Advertisement

Archive for Sunday, December 2, 2007

Annual hunt a reminder of tradition, change

December 2, 2007

Advertisement

For more than 30 years, a group of us has been celebrating the opening of pheasant season in north central Kansas. The drive west on a Friday in early November presents a succession of indelible images: the afternoon sun washing tall grasses with gold and copper light, mountains of milo and corn overflowing the grain elevators in small town co-ops, long-shadowed hay bales strewn across fields like the monoliths of Easter Island, colossal grain elevators rising up like temples on the level horizon, pickup trucks on Interstate 70 bearing kennels with pointers and retrievers who've lived through the tedium of summer in eager anticipation of this annual adventure.

The familiarity of these scenes makes individual weekends blend into one long, seamless hunt, creating a sense of timelessness that seems to become more important as we age. Over the years we've honed our routine to a ritual. We stop at the same filling station in Manhattan for gas. We let the dogs out to stretch at the same rest stop. We make the once-a-year purchase of a package of barbecued corn nuts, which we consume for good luck. We pass the sign that boasts about how many people a Kansas farmer feeds. Every year the numbers change, but the sign remains.

Of course, the impression of constancy is illusory. Since we began, the number of hunters has dwindled. Young men are more inclined to spend their weekends on the Internet. Fathers are less inspired to, "Take your boy hunting instead of hunting your boy." Out-of-state hunters have leased up farm lands that were once open to hunters who'd stop and ask permission. The diner that used to be crowded at 5:30 in the morning with representatives of three generations has closed.

With a swiftness that seems not only unreal but unfair, we who started out as eager youths have been transformed to grizzled Senior Citizens. At the breakfast provided by the Lutheran Church, we exchanged tales about our various infirmities. One emptied his pouch of variegated pills on the table like a kid showing off his precious collection of marbles.

The most disturbing change has been the decline of quail and pheasant. Opening day marked a record low for us since we started hunting. I doubt if we sighted more than a dozen birds. We consoled ourselves with half-hearted expressions of the rewards of camaraderie, the joys being outdoors. But futility hung in the air. Even our dogs seemed discouraged. And there was some grumbling among us about hanging up the enterprise for good.

Theories abound to explain the decline of game birds. The extraordinary comeback of wild turkeys, which some say out-compete quail. Loss of habitat because of aggressive farming practices. Increase in predators because of a falling off of trapping. No-till farming, good from the viewpoint of soil conservation, bad from the viewpoint of nesting cover. A farmer who stopped on the road offered a new hypothesis. The area was a "pool" of West Nile Virus, he said. Several people had caught it. Song birds had disappeared. Perhaps it had spread to the pheasant.

But nature is inscrutable and offers compensations. Along with turkeys, the deer population has soared. Never have I seen so many trophy bucks. Once, in the woods, I heard the approach of heavy breathing and turned to encounter a magnificent specimen the size of a horse. The success of the deer ought to be a cause for cheer. But on returning home, I discovered that rutting bucks had scraped the bark off my recently planted maples, destroying them perhaps. Suddenly, these emblems of grandeur became varmints in my sight. Such are the conflicts between nature and culture.

Kansas itself seemed a state of paradoxes as we drove west. Crop prices are up, but so is the price of land, making prospects of a return on investment dim. The farmer we visit foresees the day when the entire county is owned by three or four huge farming operations. The price of oil has provoked a frenzy of drilling. Derricks pump wealth into dying Kansas communities - even as their source of water is drying up. For every blessing, a curse.

A farmer's wife who'd come to Kansas from the West coast confessed that she lives through the growing season in a state of perpetual anxiety. Will it rain too much or not enough? Will a bumper crop knock the bottom out of the market, or must there be a crop failure to drive prices up? Her native Kansas neighbors, inured to disappointment and disaster, counsel her that everything will work out in the end. Kansas is teaching her to persist. Last winter, her family went without electricity for 13 days.

Ad astra per aspera, without a doubt. Bitter harvests, glorious hardships, constant flux. To the stars - or some other place - it remains to be seen.

George Gurley, a resident of rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.

Comments

Pywacket 6 years, 4 months ago

In too much of a hurry earlier--sorry for any confusion. I of course meant "predators" have been destroyed over the past 200 years in this country--and that, unless such predators are reintroduced and allowed to do their job, hunters will continue to be necessary.

0

max1 6 years, 4 months ago

http://www.cjonline.com/stories/110907/out_216270076.shtml The consensus of the hunters I talked with is they do not like the early opening of pheasant season. . . in my opinion the main reason for moving the starting dates was that Wildlife and Parks secretary Mike Hayden thought it would bring more out-of-state hunters into Kansas for the split pheasant and quail openings.

http://savannahnow.com/node/399157&cid=0 Savannah Morning News A quail-hunting lesson from Kansas In a Salina, Kan., several years ago, I jokingly requested grits with my breakfast. I was surprised when the waitress asked how I'd like them cooked. "What are my choices?" I queried. "Soupy or lumpy," she answered with laughing eyes. "Not lumpy. ..., I might get homesick," I fired back with a grin whereupon my wife slapped my cap halfway across the room. "Later, when I asked why the people of Kansas were so friendly, the spunky little waitress had a pat answer. "We have to be friendly," she said with a charming smile. "We make lots of money off nuts like you."

0

Joe Hyde 6 years, 4 months ago

I was very fortunate to have been introduced to upland bird and migratory waterfowl hunting when I was seven years old. After many hundreds of bird hunts since then -- most of them successful, some not -- I have feelings that border on outright sympathy for people who've never hunted quail or pheasants. Or, if they don't themselves choose to hunt, then sympathy for people who've never tasted quail and pheasant that have been cooked by someone who really knows what they're doing.

0

Kathy Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

...and putting food on the table.

0

Pywacket 6 years, 4 months ago

Claire, you are so full of it (and so full of yourself) that there's really no point in trying to get through to you. But you should know that your "facts" are just a bunch of twisted data someone used to convince you that your heart should bleed for poor little birdies and pitiful little Bambi.

Destruction of prey animals over the past 2 centuries has eliminated the natural checks and balances, resulting in a wretched excess of prey animals. Add to that the fact that humans have overbuilt and destroyed acres upon acres of habitat, further squeezing the amount of food available to deer and other wildlife.

Your argument that starvation is nature's way to cull the genetically weak holds no water, as we are NOT in a natural ecosystem. Perfectly healthy, genetically sound animals end up starving because the lack of natural predation has allowed prey numbers to burgeon far beyond what the dwindling habitat can supply. Thus, the need for humans to hunt the excess.

If we would raze a few billion acres of strip malls, big box stores, and cookie-cutter housing developments, then reintroduce a healthy number and variety of prey animals, there might be less need for hunting, but I don't see those things happening any time soon--do you?

If you want to bleat about the poor little animals, you should be attacking the big land developers, not the hunters. Hunters are performing a necessary service.

0

max1 6 years, 4 months ago

Travels in the Interior of America, in the Years 1809, 1810, and 1811 by John Bradbury April 18th.- I proceeded to examine the neighbouring country, and soon discovered that pigeons (columba migratoria) were in the woods. I returned , and exchanged my rifle for a fowling-piece, and in a few hours shot two hundred and seventy-one, when I desisted. This species of pigeon associates in prodigious flocks: one of these flocks, when on the ground, will cover an area of several acres in extent, and the birds are so close to each other that the ground can scarcely be seen. (now extinct)

James W. Albert's journal, Kearney's expedition of 1846 (June 27, 1846) This morning at the Kansas River we saw the first flock of parroquets; they lit in a large cottonwood tree directly over our heads. (now extinct)

"Across the Rockies to the Columbia" by John Kirk Townsend (March, 1834) We saw here vast numbers of the beautiful parrot of this country, (the Psittacus carolinensis.) . . . They seem entirely unsuspicious of danger, and after being fired at, only huddle closer together, as if to obtain protection from each other, and as their companions are falling around them, they curve down their necks, and look at them fluttering upon the ground, as though perfectly at a loss to account for so unusual an occurrence. It is a most inglorious sort of shooting; down right, cold-blooded murder.

Letters and Notes on the Manner, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians by George Catlin, Fort Leavenworth (1832) I have joined several times in the deer-hunts, and more frequently in grouse [prairie chicken] shooting, which constitutes the principal amusement of this place. . . I was lucky enough the other day, with one of the officers of the garrison, to gain the enviable distinction of having brought in together seventy- five of these fine birds, which we killed in one afternoon; and although I am quite ashamed to confess the manner in which we killed the greater part of them, I am not so professed a sportsman as to induce me to conceal the fact. . . seeing the prairies on fire several miles ahead of us, and the wind driving the fire gradually towards us, we found these poor birds driven before its long line, which seemed to extend from horizon to horizon, and they were flying in swarms or flocks that would at times almost fill the air. They generally flew half a mile or so, and lit down again in the grass, where they would sit until the fire was close upon them, and then they would rise again. We observed by watching their motions, that they lit in great numbers in every solitary tree; and we placed our selves near each of these trees in turn, and shot them down as they settled in them; sometimes killing five or six at a shot.

0

max1 6 years, 4 months ago

"Game sporting also has become very commercialized." -right_thinker

It ain't real "game" and it ain't real "sporting".

2005 http://www.casperstartribune.net/articles/2005/11/12/news/national/97040b8b89e06ef8872570b5000d0537.txt A-hunting Cheney goes . . . on Cheney's undisclosed private lodge being the Paul Nelson Farm near Gettysburg, S.D. (Inclusive packages start at $3,295.) . . . The Nelson Farm is lauded as "a legendary wingshooting establishment" by The Wall Street Journal. Avid Dick-niks may remember Cheney's fast, furious pheasant gunning from 2003. Figurative feathers flew after veep and friends offed almost 500 pen-raised pheasants in one morning during a canned hunt in western Pennsylvania.

January 23, 2004 http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2004/01/23/notes012304.DTL&nl=fix Not just any ol' regular, camouflage-wearing, man-versus-nature hunt out in the wild, mind. Dick is far too fragile and unskilled and spoiled and scared of the open woods and icky furry monsters for that. Assumedly. Nossir, our man Dick, he has himself flown over, in Air Force 2, on the taxpayer's tab, accompanied by his most favoritest shotgun, to the exclusive Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, Westmoreland County, in rural Pennsylvania, to have himself a nice, cushy "canned" pheasant hunt. This is what it was: Dick and about nine other overfed white guys sitting in a comfy luxury blind with their manly shotguns, waiting for the Westmoreland guy stationed behind them on a hill to release clusters of stunned, fat, tame game birds from a net. Then they shoot them. Lots and lots of them. And then they slap each other on the back. And they grunt and say nice shot as the birds drop like flies as dogs race back and forth hauling dead or dying birds into huge piles. Whee what fun.

0

Tom Shewmon 6 years, 4 months ago

Godot, I had my little sweet tasting doe from the early firearms season processed at Steve's Meat Market in DeSoto----and one there two years ago. They do a nice job and I had it in a week. Little yearling---what I wanted for the excellent tasting meat and it is! Granted, now you're dead in the regular firearms----so it may be awhile now.

0

Flap Doodle 6 years, 4 months ago

So far, Claire has rant of the day locked up.

0

Godot 6 years, 4 months ago

My son and a friend went hunting in western Kansas last week; each bagged a deer. Son took his deer to the butcher in Tongie; it was thrown in the freezer and is number 138 on the waiting list.

0

madmike 6 years, 4 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

0

Kathy Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

I have to agree with you r_t on the pay to bag your bird hunters. Our family has always had plenty of prime hunting land, but the birds aren't there anymore like they used to be. The hunting members of our family were taught to kill for food, not pleasure.

0

Tom Shewmon 6 years, 4 months ago

Game sporting also has become very commercialized. I was lambasted a few months ago for some comments I made by some primadonna hunters, treating me like I've never been on a bonafide pheasant hunt, but I maintain, the bird-hunting has largely been commandeered by money hungry farmers/landowners and city boys with their lame banker jobs, Tahoes, $2000 Brownings, $1000 hunting dogs and armies of their idiot $150 per day paying buddies...no thanks.

I don't have freinds and family in Kansas who own 300-400 of posted and protected land. For those that do, more power to you (and don't forget to send that ham to them).

0

Kathy Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

What a tired, old argument claire. When was the last time you ate a yard bird?

0

claireredfield 6 years, 4 months ago

Headin' you off at the pass: Go ahead and focus on my typo rather than the facts. Hunters that shoot TINY LITTLE BIRDS are especially cowardly.

0

claireredfield 6 years, 4 months ago

Hunters are cowards. Especially cowardly are the kind that shoot tiny litle birds. For shame!

Myths and facts:

Myth: Hunting fees are a major source of revenue for wildlife management and habitat restoration.

Facts: The relatively small fee each hunter pays does not cover the cost of hunting programs or game warden salaries. Hunting fees pay for hunter programs that benefit only hunters, like manipulating animal populations to increase the number of animals available to kill. The public lands that many hunters use are supported by taxpayers, and funds benefiting "nongame" species are scarce.

~~~

Myth: Hunting is much less cruel than factory farming.

Facts: Yes, and Jack the Ripper was less cruel than Hitler-that didn't make him a nice guy. It is true that killing an animal in the wild is less cruel than the months of torture animals endure on factory farms. However, hunting, like farming, disrupts families and causes pain, trauma, and grief to both the victims and the survivors. Why cause any suffering when we can avoid it?

~~~

Myth: Without hunting, deer and other animals would overpopulate and die of starvation.

Facts: Starvation and disease are unfortunate, but they are nature's way of ensuring that the strong survive. Natural predators help keep prey species strong by killing the only ones they can catch-the sick and weak. Hunters, however, kill any animal they come across or any animal whose head they think would look good mounted above the fireplace-often the large, healthy animals needed to keep the population strong. And hunting creates the ideal conditions for overpopulation. After hunting season, the abrupt drop in population leads to less competition among survivors, resulting in a higher birth rate. If we were really concerned about keeping animals from starving, we would not hunt but instead take steps to reduce the animals' fertility. We would also preserve wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, and other natural predators. Ironically, many deer herds and duck populations are purposely manipulated to produce more and more animals for hunters to kill.

0

Kathy Getto 6 years, 4 months ago

I have many wonderful memories of the Pheasant/Quail seasons of my youth. My sons were taught to hunt at an early age, and now only hunt deer and turkey.

Nothing tastes like deep fried quail.

0

marcdeveraux 6 years, 4 months ago

gee, maybe george should quit whining and take up deer and turkey hunting

0

Commenting has been disabled for this item.