solely on geese. The field duck decoys stay in the trailer and we go with big spreads for geese, as generally bigger spreads seem to work better later in the season. While it’s disappointing to not be able to hunt ducks anymore, it makes it easier to focus on the geese.

My buddy Ben had driven by our field one December day in 2010 and texted all of us that it was loaded with geese. Everyone from our little group was available to hunt, including our resident elder Kent. We planned to meet in the morning, and each of us eagerly anticipated the day. 2010 had been a banner year for us, with many hunts ending with a full limit. We hoped this hunt would end in the same fashion.

On December 18th our day had finally arrived, and as usual we met up and headed to the field in the dark. We headed to the field in two trucks, since my Ford Ranger at the time wouldn’t fit all of us. There was six of us total going, myself, and my buddies, Mark, Ben, Vern and Adam, and Kent was going to meet us at the field since he was coming from Chicago.

We saw the headlights of Kent’s truck in the field waiting for us, as our two trucks pulled up. We pulled into the field and drove to the agreed upon spot, and hopped out. The bitter cold wind was whipping as we approached the trailer, everyone cursing the bitter cold that hovered around zero degrees. When Mark placed his key in the lock on the back door of the trailer, he discovered that he couldn’t turn the key. The locks had frozen in the bitter cold, but luckily Mark had anticipated this and brought his hand torch for such a discovery. He fired it up, and heated both locks enough to loosen them up.

That issue solved, the six of us began the process of setting up decoys and blinds. Given that there was plenty of snow on the ground, we had our snow covers on our blinds, and Kent had white bed sheets zip tied to his. We dug spots in the snow to lower the profiles of our blinds and help them to blend in.

The ground being very frozen, we couldn’t use the stakes for our decoys, so we had to rely on the stands that we also had in our trailer. Myself, Mark and Ben began placing the stands while Adam, Vern and Kent began placing decoys on the strategically placed stands.

The wind would be from the west, so we set up facing east, which also was where the geese would come from. They were roosted on the various ponds in the subdivision to our immediate east, and our field would be the first one they would see coming out. While we weren’t keen on facing the rising sun, given the velocity and direction of the wind, it was our best and only option.

We made quick work of the 120 full body decoys, however it was tough work given the snow and the bitter cold. Kent even left Otto, his German Wirehair, in the truck while we set up. When we closed the doors on the trailer everyone gathered by my truck. We each could feel the bitter cold stinging any exposed skin on our faces, and silently we each dreaded sitting in our layout blinds waiting on the birds. Kent, the source of wisdom and experience in our group, spoke up and said,

“Boys, given how cold it is, I suggest we sit in the trucks in the warmth until we start to see birds moving. I feel they aren’t going to move until later in the morning.” Everyone eagerly agreed, glad he suggested it and we parked the trucks at the end of the field, next to each other so we could talk. Vern’s truck with Vern, Ben and Adam was on my driver’s side, while Kent and Otto parked on my passenger side.

As the sun rose, everyone stayed on guard to watch the horizon. We had a bit of a run to get to the blinds so we wanted to be prepared. But as the morning brightened and wore on, our attention began to drift. At nine, everyone was hungry, so we sent Vern in his truck with Ben to go get breakfast from the McDonalds that was close by. Kent told us we had time, that if the geese had not flown by now, they were waiting for early afternoon.

“Glad we got here before sun up.” Said Mark sarcastically. We chuckled at this hard learned lesson. When temperatures get this low, geese sit tight and only feed once a day, usually in the afternoon when it’s the warmest. They conserve their energy as much as possible. Had we known that, we all could have slept in!

When Ben and Vern returned, we ate our healthy (sarcasm here) McDonald’s breakfast, still half heartedly watching to the east. Save for a few random crows braving the cold, which at first made us consider getting out thinking they were geese, nothing was moving. We had been chatting all morning, Kent regailing us with hunts of the past. We pulled pranks on each other, in the form of yelling “Geese!” and pointing to the east. Guys who weren’t paying attention would reach for the door, and realize that they had been had.

Around 10:30, Kent went silent and I looked over, seeing that he and Otto were passed out in his truck. Vern and Ben decided do the same in Vern’s truck, so it was up to me, Adam, who was in Vern’s truck, and Mark to be the eyes on the sky.

Us remaining three were looking at our smart phones, watching the horizon, and looking at the thermometer in my truck. It read 10 degrees, and I commented I was glad we made the decision to sit in the warmth instead of the bitter cold blinds. Mark was telling me how he was excited for the upcoming ice fishing season, since goose season was winding down for us. As he talked about his plans, I looked at the rooftops of the houses to the east, and caught movement. Trying to focus in the glaring sun on the snow covered rooftops, I saw a line of geese in the gap between houses, flying south to North. They were so far away, they were just dots moving in the blue sky.

“Hey, geese moving way out east.” I said, and Mark adjusted himself in the passenger seat to take a look.

“I got em, damn they are far.” He said, a hint of worry in his voice. He was thinking what I was thinking; I hope they don’t all go that way. Mark got out of the truck, letting the cold air rush in, stating he was going to have a smoke (no one is allowed to smoke in my truck, so they’d rather brave the bitter cold). I stretched and watched the far off geese continue north and out of sight. Looking at the clock in my truck, I saw that it was 11:30. Man, I thought, are these lazy ass geese ever going to move?

Mark opened the door to my truck again, and I was about to razz him about letting the cold air in, when he stated,

“Geese moving to the south!” He was pointing to the south of us with one hand, while he was grasping for his coat on the floor with the other. I opened my door and stepped onto the running board of my truck to be able to look over my truck, and spotted them. A flock of about a dozen was south of us, but flying east to west. That is the movement we wanted, which meant the other birds may come over us soon. I looked over to Vern’s truck, and saw that Adam had joined sleepy time, so I knocked on the glass of his window and said,

“Birds up! Let’s go!” Ben, Vern and Adam each jumped at my voice, piled out of the truck, and began pulling on their cold weather gear. Mark was knocking on Kent’s door, and the old man got out and hurriedly pulled on his gear.

I wish I had video taped us at this moment. After hours of sitting in the truck, taking various layers of warm clothing off to stay comfortable in the trucks, everyone was now hurrying to put it all back on! Otto was out, and was watching us, probably laughing to himself at us. I pulled my shotgun out of it’s case, grabbed my blind bag and began to jog to the blinds. The other guys followed suit, but our jog stopped a short distance away as we struggled in the snow. Plus, if we started sweating, once we sat down, the cold would creep in and make us miserable. We didn’t know how long we would be out there, so we didn’t want to risk it. As we approached the blinds, geese were continually moving in the south. We could hear them, but they were on their way west. Everyone got settled into their blinds, loaded guns, got out calls, and watched to the east.

Well, here we were, ready to go, and the flight seemed to stop. The birds to the south were well west of us now, and nothing else was moving.

“Did we seriously miss our opportunity?” Ben said, blowing on his gloved hands to get some warmth to them.

“There’s no way, there is way more geese in those ponds.” I said, watching to the east. But part of me truly wondered if they had slipped out without us noticing. I could feel the cold wind hitting the back of my neck, somehow with all my layers on it found it’s way and sent a shiver down my spine. Boy I hope all this is worth it.

Ben spotted them first.

“Low group just over the rootops headed right at us.” He said, placing emphasis on the fact they were on a beeline for us. I looked where he was pointing and saw that a six pack of geese was just clearing the rooftops, barely clearing them heading at us. I began flapping the goose flag, but soon noticed it wasn’t necessary; in the snow, the decoys stuck out and these six clearly saw them. I tucked the flag under my layout blind, realizing it wasn’t worth the effort as the six actually dropped in altitude when they cleared the last house. We all covered up, trying to completely dissappear before they got too close and spotted us. They dropped so low that I was worried they were going to short stop us, landing far out in the field. But on they came, wing beats slowing as they closed the distance. Mark, Ben and I let out some excited honks, which seem to jar the silent geese and they drifted off to the left a bit.

“Take it easy on em!” Kent harshly whispered, and we slowed our calling to feeding growls and soft honks and clucks. We learned another lesson; if they are headed your way without calling, don’t hammer them, just let them come. The geese centered themselves on the spread again, and began to make noise themselves. They began to glide in, they were so low that their chests almost seemed to touch the corn stubble as they followed the contours of the field. They came right into the killhole, feet down and suddenly honking as they backpedaled into the spread.

I yelled out,

“Kill em!” The six of us sat up and began firing. I pulled up on a bird right in front of me and fired. I hit it, but too far back so I settled my bead on it again and fired, crumpling the bird stone dead. I swung my gun looking for my second bird, but there was none left. We had dropped all six in the snow, with only one cripple walking away trying to figure out what just happened. Kent sent Otto on the cripple and we began cheering and high-fiving each other from our blinds.

“Hey help the dog, there’s more coming!” Kent yelled, as he headed towards the nearest dead goose. We all climbed out of the blinds and went to help in the pick up, as Otto trotted back with the attempted escapee clutched in his mouth. Kent took that bird and finished it, and we settled in as more birds came towards us. A few small flocks had made us, and they stayed wide but kept heading west. I saw a pair of geese clear the houses and drop, almost following the same flight path as the first six. We covered up as they quickly closed the distance. They pulled up into the kill hole, and backpedaled. I called the shot and just sat up and watched. Guns fired and the two birds dropped, down for the count. Kent sent Otto, while waves after waves of geese began moving from the subdivision. Otto made quick work, and covered up with Kent. We attempted to call and flag some of these flocks, but they continued on.

A single goose broke off of a bigger flock and decided our field looked better than the one it was headed to. It flipped a few times, losing wind out of it’s wings so it could drop altitude, what hunters call “maple leafing”. It closed the distance fast on the spread, calling it’s head off all the way.

“Adam, it’s all yours man.” Ben yelled between calls.

“Yeah man, call your own shot.” I followed up. This way I can focus on calling, and Adam was in the middle, so he will have the best chance. Plus, he had just started hunting with us, so as the “new guy”, he gets the singles.

When the bird was backpedaling into the decoys, I watched, waiting for Adam to shoot. Just before the goose’s feet hit the ground Adam sat up and fired. The bird didn’t have far to fall, because it was so close to the ground. Otto went out to do his work, and Mark told Adam,

“Well, you unload your gun like me and Verno, we have our two geese.” Adam unloaded his gun, and Otto came back with the bird. It was up to me, Ben and Kent to finish the day. We each only needed one goose a piece for a limit.

“Here comes a flock!” Yelled Vern, and sure enough, a dozen geese came from our left, headed right at us. The six of us settled in, and as the geese closed in I picked my bird. I watched this one bird as if none of the other ones were there. It kept coming, and the flock was making such a racket. We called back, and these birds started gliding in the wind at us. They swung themselves down wind to set up for their final approach, and I watched my bird. Yes, I started to look at this bird as if it was already a done deal. They were low as they approached; none of the flocks we had shot into this day circled, they just came right in. My bird was gliding, letting out honks as it closed the distance. I have never really watched a goose approaching our spread this intently before. I watched it look around at the decoys as it began to backpedal in the kill hole at 20 yards with the rest of it’s flock. I called the shot, and the three of us sat up to finish the day.

“My” goose realized it’s mistake as six humans and a dog materialized out of the snow. It pumped its wings as it tried to gain altitude. I pulled up on it, placed the bead of my shotgun on it as I pressed the safety off. I switched my finger to the trigger as I followed the goose with my gun. When I thought to pull the trigger, suddenly the bird crumpled, shot by someone else. A moment flashed where I felt cheated; after all I claimed that bird as mine! But I soon shocked myself to reality as I realized there was 11 others in this flock! I swung on a bird trying to escape to the right. I fired and it fell, hitting the ground in a spray of snow. Ben was yelling and I looked and the goose he shot was running AT him, and he reached out and grabbed it, that’s how close they were. He finished it off and we all climbed out of the blinds, having filled a six man limit. We shook each other’s hands, patting each other on the back, celebrating the moment of good friends having a great hunt together.

I looked at my phone and saw that only a half hour had passed from when we hurriedly climbed into our blinds. We sat for hours in our trucks to fill a limit in a half hour. We gathered up the birds, and snapped a few photos, all the while with more geese trying to come into the field.

Group photos of successful hunts are always necessary, even when it is 10 degrees out.

Twelve geese, a six man limit shot in a half hour. Not a bad way to end a long hunt, most of the time spent sitting in warm trucks.

“We need to get out of here, let them feed.” I said, and everyone agreed. We got the trucks, and it took longer for us to pick up than it had to fill the limit. It was a great ending to what would be a phenomenal season.

The Hunting Community

When I think of hunting, I think of paintings such as this one. Hunting was, for a long time, woven into the fabric of society, something passed from one generation to another. Everyone seemed to be a hunting generalist, they pursued what season was open. Today, there are different “camps” in the hunting community which seem at odds with each other. We need to remedy this to better protect our hunting heritage. Image pulled from Pinterest.

When I took up waterfowl hunting as my sole practice, I became a hunting snob. I looked down on other forms of hunting, swore them off as I wasn’t interested in them. I didn’t concern myself with the negative publicity that came to other forms of hunting, because I saw them as the “others”. This type of thinking is short sighted, and not until recently did I realize how harmful this line of thinking can be to the hunting community as a whole.

The number of people that participate in hunting is on the decline. Hunting isn’t as a part of the fabric of America as it was just fifty short years ago. Hunters are a minority in the United States, yet as I have written about previously, we contribute the most of any group to conservation and preservation of wild places and wild animals.

This isn’t a position in society that is enviable for any group, let alone a group that contributes as much to our wild places like hunting. Being such a small group, what benefit is there to further segregate ourselves by what way we pursue game? Why do we care if someone hunts deer with archery equipment or a firearm? When I grew up, the term “pumpkin army” applied to the people who hunted deer only during the firearm deer season. They were seen as those who shot at anything, wandering around the woods aimlessly, generally looked down upon. Now I know there are examples of this, but they apply to individuals not the group. At the end of the day I know plenty of gun deer hunters who are just as passionate if not more so as archery hunters. I know waterfowlers who are just as passionate in their pursuits as the deer hunter who manages a chunk of ground for deer. I know private land only hunters who work hard on their land to make it what they want, and I know public land hunters who put the work in to find those prime spots and know the area as well as the private land owner knows theirs.

The common denominator I have seen in different hunting cliques is passion for their craft. Passion is the one key ingredient that we all have, passion drives us to do what we do and love every minute, even on the difficult day. So what if Joe is passionate about deer hunting, while John is a passionate upland hunter? I guarantee that the feeling Joe has when that monster ten point walks in is the same when John’s dog goes on point. That’s because they are passionate about their hunt.

Passion is what drives hunters, to include sitting in a cold corn field in pursuit of waterfowl. How else can one explain the choice of sitting in the cold for hours?

Those who wish to see an end to hunting have a common goal; end hunting. Period. They come from different walks of life, but at the end of the day they share that common goal. They don’t care that Steve golfs or Susan bikes. They have a passion to see hunting end. And you know what? In certain places they have been successful. California’s ban on mountain lion hunting, Colorado’s ban on spring bear hunting, hell British Columbia’s full ban on Grizzly bear hunting proves that. The attacks on hunters on social media in recent years shows that they will stop at nothing. No place is safe for them to ridicule and attack hunters and more broadly, the practice of hunting.

How it seems the anti hunting crowd views wild animals. I liked Bambi too when I was a kid. Photo Credit: Walt Disney.

Their hatred of hunting and their goal of reducing or removing it is based on emotion only. They ignore the science that shows the benefit of the regulated hunting of game. Steven Rinella, whom I have referenced in previous posts, says that it seems society has an obsession with charismatic megafauna. They look at bears, wolves, elk, deer and other wild animals as if they live like the animals in the countless Disney movies. Humans hunting them is considered by these people as a sin, that the taking of the wild animal’s life is the lowest practice one can partake in.

Yet, they look down their noses at hunters while they eat a steak, burger or chicken sandwich, being totally devoid of their participation in the death of that cow or chicken. Do the lives of those animals matter less in some way? Is it not hypocritical to rally against hunting while consuming factory farm raised and slaughtered animals?

Contrary to what many people in society who are against hunting think, this is where the meat in the grocery store actually comes from. It doesn’t just magically appear in the cooler. Something has to die to enjoy that juicy steak, burger, or chicken sandwich.

We as humans in the 21st century have become so far removed from where our food comes from that members of our society think they are somehow morally superior because they buy their meat from a store. The bottom line is something has to die in order to have meat, that’s the way it works. So who are you to look down on the hunter who has a closer relationship to their food than you do buying it by the pound wrapped in plastic wrap?

We as hunters need to look past our differences, and realize that an attack on one type of hunting is an attack on all hunting. The passion we all feel in our pursuits is the common thread that ties us all together as one community. Our opponents are united, and I guarantee they laugh when they see hunters attacking other hunters. I’m not saying to defend the negative actions of one group or another, but defending the majority of us who are legally and ethically pursuing wild game. Policing our own community of those who give us a bad name is just as important.

That being said, can you imagine if we as hunters spoke with one voice, not divided by our differences but united as one community, with the common goal of defending our hunting heritage? We would be a loud political voice that would ring out wherever needed. If hunting is as important to you as it is to me, you will put aside those differences and work towards uniting the hunting community. When you see those pheasant hunters out in the field while you drive back from your stand, honk your horn and wave in salute to a fellow hunter. Treat each other as one family, because that will make us stronger for the fights against our heritage that are surely coming. Believe me, they are.

Waiting on a Snowstorm

The one area my hunting partners and I hunt holds a large amount of birds once the migration starts, but with those numbers comes extremely high hunting pressure. It seems that when the birds have moved in en masse and the crop fields are picked, every other field has a truck and hunting trailer in it. After the initial successes following the crops being removed, the birds get wise and begin to frequent those few fields that don’t allow hunters.

The area that we hunt has a subdivision that has a few decent sized ponds that attract the large amount of birds to roost. Luckily for us, our field is the first one they can hit outside of the subdivision, and it provides some great action in the beginning. Our field is generally one of the last to get picked, much to our luck. But as is prone to happen, after a few weeks of hunting here, we fall into a mid season lull as the geese move to their safe haven fields, avoiding us at all cost.

The 2016 season was no different, and to add to the mid season lull, the farmer began the practice of bailing the corn stubble, removing a decent amount of our cover in the field. This practice makes it difficult to brush up the blinds, making it hard for us to hide. Concealment is critical to hunting high pressured birds, so we looked towards our next opportunity; a measurable snow fall.

A measurable snowfall changes the game during the mid season lull. For starters, we can cover our layout blinds in snow covers, and also dig them into the snow. This allows us to lower their profile while the white covers blend in almost perfectly. As a side effect of a measurable snow, it seems to hit the “reset button” on bird behavior. What I mean by this is it seems that geese have completely forgotten which fields are dangerous and which ones are safe. Everything is white, and all looks the same, so the thought is that birds are unsure of where they have and haven’t been. Also, now their food sources are covered, so they switch to survival mode, and when they see other geese in a field (or our decoys) they draw into it like a magnet. To put it quite simply, when the conditions are right, it can be like opening day all over again.

The weather forecast for the weekend of December 11th was calling for a winter storm with a measurable snow fall of 6-8 inches Saturday night into Sunday morning. While there was already a small amount of snow on the ground, it wasn’t enough for us to successfully hide in. Myself, my cousin Colton, and long time hunting buddies Mark and Ben hunted all day Saturday, from sunrise to sunset, and struggled to shoot two geese shy of a full limit. To say it was tough hunting would be an understatement. The birds wouldn’t close the final distance, and continually flared at 50 yards. Our four snow cover clad layout blinds stuck out in the snow dusted mowed corn stubble field, and we just couldn’t fool the birds enough to get them to finish. As we picked up in the dark Saturday night, we made a game plan for Sunday morning based on what we witnessed all day. As we did this, snow flakes started falling, signalling the start of the much anticipated snow storm. We excitedly finalized our plans for the morning, and left the field anxious for what the morning would bring.

When my alarm blared loudly the next morning, I hurriedly shut it off to avoid waking my sleeping pregnant wife. I dressed quickly in the dark room, my clothes having been laid out ready to go the night before, and made my way to the living room. My two black labs followed in suit, and as I flipped on the living room light I could smell my coffee brewing in the kitchen. I dumped the dogs’ food in their respective dishes and they both eagerly ate. While they ate I walked to our back sliding door and flipped on the outdoor light to see how much snow we received overnight.

Much to my surprise and joy, we had at least 8 inches of fresh powder on the ground, and more was still falling. The dogs, having finished their breakfast, wanted out to do their morning business. I let them outside, and as I shut the door I heard my phone quack (yes, you read that right, the text tone for both of my hunting buddies is a mallard hen quacking) from it’s place charging on the kitchen counter. I walked over to it and saw a text from Mark on the screen asking

“You see what is outside?”

I smiled and responded to him, knowing he felt the excitement I did when I saw how much snow we got. I let the dogs in, and put Lola’s e-collar and vest on her, and as I did so her tail wagged uncontrollably knowing what it meant. We headed to the preloaded truck in the garage, and pulled out to get the guys.

After picking Ben, Colton, and Mark up, we grabbed the trailer and drove the twenty minute ride to the field. We chatted the whole ride about calling strategies, how we planned to set up for the wind, and as always some good natured ribbing of each other as we each sipped on coffee. When we arrived at the field and I pulled into it, Lola, who usually sleeps during truck rides, recognized the change in motion of the truck, the bumpiness of driving in a field, and she shot up and began panting and whining, excited to finally be in the field. We all laughed about how her “switch” was now on.

We pulled through the snow to the agreed upon set up location we had discussed the night before. We were closer to the subdivision than we were the day before, but still well outside of the 100 yard minimum distance required by law. To be safe I had brought my range finder and zipped the closest house, and the reading was 200 yards. Trust but verify. As an added safety measure we planned to set up facing away from the houses. Luckily for us the easterly wind was perfect for that sort of set up.

Mark unlocked the trailer and the four of us got to work. Everyone in our group understands the work that needs to be done, so there is no explanation required aside from where the blinds need to go for the wind. After unloading the decoy bags and blinds, Mark and Colton worked on blinds while Ben and I began setting up decoys. Mark and Colton dug the blinds into the snow with the snow covers on them. The process usually takes a half hour, but with the added difficulty of the snow that time increased to 45 minutes. With everything set how we envisioned, everyone got their personal gear out of the truck and I took it to the far end of the field (which I regretted on the walk back) and parked it.

The way we set up was using a fold in the field to further hide the profile of the blinds, with the wind at our backs and the 120 full body goose decoys in a loose “U” shape with the kill hole to our front. The geese would be coming from behind us, which isn’t ideal for observing but we knew that if they spotted the spread in the field, they would come in on a string. While we waited for the birds to begin moving (geese are lazy and wait for full sun up to start moving when it’s cold) we dusted snow off the decoys since the snow stopped. About 20 minutes after full sunrise, we could begin to hear the geese honking and making noise from the various ponds throughout the subdivision. We craned our necks to look behind us, anticipation running high. It’s at this moment, that doubt begins to creep in sometimes. Are they gonna just go east and not come out this way? Are the blinds hid good enough? Will they give us a chance? It’s too late to make changes because at any minute they will be coming out.

Colton was the first one to spot a group. He yelled excitedly, pointing towards the houses and saying,

“Six pack over the houses headed right for us.”

The rest of us looked towards the seemingly never ending rows or snow covered rooftops, and as he described, six geese were winging their way towards us. They looked as though they were barely clearing the rooftops. We all hunkered down in our blinds, and I started flapping the goose flag. Mark started clucking and honking on his short reed goose call, as did Colton. I turned in my blind to look behind us, still flapping the goose flag, and saw that the geese had slowed their wing beats and clearly were headed right for us. I folded up the flag, and tucked it under my layout blind; I wanted absolutely nothing to even have the chance to flare geese in this snow. I could hear the geese honking back at the boys calling.

“They are coming right for us boys.” I said as I put my call to my lips and began to join in the noise the guys were making. Ben did as well, and we sounded like an excited group of geese as I watched through the mesh of my blind as the geese passed over, wings cupped and necks craned down looking at the spread. I watched them as they swung to the end of the field and turned down wind, setting up to come back to us and land into the wind. They dipped lower, zeroed right in on the kill hole, honking all the way in. When the lead bird was backpedaling at 20 yards in the kill hole I yelled,

“Take ’em!” I threw the hood of my blind open and raised my shotgun in one motion, aiming for that lead bird that just now discovered it’s fatal mistake. Right before I pulled the trigger, someone beat me to it and the bird crumpled. I swung on the bird that was spinning out to my left in an attempt to escape, and fired. The bird folded and hit the ground in a shower of snow. I watched two birds of the original six making their escape, with four laying in the snow. The other three guys were hooting and hollering, reloading their guns as I sent Lola on her retrieves. She took off kicking snow in the air on her first run. Colton grabbed the two closest birds, and after Lola brought her first one back I sent her on the furthest bird.

Happy dog doing what she loves in the snow.

“Damn someone was quick draw McGraw on that lead bird.” I said as I jammed another shell into the magazine tube of my shotgun.

“Yeah that was me.” Ben said as he sat back in his blind, sipping on some still hot coffee. I should have known it was him; I’ve never seen someone who can clear a blind and fire as quickly and accurately as he can.

“Hey boys, they are all headed out now!” Mark said as he snuffed out his cigarette and got back in his blind. And boy he wasn’t kidding. Hundreds of honkers were pouring out of the subdivision now; all headed right for us. I dug the flag out from underneath my blind as we all sat back into our blinds. Once again Mark and Colton began working the goose calls as I flapped the goose flag at the incoming birds. A group of three geese broke off of the main group and headed on a beeline for our spread. They craned their necks downward as they passed overhead, following the same path the last group did for their final approach. Swinging downwind and setting up, they flipped upside down in the air, losing air in their wings to drop fast. Hunters call this “maple leafing” as they look like leaves falling. They closed the distance, feet dropped, wings locked for their landing. I glanced over at Lola, who was hidden in her blind, and she was shaking in anticipation, eyes locked on the birds. When they were at 20 yards, in front of everyone, I called the shot.

“Take ’em boys!” I flipped open my blind but instead of shooting I watched the other guys shoot. The geese flapped their wings hard, trying to gain altitude when they saw four men materialize out of the snow, and the boys opened fire. Two geese folded immediately, and the third turned to leave. Thinking it would make it I grabbed my gun since it swung towards my side. But before I pulled it up, a shot rang out and the bird folded. I looked over and saw Colton with his gun to his shoulder, bolt locked to the rear, with him having fired his last shot on the escapee. He grinned at me as he lowered his gun, and asked

“Why weren’t you shooting?” I laughed and heard Ben say,

“Damnit Ryan, why do you do that?” The guys say I always hold back on shooting, which is generally true when small groups like that come in, because it seems foolish for me to join in.

“Hell I figured you guys had it. Three geese and three shooters, should be a done deal.” Ben just shook his head as I sent Lola to do her work.

“Well Kid, we just need one more bird, it’s all on you.” Mark said as he put his empty gun in his blind. He calls me Kid as a nickname, even though we are the same age. Ben and Colton followed suit, in agreement on me closing out the full limit. Lola brought the second bird back as Colton went and picked up the last bird, to make quick work of pick up. Ben called out,

“Hey, four pack headed this way.” He pointed toward the houses again, and sure enough here came a low group of four winging their way towards us. Everyone settled in as I told Lola “kennel”, her command to get hidden in her blind. Ben had stolen the flag from me when I wasn’t looking and began flagging, while Colton and Mark once again took to the calls. I put my call to my lips, started calling, and Ben scolded me,

“Hey, you just focus on shooting, we got this.” Everyone closed their blinds, Ben hid the flag as the geese swung to our right, swinging wide and turning into the wind for their approach. My eyes focused on the lead bird, and I made my decision that one was the one I was gonna take. They were almost at ground level as they settled into the hole. The guys were calling and the lead bird was responding excitedly. My finger was resting on the safety of my gun, hand gripped around the grip of the shotgun, waiting for my moment in the hot seat. When the lead bird was feet down backpedaling in the spread, I flung my blind door open with my left hand while rasing my shotgun with my right. I settled my fiberoptic sight on the bird as it flapped furiously trying to get away. I flipped the safety off and fired, hitting the bird a bit back, not enough to drop it. I settled the sight on it again and fired a second shot, which folded the bird stone dead. The guys jumped up and cheered, with that one bird we had filled a full limit of two geese each. I sent Lola to get the last bird, as we patted each other on the back. Geese were still moving, they were seemingly never ending coming out of the subdivision.

Lola worked hard and deserved her own picture with her retrieves. Ben decided to photo bomb however.

Lola brought our last bird of the day in, head held high and tail wagging; truly proud of her accomplishment. I looked at my phone, and saw that only an hour and a half had passed since we first set up. Given the season we had had up to this point, this was a much needed outcome. The downside was that given that the season was coming to a close in a few weeks, and each of our busy schedules, this was our last opportunity to hunt together. Seemed a great way to end the 2016 season.

Ben, Mark, Colton, myself, and of course Lola, all smiles as we finished our 2016 season on a high note.

Old Friends, New Friends, Birds and Dog Work.

Good times among people who share a passion makes for memories that last forever. Photo Credit: Tony Giese

I had recently written a blog post about why I waterfowl hunt, why it has the meaning to me that it does, and what about it keeps me coming back. This most recent hunt epitomized all of those reasons. It was a hunt a few years in the making for me, and it has me looking forward to the next opportunity to go.

My younger cousin Colton (I used to call him my little cousin, but since he towers over me now that just doesn’t apply) is currently in his junior year of college at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. While I am sure his academics are up to par, what I know for certain is he spends any free time he has there hunting and fishing the area with the friends he has made. Hearing his stories, seeing his social media posts makes one wonder when he finds time to do school work and attend class.

He had been asking me for years to come up and hunt with him. We have hunted together since he was old enough to go with, so it is always fun to get together with him. However, schedules never seemed to work out to get up there, and the promises of “Yeah bud, I’ll try to make it work next season” seemed to be on repeat.

Well this summer my wife, knowing that if I didn’t set it in stone and plan to go it wouldn’t happen again this season told me,

“Why don’t you just pick a weekend when Colton says it’s good and go?” So after consulting Colton on when the best time is, we decided on the weekend of October 12th. It started as me and my buddy Ben going up, then another friend Matt wanted to go, and a few weeks before the trip a friend of ours Austin was available to go. We made plans, bought licenses, booked our hotel rooms and waited impatiently for the weekend to show up.

The week of the hunt, Colton spent a ton of time scouting his ass off trying to get us on a hot spot. A cold front was set to hit by the end of the week, which was good news for us. I checked in with him throughout the week, finding out what we needed to bring up. He had us bringing enough gear to hunt either a field or water. Austin was bringing his field goose decoys in his trailer, and Colton had me bringing my two dozen floating duck decoys and all of us were instructed to bring our waders “just in case”. To say we were well equipped for anything is an understatement.

Matt and Austin headed out earlier than me and Ben, and all of us met up after the three hour drive at our hotel. Ben and I drove up in my truck, which we also had my dog Lola, her gear and kennel in addition to our hunting gear. At the hotel we asked Colton what the plan was over cheap hotel coffee at 9:30 pm, and he grinned and said,

“I have a field that has 500 geese and 150 ducks in it. They were there tonight, I watched them.” The kid has heart and a drive matched by few, so I knew he put the work in to get us onto something good. He also told us that we would possibly be hunting with 10 or more guys in the morning. Now the way I hunt back home is usually with no more than six guys, which can be difficult to hide everyone, so I was a bit leery hunting with a group that large. But as we told Colton, he’s the guide this weekend, he knows what’s going on up there. With our plans set, we said goodnight because 4 am was going to come early.

We woke up Saturday morning to frost on the windshield of my truck, and the thermometer in the truck reading 26 degrees. Ben and I (and Lola) loaded up in the truck and drove to Colton’s house. When we pulled in, there was a camo clad hunting army standing in the frosted driveway. Colton made introductions, a true sign of his good upbringing, and once everyone shook hands, he said,

“Well let’s go.” Guys climbed into their respective vehicles, with Colton and one of his college buddies jumping in my truck with Ben, Lola and I after loading their gear into the back. The convoy of four vehicles got on the road with us in the lead, and following Colton’s back seat driving directions, we headed to his field.

The field was a large silage cut corn field that still had some standing corn left that we could use for cover. As many guys as we had we made quick work of setting up the decoys out of Austin’s trailer. It went so quick in fact that even after setting up we had over a half hour left before legal shooting light. While we waited, out came the coffee and stories, as everyone watched the sky for the first hint of sunlight.

The back and forth banter and good natured ribbing that takes place in these moments is something I didn’t even realize that I missed until that morning. It can get ruthless, nothing seems to be off limits; however none of it is malicious. Everyone is an equal opportunity participant, and if you can’t take it this isn’t the place for you. The closest thing I have experienced to it was my time in the military.

The morning hunt was the opposite of what Colton told us to expect. Instead of hundreds of geese hitting the field, we were bombarded with ducks. The first flock of the morning seemingly came out of nowhere, and passed low over the spread before we could react. A few guys hit the duck calls and a few of us also did some soft goose sounds to add to the realism. The spinning wing decoys seemed to focus the duck’s attention as they made their final pass, wings cupped, falling into the kill hole. Colton called out,

“Take em!” and the guns fired. I picked a drake mallard out and was about to pull the trigger when it fell, shot by someone else. I swung on a Susie who was attempting to make a turn and leave and pulled the trigger. She crumpled and hit the ground. Two ducks had left from the original seven, but in their haste, they swung past a touch high on Austin’s side, who proceeded to double on them. Seven ducks entered the field, and none left. Not bad shooting for a group who all had met this morning. Lola did her work, chasing a few cripples and recovering some birds that had sailed out into the fence line brush.

Lola on her way back with one of her many retrieves during the morning duck shoot.

The rest of the morning went a similar way, with small bunches of ducks buzzing around. Some flocks came in and ducks met their fate, while others gave a few looks and moved on. The one constant was Colton’s extreme patience in calling the shot; he ensured that the birds were in the middle of the group so everyone had a fair chance at getting a shot. That type of patience is not expected to come from an early 20’s college student. I remember how I was at that age, and waiting on the perfect set up for that large of a group would have been a challenge for me. Colton executed it perfectly, passing on shots that I would have called, allowing the ducks to work just a smidge more perfect for everyone.

Thanks to Colton’s extreme patience and Lola’s hard retrieving work, combined with everyone’s teamwork, we were able to put the smack down on some Wisconsin mallards that morning.

What had been discussed the night before as a goose hunt turned out to be a hell of a duck shoot. By about 10, the geese Colton had told us about still had not flown. Colton had a few ideas where the geese would be loafing if they truly were still in the area, so the group decided to grab lunch and check those few ponds out. That would decide if we were coming back for an evening hunt or moving somewhere else. We packed up our personal gear and the ducks and it was decided by Austin to leave the decoys set up since the wind would remain consistent through the afternoon.

A few of the guys headed back to the house to clean and cook up some of the ducks, while Colton, Ben, Matt and I drove around the area looking for the no show geese. It seemed odd to us that these birds had not flown this morning, and we worried they had slid out a different way we didn’t see. The first three ponds Colton took us to had no birds, and I could see the worry in his eyes. His last choice to check out took us up a gravel road, and at the bend in the road we came in view of the cattle pond. That pond had geese stretched from one end to the other, along the shore and even over the small hill. There were even two pure white snow geese mixed in. We turned around, everyone all smiles, and headed to get lunch.

After a quick lunch, and Colton remembering he had to go to work quick, Austin and Colton were convinced that we had to get back into the field by 1. So everyone headed back, and we waited. Guys took naps, chatted and made each other laugh, and I even took some time to throw Lola’s training dummy to pass the time. A new addition to the hunt, Tony Giese, captured some great shots during this down time.

The laughs continued as we hung out, having arrived to the field way too early. Photo Credit: Tony Giese.

Tony Giese got some great pictures of Lola while we had our self induced field downtime. Photo Credit: Tony Giese.

Our four hour downtime allowed me to let Lola stretch her legs for some training retrieves. Photo Credit: Tony Giese.

The afternoon passed without seeing a goose or duck flying. Discussions shifted to wondering why the geese hadn’t flown yet. I rubbed it in to Colton and Austin that our hour long break was when they flew. Some good natured ribbing ensued, but Colton told us he didn’t see the geese the night before until after 5:00pm. (Which made us all glad we came back at 1:00pm). But as time went on and 4:30 hit, Colton began pacing the field, eyes trained on the horizon where he saw the birds come from the night before. Worry etched his face, with ten other hunters here with him, the pressure was on him.

I have never seen Colton pacing this much, eyes trained on where we found the geese loafing, almost willing them out of the pond. Little did he know I was glad he was the one with the pressure!

When 5:15 hit, we couldn’t get Colton and Austin to calm down. It was as if we didn’t already have a great duck shoot in the morning; they were convinced the day was ruined because the geese weren’t flying. I told Colton we still had an hour left in the day, anything can happen.

Well, about 5:30, the geese began moving. We had a flock of five come in, circle twice and then committed. Colton once again called the shot perfect, and none of the five left. Lola went to work, and suddenly one of Colton’s buddies yelled out,

“More birds coming!” So while Lola grabbed a goose we gathered the rest to get covered up again. The three geese flew towards the field next door, and were setting up to land there. Everyone hammered them on the calls, while Austin also flagged. They suddenly picked up and turned towards us. We began to slow our calling as they closed the distance, and they began to slide off their flight path to us.

“Guys we need to hammer them again, they like it!” I yelled out as they stayed wide and swung behind us overtop of the standing corn. Everyone picked up their calling, and I watched as the lead bird, which was a larger bird, cupped it’s wings and turned towards us, drawing with it the two others. I was calling so hard that I was starting to see stars so I stopped, but the racket from the other guys continued. I looked at my buddy Ben who was sitting next to me, and we smiled listening to the chaos.

“They’re comin’ right for us.” I said over the noise, and saw the birds swing wide setting up for their final approach. The lead bird was calling back hard and I noticed Lola had her eyes on the approaching birds, shaking in anticipation knowing what was coming.

The lead bird was backpedaling into the spread with it’s feet down while his partners swung out. I heard someone whisper

“Matt, you watch him and if he gets up, blast him.” We had determined that Matt would have first crack at singles, given that he was the newest hunter in the group. The guys continued to scream their calls at the other two while I watched the bird in the spread. It’s head was up, and looking towards the corn we were in. It was slowly walking away from us, and Lola was shaking uncontrollably, eyes locked on it. The two geese decided they didn’t want to partake, so Ben told Matt,

“Kill him.” Matt swung his gun out just as the goose realized the gig was up, and Matt fired. He hit it too far back to drop it, and fired a second round which crumpled it. Everyone cheered as I sent Lola to get her retrieve finally after waiting so patiently.

We rounded out the rest of the hunt with a few more geese and some bonus ducks for the guys that had not hunted the morning. We made quick work of picking up the decoys, and headed back to Colton’s house.

Everyone chipped in and cleaned our birds from the evening hunt. So many hands made quick work of the task. Plenty of laughs and memories from the hunt were shared.

Fruits of the labor. Fresh free range protein for everyone.

Cleaning the birds from the hunt was a party in of itself. Beers came out, music was turned up and the large group of us made quick work of cleaning birds. After birds were done, a few of us cleaned up, and went out to dinner in town. I can tell you, after getting my belly full of food, and warming up from being in the cold temperatures all day, I was ready for bed. Myself, Ben and Matt went back to the hotel while the young bucks went out on the town. Even poor Lola was tired from her work for the day, she curled up on her bed after her evening bathroom visit and passed out. We made plans with Colton for a show time in the morning, and turned in for the night.

The next morning came early, even with our early bed time. It was warmer than the morning before, however there was a cold drizzle as we sluggishly loaded back up in the trucks. We ran late, because I needed fuel and we were generally moving slow that morning. We got to Colton’s house and all the young bucks, who had been out later than us, were impatiently waiting for us “old guys”. Everyone pilled in their perspective vehicles, and the convoy headed back out.

Our hide, Austin’s panel blind, made it easy to hide our large group. After using it, I want one of my own.

We pulled in the field and with the switch of the wind we sat in some blown down corn using Austin’s panel blind to hide all of us. With the decoys set, trucks parked, everyone settled in for the morning hunt. Anticipation was high as we discussed what would it be, another morning duck shoot, or will the geese give us a show? Colton was attempting to fix a problem with one of the spinning wing decoys when a flock of mallards screamed over and we yelled for Colton to get back to cover. Some of us who hadn’t had time to load our guns after parking the trucks were attempting to jam shells in our guns while the others called at the ducks. The five ducks swung in right towards the spinners, and true to his form Colton called the shot perfect, and the five ducks fell. Cheering commenced as I sent Lola to do her work.

After a lone mallard made a solo dive into the spread and met his demise, the geese began to come out. And boy did they come out. With little wind they would swing behind us and the blown down corn didn’t do as good of a job of hiding our backsides. We had some birds work in close, usually small groups, but for the most part our shots were on one of their approaches.

The view that makes every waterfowler’s heart race, geese with feet down, cupped and committed. Photo Credit: Tony Giese

Some of our shots had the birds landing in the tipped over corn, and Lola had her work cut out for her. I would go with her into that jungle like maze, working her into what little wind we had. True to form, she would find the bird and bring it through that mess. The blown over corn was as tall as her, so struggling with a 10 pound or more goose through that was a true challenge for her. In fact, towards the end of the hunt, we chased yet another downed goose in that mess. This bird had buried itself under the corn, and Lola had her mouth on it. She was so worn out fighting that mess, that she looked at me with that bird in her mouth, as if to say,

“Hey can you at least help me with this one?”

I wish I had taken a picture of it. She had the bird, which I wouldn’t have been able to find with out her. She wanted to pull it out, but given her activity this morning and all day yesterday, she was running out of steam. I grabbed it for her and we fought our way back.

We made good work on some flocks, however they didn’t want to finish perfect, and continually circled behind us, picking our hide apart. Lola made some far retrieves as well, but as the morning went on, birds began to land in the field next door. Any waterfowler knows what that means. You just can’t compete with live birds. As long as there wasn’t any birds landing when more came out, we could get a few flocks to work us.

One of the last groups we had, after Colton called the shot, one bird spun to the left away from his flock in an escape attempt. Austin and I were on the left so we swung and both fired at it, and it crumpled and fell in the blown down corn again. Lola and I took off once again, fighting the tangle of wet, blown down corn. I heard her trampling through it, working back and forth to find the bird. Then silence. I walked to edge of the field because I thought I heard her doing her successful trot. I exited the corn to see her run by me back to the blind, goose in her mouth. As I praised her one of the goose’s legs was flopping around, and I noticed something on it. Low and behold, it was banded. I hooted and hollered, to the point I think the rest of the group thought I suddenly became insane. As she got to the group before me, I yelled out,

“Hot damn boys it’s banded!” Everyone surrounded the dog, looking to see the band. Leg bands are used to track bird’s migratory routes, and other pertinent information, and in the waterfowl world it’s considered a kind of trophy. Austin asked if anyone else shot at it, and everyone other than me and him said no. Austin looked at me and said,

“You wanna draw for it?” I said yeah that’s fair. Ben got two different color shotgun shells and the group picked which color was the winning shell. Ben put his back to us and switched the shells around a few times. Austin told me,

“You pick the hand.” Pressure was on me, because I had a 50/50 chance of picking the correct shell. Never having luck in gambling I just blurted out,

“Left hand,” thinking there is no way I got the correct one. Ben grinned and opened his hands, the winning shell in his left hand. I was stunned as everyone patted me on the back and Austin and I shook hands.

“Fair is fair man, congrats!” He said.

“Thanks man, it’s been 20 years since I shot a band, this is awesome.” I replied, shocked that I had picked the winning hand. The first band I shot was when I was 13, and I was set to turn 33 in a week, with no bands to my name. Until this morning.

Colton came over and wanted to take a picture together with it, as I was there for his first band and we have that picture together too.

Colton shot his first band with me, and I shot my first band in 20 years with him. Great to make memories with family in the field.

We watched the birds continue to dump into the neighbor’s field, and the newer ones began to beeline there. We realized our hunt was over, and instead of continuing to get soaked we decided we should leave. Once again with such a large group tear down was quick, and with the conditions in the field getting worse we wasted no time in leaving.

The last hunt of the trip was a muddy, wet experience filled with laughter and good memories. It also produced my first band in 20 years of hunting. What a way to end an amazing trip. Photo Credit: Tony Giese.

Muddy fields and pickup trucks, sounds like a country song. Photo Credit: Tony Giese.

Ben and I checked out of our hotel, and went back to the college kids’ house for a wild game feast. Colton made goose chili, and the boys deep fried turkey, ducks and geese. Combined with fresh hot coffee, it was one of the best post hunt breakfasts I’ve had. So good that I didn’t feel like driving home. But we had to, as our weekend of fun was over and it was time to get back to regular life. We had a three hour drive home, so we said our goodbyes, and began our long trek home.

This hunt reminded me of the reasons why I love hunting, why this type of hunting warms my heart. In this hunt, I hunted with family, friends I knew before and friends I made that weekend. Hunting has afforded me the opportunity to meet different people who share the same passions I do. An interesting thing about society is how we compare friends to being family. We consider close friends family, as a sort of badge of honor. However I feel that in these type of situations, hunting and sharing time together in the field, friends become family, and family becomes friends. Colton is much younger than me, however he is as close a friend as any of my other friends. We have shared many times in the field together, have a plethora of memories shared, and it is a bond that few have experienced.

The friends I have from hunting are more than friends, the bond is closer than that. The mutual passion and shared successes and failures create a bond similar to those of family members. Mutual hardship, frustration and joy create memories that last a life time.

Most people think sitting in the cold rain would be miserable, but waterfowlers enjoy it for the opportunities available in that type of weather. Even though we were cold and wet, this group was all smiles and laughs. Photo Credit: Tony Giese.

I want to thank my cousin Colton Wightman for his hospitality and the work he put in for us to make an amazing hunt. Also thanks to all his college buddies for the gut busting laughs and compliments on Lola, for the work she put in. Thanks also to Austin Knobloch for hauling his trailer and decoys and allowing us to use them for a day and a half. All told with guys coming and going, we shot 38 ducks and 30 geese in a day and a half plus a leg band. Lastly, thanks to Tony Giese of Flashtone Photography for capturing some amazing photos and sharing them with me.

“That Old Man.”

In one of my earlier blogs I wrote about my biggest influences in my hunting life. The first one is my dad, who taught me the basics of hunting ethics and laid a good foundation to build on.

The other major influence, and the one that this blog post is dedicated to, was Kent Jarvis. When I was a kid, my dad managed a hunt club in Woodstock Illinois, and let me tell you that as a kid who loved the outdoors it was the ultimate playground. Kent was hired there as a goose hunting guide, and being that he was retired it was a good fit for him. Kent was a personable and friendly guy, hard working, and could run a goose call like no one I’ve ever seen.

He had made custom cabinets professionally, so he was great at wood working. In fact he would make Christmas gifts for those of us he hunted with, and I have various gifts given to me by him from handmade nightstand boxes, to wooden Christmas ornaments and a cutting board he hand made. I even have a few goose calls he made, which I don’t hunt with but have a special place in my home.

Kent telling us one of his many stories during a lull in the hunt…..”I’ll tell you what dude….”

Another skill Kent had that became very apparent once you were around him was he could tell stories. He never knew a stranger, and could strike up a conversation with anyone about damn near anything. Once the hunt began it seemed like he never stopped talking, unless of course he dozed off in the blind. In fact, he could be in the middle of a story and someone could spot birds, he would pause while we worked or even shot the birds, and once the interruption was over he could pick his story right back up where he left off, as if he had never stopped. He had a gift of gab so to speak, and I know through the years I had heard a few of his best ones a few times over. Every hunt we would be listening to one of his stories as he told them to a new hunter to the group that had not heard it yet, and those of us who had heard the story a time or two before would look at each other laughing and say,

“That old man.”

Kent’s dog Otto, with one of our most successful hunts, which took place shortly after Kent’s bypass surgery.

As long as I had known Kent, he had hunted over these bearded dogs called Drahthaars, commonly refered to as German Wirehair Pointers. The first one I remembered him having was named Toby, and he was a phenomenal dog. That dog went everywhere with Kent, he was Kent’s constant companion.

When Toby passed away, Kent was crushed, to the point that he swore he’d never have another dog again. Well his loving wife Rose Ann got him another male Drahthaar, because she knew the bond that Kent had with Toby needed to be reestablished. While he wasn’t Toby, this new pup Otto could hold his own. Once again Kent had a dog that went everywhere with him, and he too was a hell of a dog. Otto would actually share Kent’s layout blind with him, curled up on his legs waiting for the command to retrieve. They made quite a pair, both with their gray beards, cuddled up and warm in their blind together. Kent would tell us that a bonus of having the dog was he kept Kent warm in the blind in the winter. We would shake our heads and laugh saying to each other,

“That old man.”

Kent was a bird hunter to his core, but waterfowl hunting took precedent over upland for him. He was a passionate waterfowl hunter, and he was a wealth of information given his experience. He told me that shortly after his retirement he followed the migration from Canada beginning in September and hunted all the way to the southern reaches of Texas for the spring snow goose season. He said he loved doing it and was glad he did it, but boy was it exhausting.

He knew so much about waterfowl and their behavior, he could tell what birds were gonna work and what ones weren’t. Kent used to tell us,

“Boys, in my experience when geese fly nose to tail like that in a line, you can’t call them.” We didn’t believe him at first because, hey what difference does that make? But we have experienced it first hand, and use that line to this day as an homage to him, and usually follow it up with a chuckle and,

“That old man.”

In 2009 one of our bean fields flooded, which led to an abundance of ducks hitting the flooded spot. Being that we mostly deal with dry field goose hunting, we jumped on the opportunity to get into some ducks. Me and my buddies Ben and Mark extended an invitation to Kent and my dad to come with us. Well what we didn’t anticipate was how difficult the walk in with all our gear was going to be. To make matters even more serious, over the summer Kent had had a 5 way bypass surgery. Yes you read that right, a five way bypass. This was also his second bypass of his life. Well, he kept pace with us younger guys, carrying the heavy loads of the panel blind, decoys and personal gear, and never complained once. Mark, Ben and I were beat doing all of that, and we couldn’t imagine how Kent felt. In true Kent fashion he never let on how he felt. We shot a mess of ducks that day, had an absolute blast, and that hunt is one of my fondest memories of hunting with Kent and the boys. The years following that, he would continually try to keep pace with us, to the point we finally had to say,

“Kent, you’ve earned the right to take it easy, we got it.” He followed it up saying,

“I don’t want to be a burden.” That’s how his mind worked, he would work just as hard to not put the burden on someone else. It got to the point that Ben told me one time,

“Kent has to take it easy, because if he has a heart attack out here, and we have to do mouth to mouth waiting for help to arrive, I think I’ll be too upset to do it.” It was a feeling all of us had, so we tried to force Kent to take it easy. He would just go on, carrying heavy loads, and we’d shake our heads and say,

“That old man. ”

In 2012 Kent paid me the ultimate compliment that still gets to me as I write this almost six years later. He and I were on the phone together during the season, and while I don’t remember the reason for the call (probably making plans for an upcoming hunt) what he told me will stick with me for the rest of my life. He told me,

“Ya know Ryan, I tried to get all of my kids involved in hunting, and none of them showed any interest. I’m glad I got you into it, and you became so passionate about it, and now as a 27 year old man you still ask this 75 year old to go along with you. Makes me feel good I could pass it on to at least you.”

I remember responding,

“Well Kent, the only thing about that is, you’re the one to blame for all the money I have spent all these years on this hobby!” He laughed at this and accepted the blame wholeheartedly. This was one of the most heart to heart conversations we had, and you could hear the genuine love in his voice. I remember hanging up from that conversation realizing how strong the bond was between us, he was more than a mentor, he was family.

That old man.

A few weeks later, on December 16, 2012 I was visiting my dad in the hospital. My phone rang, and the hen mallard quacking ring tone told me it was Kent, so I silenced it. I did this because he and I had hunting plans the next day so I figured it was him calling to finalize the plans. I would call him back when I was done. As my wife and I walked out of the hospital I opened my voicemail, expecting to hear his joyful voice. What I heard instead was his wife Rose Ann telling me she needed me to call her. I hit redial on the missed call and heard Rose Ann answer,

“Hey Ryan, it’s Rose Ann, I’m sorry to tell you this, but Kent died this morning while out hunting.” You could hear the pain in her voice, but she kept her composure, the strong woman she is.

My heart dropped and I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I stopped walking towards the car, and my wife turned and looked at me, seeing the look on my face. Somehow I was able to keep it together and told Rose Ann,

“I am so sorry Rose Ann, is there anything I can do? Is someone there with you?” She told me someone was there, and she would let me know the details of what was next, because Kent didn’t want a funeral. When we hung up, I told my wife we needed to go back in and tell my dad. We walked back into my dad’s hospital room, and his surprise that we were back was replaced with grief when I told him the news. I kept it together up until we got back in the car, and then I lost it.

My wife drove while I took on the responsibility of telling our little group of hunting buddies, guys who had come to know Kent through me, and who all adored him as well. Each conversation was short, as each guy wrestled with what they were told, there was plenty of cursing, plenty of shock, and one phrase was repeated,

“That old man.”

Kent had suffered a heart attack while out hunting with two buddies, Vito and Brad. They had been done for the the day, and were negotiating a shallow channel between two lakes which required pushing and pulling the boat. When they got the boat into the open water, Vito and Brad were ribbing Kent about not getting the boat started back up to head back to the dock. When they looked they saw him slumped in his seat, so they knew something happened. Vito, having EMT training, began CPR while Brad started the boat and called 911 to have an ambulance meet them at the dock. Despite their best efforts, Kent was gone.

As cliche as it sounds, Kent died doing what he loved, with people that he loved. I’ve hunted that lake with Kent before and know the amount of effort it takes to move that boat in that mud and muck. In fact, he and I were supposed to hunt there together the next day, just him and me. Knowing Kent, he was right there with the guys, helping out.

That old man.

Kent’s good friend Jason put together a memorial service for Kent in February of 2013. It was held at Vito’s restaurant Guiseppe’s La Cantina in Des Plaines Illinois. Kent’s wife, children, twin brother Trent (yes he has a twin brother, and let me tell you there is definitely no denying they are twins) and the friends he and Rose Ann had made over the years all came together in rememberance of him. There were plenty of laughs recalling stories of Kent or retellings of the numerous stories we had heard from Kent, pictures on display, and the shared knowledge of how this one man impacted us all.

One thing that truly led to not a dry eye in the place was Vito playing a recording of the hunt that fateful day. In it you can hear calling, and then Kent’s voice as he decided on a course of action for the working birds. You could hear the passion in his voice, from that point on just a memory. Jason had hats made in rememberance of Kent, and also faux leg bands inscribed in his memory. I wear no other hat now when I am hunting, and the leg band sits proudly on my lanyard. It was a truly touching experience, to meet others who had been positively influenced by this one man.

Kent’s Krowd was a phrase Kent had had put on some hats he had made for friends. Seemed fitting for that phrase to be put on his memorial hats his good friend Jason had made.

Jason also had faux leg bands made, in honor of the memory of Kent. Inscribed on the band was Kent’s go to phrase; “It is what it is”.

Kent had such a profound impact on me, both as a mentor and as a friend. The values he taught me, the life lessons he made sure to pass on to me, hunting related or not, all have helped make me who I am. I miss not calling him, just to shoot the shit, or to make plans for an upcoming hunt. We would call each other, comparing notes of what we saw bird wise or to just see how each other’s family was doing.

I still make a point to call Rose Ann and check in with her. We call back and forth when time allows, and we always seem to get ahold of each other when the waterfowling season is approaching. She has had to put old Otto dog down, but, in true fashion she now has another Wirehair pup, named Buckshot (Kent’s nickname for his son).

There are plenty of other Kent stories I could write in this post, but as it is this one is lengthy. Chances are, however, if you share a blind with me and my buddies, you may hear a Kent story or two, as he always seems to come up. He may be gone, but his memory is always with us, whenever a flock of geese makes that fateful turn, or ducks drop like rocks to the spread. Whenever something happens that reminds us of him, we chuckle and say,

“I miss that old man.”

The Duck Stamp

The first Federal Waterfowl Stamp, issued August 14, 1934, artwork done by renowned artist Ding Darling.

Continuing on with my preseason blog posts about waterfowl hunting, and on the cusp of a hunting trip with my cousin and some friends to some of the public land areas in Wisconsin this weekend, I figured a good topic for this post would be the history and importance of the Federal Duck Stamp.

America’s early years saw a land teeming with millions of waterfowl, the skies filled with them during their fall migration, dubbed “The Grand Passage.” As with most wildlife during the first 100 or so years of America’s existence, waterfowl became a commodity that was seemingly endless. Market hunting for waterfowl became an industry, with market hunters killing hundreds of ducks in an outing, using such weapons as punt guns. Punt guns were very large bore guns affixed to the bow of sneak boats, where the hunters would creep to a raft of ducks and fire the large gun, killing hundreds in one shot.

Artist’s rendering of the tactic of using a punt gun during the market hunting days.

Market hunting waterfowl fed the demand from the restaurants in the east for wild game, and the feathers of various birds were used in the expanding millinery trade. But the market demands also led to the decline of waterfowl populations by the turn of the 20th century.

The effects of market hunting combined with the loss of wetland habitat due to drainage for farming, and an extended drought in the 1930’s created a dark time for America’s waterfowl. Millions of acres of wetlands had been drained, much of which in reality wasn’t suitable for farming anyway. Something had to be done or America’s waterfowl would be gone from the landscape forever.

In order to preserve and restore wetlands, money needed to be raised. In 1934, during the height of the dust bowl and Great Depression, President Franklin D Roosevelt signed into law the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, better known as the Duck Stamp Act. As I covered in a previous post, Hunting is Conservation Part 1: Follow the Money, 98 cents of every dollar spent on the stamp goes to restoration and protection of vital wetland habitats.

Under the law of the act, anyone 16 years old or over is required to purchase one and have it with them while hunting, and has to sign it across the face of the stamp. This certifies the person to hunt waterfowl in conjunction with other state requirements.

The first duck stamp cost $1 and as specified by the Act, 90 percent went to a special account called the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund for the aquisition, maintenance and rehabilitation of wetlands. The remaining 10 percent went to enforcement of the Act and the printing of the stamps. As the years went on the price of the stamp has raised to meet the rising demand of the cost of wetland protection and expansion, and it’s current price of $25 was recently done.

The stamps, as declared by the Act and it’s amendments through the years, are to be sold via the Postal Service and also at designated spots deemed by the Department of the Interior. Various sporting goods stores, retailers, and to include the gas station down the road from my house carry and sell the stamp until their quantities run out. The stamps not only are required for hunters to use, but those who don’t hunt can use them as a free pass to National Refuges.

Since it’s inception in 1934, funds from the Duck Stamp has raised over $800 million for wetland protection and restoration and also has protected 5.7 million acres of vital wetland habitat, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The 2018-2019 Federal Waterfowl Stamp, featuring mallard ducks in a wetland. The art contest held each year selects the artwork that will be featured on the stamp.

A unique aspect of the Duck Stamp is the art contest that is conducted for the art to be featured on the stamp. Five judges pick the artwork from all of the submissions, and the winner receives no compensation for winning, other than the fame and a pane of stamps featuring their artwork. Noted artist Ding Darling created the artwork featured on the first stamp, and well known artists have been featured since. The competition is open to any US citizen 18 years and older, and the goal of the Fish and Wildlife Service is to try and hold the contest at various locations around the nation each year, in an attempt to allow more people to attend and enter. There is also a junior art contest as well.

The stamps are considered by many waterfowlers as collector’s items, many buy two, one for hunting and one for collection. This benefits waterfowl, their habitat, and also other animals that share that habitat, because these people are contributing twice the amount. One thing I wish I had done was to keep my stamps from all my years of hunting, and put them in a frame. My uncle’s grandfather did this, and it currently resides at my aunt and uncle’s home with a picture of his grandfather in the frame, surrounded by rows of signed stamps from all his years of hunting. It is an amazing thing to look at, the progression of the stamps through the years. The stories and experiences those stamps have been a part of is immeasurable. It’s a true testament to the respect he had for the stamps and more importantly what they meant to him and our waterfowl.

My uncle’s grandfather’s waterfowl stamp collection. Amazing to look at the progression through the years, and it would be amazing to hear the stories attached to them.

If you value conservation and protecting wildlife and their habitat, take $25 and buy a stamp. It’s a great collection piece and helps fund conservation.

Why Waterfowling?

When I was a kid my dad and I were hunting generalists. We hunted early geese in September, then moved into archery deer in October. Once regular waterfowl season opened, we hunted the creeks and fields for ducks and geese. Then came upland birds in November, followed by shotgun deer during the two seasons. When all that was over we would finish off the year hunting geese. Some springs we would head to Pike County, Illinois trying to hunt turkeys. We hunted everything Illinois had to offer in our neck of the woods, and as a kid it was an awesome time.

When I first moved out on my own I was a die hard archery deer hunter. I would still hunt waterfowl, but it wasn’t to the same degree that deer hunting was. That slowly changed as my buddy Mark, who I had known since I was a kid, wanted to hunt together. We had hunted together in high school for the youth waterfowl season, so we decided to get back to waterfowl hunting. He also told me,

“I got this friend, Ben, from school who wants to try hunting.” So thus was born the trio, and we loaded our giant goose decoy shells, small shells and silhouettes into the bed of my Ford Ranger and began our waterfowl hunting adventures. When I came home from Iraq in 2008, my passion switched from archery deer to 100 percent devotion to duck and goose hunting. I bought a five foot by eight foot box trailer and we loaded it with Bigfoot brand goose decoys. Since then we have upgraded to a 6 foot by 12 foot box trailer, 120 full body GhG goose decoys, three dozen full body duck decoys, two dozen goose shells and enough layout blinds to outfit six guys. I’ve even gotten myself further involved in getting a dog (she will have her own blog post later).

I have often questioned and also been questioned as to why I have such a drive for waterfowling. What is it about the activity that gives me such a passion that it borders on obsession? What I have found is there isn’t one factor about it that drives me, but the combination of a few factors.

Waterfow hunting is a social activity, and great memories can be made with good friends, like this Thanksgiving Day hunt we had in 2010.

Social Aspect

Waterfowling the way we do it with the amount of decoys and gear we have requires a few people to get it done. So the social aspect of waterfowling comes from necessity. Now, deer hunting can be a social event as well. I’ve been a part of “deer camp” quite a few times in my life, but the social part is usually in the camp itself after the day’s hunt. Generally, deer hunting itself is a solo venture, long hours spent in silent solitude, waiting for a deer to come by.

In our way of waterfowl hunting, it takes a team to get everything done in time for shooting light. Everyone has a role during set up and tear down, and if it’s our core group, everyone knows what needs to be done and gets to it. Two to three guys set up decoys, with one guy placing the stakes and the other one or two follow along placing decoys on the stakes. The one placing the stakes is usually one of the more experienced guys, knowing how to set up based on wind and other factors. One or two other guys would work on brushing blinds while the decoys are getting set up. This whole process can take us thirty minutes if we are putting out all of our 120 full bodies. The system works because we have done it so much.

The social aspect of waterfowl hunting goes beyond the work involved. Hunting with friends allows you to share the experience together, making memories as a group. Whether it was a bang up limit out day, or you got skunked, whether you swatted mosquitos while dripping sweat or shivered and froze in the cold snow, it’s an experience all went through together. Some of my fondest memories come from hunting with friends. There’s no need to be quiet while waiting for the flight, stories can fly back and forth. Discussions can be had as to the course of action as the birds close the distance, and celebrations can take place after a successful hunt. I’ve hunted by myself a few times (well except I had Lola, but she doesn’t talk much) and honestly nothing compares to time with good friends.

Nothing changes your perspective as a hunter like killing birds and having them retrieved by your own dog. This dog has a drive that does not stop while she is hunting.

Dog Work

One of the most amazing things in the waterfowling world to watch is a good retriever working. I’ve hunted around a few dogs in my life, and when the waterfowling bug bit me, I began to yearn for a dog of my own. I failed in my first attempt trying to make a hunting dog out of our first dog Bella (come to find out later she came from a service dog line, not a hunting line). Through unmeasurable patience and love from my wife, she allowed me to get another dog, Lola and even though it is a challenge at times having two dogs, Lola is my constant hunting companion.

Having a good retriever can mean the difference between recovering a wounded or dead bird that is hidden and potentially going home empty handed. While my early hunting life as a waterfowler was measured in how many birds I get, now I find myself more interested in seeing the dog work. A good retriever is a pleasure to watch, especially when you’ve worked with them to get them to that point. I’ve seen Lola make some amazing retrieves, which mean more to me than the number of birds I came home with.

The Birds Themselves

One thing about waterfowl that really gets into my blood is how the birds finish in the spread when we have completely fooled them. You can verify this with my wonderful wife, but if I see geese or ducks hitting a field while I am driving, I have to be reminded I am driving. There is something about the grace and beauty in their movements that draws me in. Each species of ducks and geese have their own identifiable flight pattern, and how they close the distance when they want to land are as varied as the birds themselves.

Mallards can start a mile high and when they decide they want in, they almost touch their wingtips together and drop like a rock. Canada geese can almost flip upside down to lose air in their wings, what hunters term “maple leafing” because they look like leaves falling from the sky. They do this to close the distance fast when they are higher in the sky. They can become very noisy on approach and that to this day makes the hair stand up on my arms. Wood ducks seem to scream in at full speed, and seem to make last minute decisions to the point they appear to come close to crashing. Teal are called little fighter jets because they have one speed and it’s fast. Each of these flights and the bird’s behavior keeps me coming back for more.

Our first snow goose hunt in Colorado in the spring of 2010 was a hunt unlike anything I had ever experienced before.

Sharing a blind with family and friends, plus some “jewelry” for my cousin Colton, makes for an awesome memory.

Bag limits should not be the final measure of a successful hunt, but it sure is nice when a plan comes together. All smiles for us after this late season goose hunt.

Memories Made

All in all, the preceding topics add up to the main reason waterfowl hunting is such a passion for me; the memories made while in the field. I have had some great gut busting laughs, some frustrating days that almost bring me to tears, and every emotional experience in between while hunting. I’ve drug my dad in his wheelchair through a muddy field in the rain so he could hunt. I’ve hiked in decoys, blinds and gear when I’ve sworn that after the service I would not hike a heavy load, which led to one of my most memorable hunts I’ve had. I’ve frozen, sweated, cursed and celebrated, sworn I was done just to go back the next morning, because the experiences and memories can’t be found anywhere else. I’ve seen nature come awake, seen nature go to bed, experienced beautiful sunrises and equally breathtaking sunsets that any other hobby wouldn’t have shown me. The memories made while waterfowling is a driving factor as to why I do it season after season. When the weather turns cooler, and the birds start moving, I begin to feel like a kid at Christmas waiting for the opening weekend. Those are the reasons why I love it, and if any of them lose their meaning to me, it will be time to hang up my calls. Lucky for me, I don’t foresee that for a long, long time.

Our Public Lands

There is no subject I have done more of a complete 180 degree change in my viewpoint about than the issue of public lands. The subject of public lands can be a divisive topic, and from what I have read and experienced, there is a lot of misinformation out there about it. Having my eyes opened to the reality of our public lands, the importance of them, and what it would mean to lose them has taken me from one of their critics to a passionate supporter of them.

My first serious experience hunting public land was drawing an Illinois Turkey permit that allowed me to hunt Winston Tunnel State Natural Area. While I wasn’t successful, I had an absolute amazing time.

My kit I carried around for two days while hunting turkeys on Illinois public land.

A broad overview of the history of federal ownership of land starts with the government owning large tracts of lands ceded to them by the states and territories to encourage westward expansion. When the west was “settled” around the turn of the century, thoughts on public lands shifted and the federal government opened the lands entrusted to them for grazing by cattle operations. In 1934 Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, and at the same time created the US Grazing Service. This was the first time the government regulated grazing activities that had been long freely allowed. In 1946, the Grazing service became the Bureau of Land Management.

During the height of the environmental movement in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the Public Land Law Review Commission recommended that further land transfer from the federal government to the states should be considered only if the transfer benefits the general public, and that the government should retain land that doesn’t meet that criteria for the use of all Americans.

Public lands (save for National Park land) allow all sorts of recreation, from hunting and fishing, to biking, hiking, camping, target shooting and also off road vehicle recreation. These lands are used by millions of Americans every year, provide those who can’t afford to buy lands themselves to recreate, and also provide a source of income for communities in close proximity that otherwise wouldn’t have anything.

As long as there has been public lands, there has been the movement to privatize them. The biggest push recently has been to transfer public lands to state control, which sounds like a good idea on the surface, until you look at what that means for access. In the case of western lands, fire is always a threat due to the climate. The federal government spends millions annually on fighting wildfires. If these same lands were transferred to state control, firefighting efforts on these lands would bankrupt state budgets. Furthermore many state constitutions require that lands that aren’t making money for the state to be sold and the revenue used for the school system. This means that if the upkeep, maintenance and management of the lands costs more than what it generates, the land is to be sold to the private sector. This means that those lands that millions of people recreate on would be gone.

These lands were set aside for the purpose of use by all Americans, not just the select few that can afford to buy the land. The holding of these lands has been declared by anti public land officials such as Senator Mike Lee of Utah as “the King’s Land”, which harkens back to feudal England when the King owned the land. This couldn’t be further from the truth. These lands belong to all Americans, from all walks of life, not the top tier of the nation. If politicians like Mike Lee or Jason Chaffetz had their way, the 1% of our country would own the land and we the people would be excluded from it.

I used to think along the lines of people like Lee and Chaffetz. I used to think what business does the federal government have in owning land? I thought they controlled it and didn’t allow it to be used by anyone. I live in Illinois, where private ownership of land is rampant, and where state land holdings that are to be used by the public are severely limited, especially here in northern Illinois. Some of the lands I hunted as a kid have been sold, and are now subdivisions. It is getting harder and harder to get permission to hunt because some of the prime land is owned by people from Chicago or even in another state. I have a few private farms left to hunt, (one of which is for sale) but I have found myself eyeing public land as an option.

Listening to podcasts has broadened my horizons as I have said earlier, and listening to those who hunt the lands of the west has changed my view on public lands. Their passion for the land and the opportunity they have had because of it has inspired me to become an advocate. In fact, this past spring I applied for and received a permit to hunt turkeys on a state natural area here in Illinois. Even though I wasn’t successful it was one of the best times I’ve had hunting. It was so much fun in fact I plan to apply again with a buddy. We also have a plan to hunt a few of the other areas for archery deer this fall too.

I’ve gained a new appreciation for public lands, and will do everything I can to protect them. I’ve researched as much as I can about public lands, I’ve contacted my representatives, and now I’m using my blog to spread the word. What those who wish to take them from us hope for, is for us to believe the line that they are the “King’s Lands”. The reality is the opposite, these lands belong to all, and are being threatened by they few.

I will close this blog post with some words of wisdom that my father imparted on me in my youth. We were driving past a section of woods that had recently been purchased by the Conservation District near my home town. Knowing it was off limits to hunting, I scoffed at it and said to my dad,

“That sucks, conservation district bought that.”

He looked over at me and said,

“I’d rather see that conservation sign over a strip mall or rooftops.”

That hit me hard, knowing he was right, and how foolish I was. Today that land is public hunting by lottery. The few want to take from the many, we as stewards of the land and inheritors of our public lands need to defend it.

Land and Water Conservation Fund: Why it is Important.

It is fashionable nowadays to blast off shore resource extraction companies for the multitude of environmental issues, and in certain instances they have sole ownership of that (Deepwater Horizon anyone?). It is said they are out to only gain a profit while negating environmental issues. Well one way they have a positive impact is the money they provide to the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). The fund is up to expire at the end of this month, so I figured I should go into why it is important and why it should be supported.

For almost 50 years, the LWCF has been the most important funding source for conservation in the United States. The energy companies that participate in resource extraction in the Outer Continental Shelf pay royalties to the federal government for the rights to conduct their extraction. The government then takes those funds and reinvests them in conservation of our public lands. This totals about 900 million dollars for conservation a year. Since it’s inception in 1965, the LWCF has protected nearly 5 million acres of public land and has funded nearly 41,000 state and local park projects. The fund has protected land in nearly 98% of counties in the United States.

Tourist traffic to areas such as the one pictured no doubt has a positive economic and social impact on the local area. Without LWCF money there would be no traffic.

In addition to the protection of public land, the LWCF money also revitalizes local economies. Local businesses in areas that have public lands receive $730 billion annually nationwide due to tourist visiting to take part in outdoor recreation on these lands. 6.5 million jobs are generated as a result of this, which equates to 1 out of every 20 jobs in the US. Additionally, for every dollar of LWCF money invested, there is a four dollar return. Simply put, the money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund does way more than protect public lands.

Even though $900 million is authorized for the LWCF, Congress routinely diverts this money elsewhere at their behest. This in turn leads to inadequate funding of vital conservation programs. Congress has a bad habit of diverting funds earmarked for one thing and used for another. As important as this money is there shouldn’t be any diverting of funds.

Since it’s inception in 1965, congress has authorized the LWCF for two 25 year terms, which expired in 2015. Congress then extended it for another three years, and it is set to expire on September 30 2018. If it expires, and the funds stop, this will have a severe adverse effect on public lands and our ability to recreate on OUR lands. Contrary to what has been said, these lands truly belong to the people, and if the funding stops, that $900 million annually will be gone, and with it begins the process of losing our lands.

I urge all hunters, hell all people who enjoy public lands, to contact your congressional representative and urge them to vote for full and permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. If you enjoy public lands, not just those you can hunt or fish on, but National Parks as well you should take the refusal to reauthorize it as an offense. Hell if you enjoy clean water and fresh air, you need to be supportive of this fund. Take the time to contact your congressional representative and tell them to vote in support of the LWCF. Let them know also that these funds should never be diverted for other uses. They work for you, make sure you let them know your stance.

Hunting is Conservation Part 2: The North American Wildlife Conservation Model

With last week’s blog post I covered the financial aspect that hunting contributes to conservation, so this week I figured the best follow up as part two would be The North American Wildlife Conservation Model. This model was born out of necessity, as forward thinking outdoorsmen such as Theodore Roosevelt and George Grinnell decided to advocate for the protection of wild animals and wild places. While the model is not law, it is the basis of policy ideas for numerous conservation organizations and state and federal wildlife agencies.

Theodore Roosevelt and George Grinnell, the epitomes of the hunter conservationists, had the foresight and ambition to push for protecting our hunting heritage and our wild animals and wild places.

The Model has two basic principles; fish and wildlife are for the non-commercial use of the public, and they should be managed so that they are available at optimal population levels forever. There are seven tenets to the Model that expand on these two basic principles, which are…..

1). Wildlife as public trust resources.

This means that while land can be owned by individuals, no one can claim wildlife as their own, and the wildlife is managed by the government in trust of the people.

2). Elimination of market hunting.

Market hunting led to the decline and extinction of many species. Market hunting placed profits before the well being of the resources. There was a feeling that the resources were infinite, never in danger of running out. Unfortunately we found out the hard way that wasn’t true, and banned market hunting to ensure we didn’t continue down that dangerous path.

3). Allocation of Wildlife by Law.

Instead of being treated as a market commodity, or private ownership, wildlife are allocated by law for public use. Simply put, wildlife belong to all people, and its use is managed by law to ensure all have the ability to enjoy the resource.

4). Wildlife should only be killed for a legitimate purpose.

This tenet means that animals should only be killed for food, self defense, fur and protection of property (livestock and crops). Also, this means that it is unethical to kill any animal without exhausting every effort to recover it. Many states’ game laws require this of hunters.

5). Wildlife is an international resource.

Humans make political borders, and animals obviously don’t recognize them. This tenet means that management is an international affair. That is why it is the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, because many animals are migratory and effective management requires all countries to be in agreement.

6). Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy.

Informed management and decision making processes need to be based on science and not politics. Trained biologists help make decisions based on data, science, professional experience, rather than solely on hunting, stocking or predator management. The study of wildlife takes into account all issues, habitat, population dynamics, and national surveys of hunting.

7). Democracy of Hunting.

This tenet is based on the idea from Teddy Roosevelt that hunting and access to wild places would benefit society as a whole. The financial support that money raised by hunting allows for this access.

This model coupled with other environmental protection has brought back multitudes of wildlife from the brink of extinction. We as hunters enjoy game numbers at the level they are because of the success of this model. It has led to management of wildlife not for economic gain but rather for the good of the population, and hunting has become a successful tool in proper management.

When hunting is removed as a management tool due to public outcry, the states and federal government take on the full burden of population management. They hire out for individuals to cull a certain number of animals, which is expensive. In my opinion this is a cold and callous way to do it, and also devalues the animals, as you are using a hired gun to take the species rather than a hunter who has respect and admiration for that animal.

No one knows better than hunters the value in healthy game populations and habitat. Hunters as a whole value animals not just because we take them, but also because in their pursuit we become closer to them and nature as well.

Hunters created the North American Wildlife Conservation Model in response to their viewing of the decline of wildlife at the turn of the century. Avid outdoorsmen such as Roosevelt and Grinnell wanted to protect wildlife not only in their own time but for future generations to enjoy. Modern hunters continue to carry the torch of the model. We as hunters should carry great pride in our contribution to conservation, and should learn more about the North American Wildlife Conservation Model and how important it is to our heritage.