How Important Is Killing When Hunting?

Flip through the pages of any major hunting magazine and you will generally find it filled with page after page showing seasoned hunters displaying their fallen game animals.   Likewise, go to any major sportsman’s show and you will generally find seminar speakers whose only real credibility is having shot several trophy critters with the mounts on display to serve as prima facie evidence of their superior predatory skills.

So is that your idea of hunting success?   Do we put too much evidence on the final result (killing) and not enough on the hunting experience itself?

If you hunt the deer season hard and you come up emptyhanded do you hang your head a bit lower when interacting with your hunting buds at the coffee shop socializing about the past hunting season?   When you end the day pheasant hunting and you’re still a couple of birds short of your daily limit…do you head home with fido a bit depressed and frustrated about what little you have to show for your efforts?   Do you honestly feel that the only way to prove you’re a savvy and skilled hunter is to consistently fill the freezer with game?

If you answered yes to any of these questions I feel quite sorry for you.   Seriously, I’ve matured enough not to judge another hunter in how successful they are at the killing game.   Rather, the hunter who really impresses me is the one who hunts not for the sake of achievement, but is motivated more through personal fulfillment simply by enjoying the overall outdoors experience.

Prime example.   Bill is a successful auto sales executive from Minneapolis who for years has hunted Merriam turkeys out in the Black Hills of South Dakota in an organized turkey camp.   I’m sure tucked away in some office cabinet is a photo album filled with years and years of pictures showing evidence of his past fishing and hunting adventures.   When I hunted with Bill about 10 years ago, he was probably in his late 50s and as enthusiastic about turkey hunting as anyone else I have ever known.   But what he did one April morning totally shocked me…almost as much as it did to his turkey guide.

You see, ol’ Bill paid nearly $1,000 to be in hunting camp for three days and to chase some wily gobblers with a guide one on one.   Both him and the guide worked the hills hard and had set up in a spot near where they had put a flock to bed just the night before.   As daylight started peeking into the valley the guide was successful in calling in some very vocal birds.   The guide would call…and the three big toms would respond with raucous gobbling.   This scenario continued until the birds were easily within gun range…but Bill froze.   The guide grew a bit anxious…but continued his expert calling until each of the three toms were just about on top of the two camouflaged hunters positioned by ponderosa pine trees.   Suddenly Bill made a quick move that broke the stalemate.   Instead of reaching for his gun…he lifted his hand to simulate a pistol and rapidly pointed it at each of the birds saying “BANG, BANG, BANG…you’re dead, you’re dead, you’re dead.”

As you can imagine…those lucky toms wasted no time escaping what surely would have been a deadly situation, at least for one of them.   The utter chaos of the moment left the hunting guide totally befuddled.   He continued sitting there in disbelief as to what he had just witnessed.   Never before had he gotten a hunter in position to shoot and then seen the whole event unravel quite like this.   Afterwards, the two hunters sat on the ground laughing and reliving the unusual moment just like a couple of young first-time hunters.

Bill’s hunt was a success.   Too many years have passed to recall all the details, but knowing Bill if that event had occurred on his second day hunting (with one more day remaining) I doubt he would have hunted the next day.   Seriously, in his mind he had shot a bird…and much like a hunter who might have already used his tag on a bird…Bill would have considered his hunt over at that point.   Complete.   And a real success.

Bill’s actions taught me a very important lesson in camp that year.   When I now go hunting I don’t do so to prove my hunting prowess to anybody else.   I hunt in a manner to be consistent with my beliefs, my ethics and my thorough enjoyment of the outdoor experience.   When I strap on my boots to go hunting in the morning I don’t have anybody else to blame if the experience doesn’t live up to my expectations other than blaming myself.   Truth is over the past several years I have countless times raised my gun on animals and only pulled a mental trigger because that’s what I chose to do at that moment in time.   I’ve watched the game go bounding off because the only “bang” that occurred was mouthed by my lips and not by the muzzle of the gun.

Today when I greet an old hunting buddy I might not have seen since last season I try not to ask them what they killed.   And believe me…it’s not because I’m against killing by any means.   Instead, I know there are so many factors that go into a good hunt aside from simply just killing an animal.   It’s the sort of stuff that anti-hunters will never understand about our sport because they never give it a fair chance.

When I hear about a hunter who shoots a big-racked animal or a limit of birds, of course I feel lucky them.   But to measure a person’s hunt solely based on what they killed is not only immature, but in my opinion lacking a complete understanding of why they should be out in the woods in the first place.

A good sportsman might hunt their entire life without ever shooting what some would call a trophy animal.   So what?   It’s just not important.   The quality of the experience you derive from hunting should not be based on making extraordinary achievements in killing game.   To have such high expectations and goals for the hunt only sets one up for disappointment in the end.

One of the big faults of our modern world is the fact we tend to judge others by simplistic measures.   You can’t be a successful car collector unless you have the trophies and ribbons to prove it.   You’re not successful in the workplace unless you occasionally earn that “employee of the month” parking spot.   How can you be a successful parent unless your kid grows up and does something positive with his/her life.   Furthermore, how can you prove your marriage is successful unless you have the silver and gold wedding anniversaries to prove it.

Well, my friend, I’ve attempted to dispel a major misconception in the hunting world today.   YOU CAN be successful as a hunter even if you rarely kill any animals to back up that claim.   Besides, only desperate persons use such yardsticks to compare hunting abilities.   Killing game might be the ultimate goal of every hunt, but that’s not to diminish the process we all enjoy by being outdoors and participating in this great pastime.   After all, like ol’ Bill realized turkey hunting…coming home emptyhanded doesn’t necessarily mean that time spent in the woods or in the field is wasted.   Remember, the only person you really need to impress while hunting is yourself.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Wondering…Waiting…Hoping For The Best, But Imagining The Worst

Remember back to the days when you were a little kid and you saw a moving truck arrive somewhere in the neighborhood?   While mom and dad might have scrutinized the furniture being unloaded to make some superficial judgment on what type of family was now living in the neighborhood…of course, the only concern on your mind was whether or not the family had some future potential playmates.   You kept your fingers crossed just hoping to catch a glimpse of kids chasing around the outside of the house within your view.

In many ways this simplistic approach to the world applies to outdoors blogging, as well.   Particularly when the blogger purports to have an interest in the outdoors…but you just can’t quite put a whole lot of trust in the person, at least not until you better get to know them.   This is especially true when the blogger combines an interest in the outdoors with a heaping serving of politics infused in the blog commentary.   At first you want to embrace this person as a new friend and welcome them to the outdoors neighborhood…after all, isn’t that how your parents raised you to be by default?   Friendly…neighborly…helpful.   But your greeting is cautiously reserved until you determine with absolute certainty that the kid is not some little monster destined to spend a disproportionate amount of his life eventually serving time behind bars.

And so it is with a new blog that has started up on the outdoors scene here in Minnesota.   The Peavey Pole, written by John Merritt, who through his bio states he works for the PR group Carmichael Lynch Spong in the Twin Cities.   This blog seems to have a definite slant toward stirring up controversy…at least so far.   But the curious point I wonder about is this blog has existed for less than one month and during this time only had 5 posts (as of this writing).   That’s it!   Yet, the blog gets prominent mention recently by outdoors writer Dennis Anderson in Minnesota’s largest daily newspaper.   Hmmm…

I can’t help but wonder what’s up with that.   No, I’m not suffering here from a little blog recognition envy, but what ever happened to earning one’s stripes first?   Personally, I don’t generally want to see blogs getting that sort of free publicity when they truthfully haven’t even established themselves quite yet.   Merritt might be a damn good person…after all, he claims to hunt and fish…but that doesn’t mean I will agree with all of his views politically.   Probably not even as they relate to many conservation matters.

Yes, in many ways when a new blogger hits the ground running stating they are going to “be an all-purpose blog about Minnesota’s outdoors, covering a broad range of topics and helping to break through the logjams — political or otherwise — that affect our outdoor heritage” it does leave me a bit concerned.   Just like the little kid who anxiously waits for a new friend to move into the neighborhood…I also want that kid to be a good playmate.   Not some bully who’s nothing but a loud mouth always willing to pick a fight just for the sake of arguing with me for what I believe in.

Oh, sure, a healthy discussion about the outdoor topics is always a good thing.   And for goodness sakes, if you go through my archives over the past two years you will learn a lot about me and what I believe in.   I’ve gotten political at times…absolutely!   Have I alienated some readers because of it…no doubt!   Yet the point remains my blog didn’t launch itself thanks, in large part, to some noteworthy person giving me my due.   Truth is, I’ve let my blogging speak for itself and up until this point my 300 blog postings have not been hyped by influential sources the likes of what The Peavey Pole has already received.

I’m still waiting to see what kind of blogosphere neighbor Merritt will be with his postings.   Much of what he’s written so far doesn’t ruffle my hackles too much, but I can already sense the election season breezes starting to blow and I can’t say I am completely thrilled with the commentary I’ve been reading so far.   Whether he knows it or not, he’s aligned himself with some activist Minnesota sportsmen with whom I do not subscribe to their political philosophies.   Yet, he’s picked up a communication tool (the blog) that can be very powerful and influential, as we especially learned during the last election season.   My hope is The Peavey Pole becomes a source for good conservation discussion and not one based entirely on political agendas advanced by what I would call the vocal minority within our sportsman ranks.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.

Getting New Guns The Old Fashioned Way

The telephone rang last Sunday and it was my cousin calling.   He asked if I was going to be home later that afternoon.   I said sure, c’mon over…always got time to visit with family.   He went on, however, to explain why this was no ordinary visit…indeed, this time his visit was prompted by something he was required by law to do.   As the administrator for his brother’s estate…today his visit was also in the official capacity of transferring some property that found my name next to it in the deceased’s will.

Hmmm…that was sort of a surprise.   Now I know my deceased cousin was fairly well-to-do and had lots of personal property, but I never expected that he would remember me in his will.   In fact, he comes from a fairly large family so I fully expected that his entire estate would be split among brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces…not some cousin who is actual a first cousin once removed (gosh I hate that genealogy stuff).

Anyhow, I must admit the suspense of waiting to see what I was getting certainly kept me intrigued.   Part of me really didn’t want to accept anything, yet I struggled with the thought that receiving something from an estate is really a gift to the living and it would be downright rude not to accept it.

Okay, I have to admit…I did have a hunch the item I’d be receiving would be either a gun or some other item outdoors-related.   My cousin was big into collecting guns and cherished them like few other people I have ever known.   As it turned out, I wasn’t disappointed…when my cousin arrived he handed me a small suitcase and stated that his brother wanted me to have this.ColtNewFrontier

As I reached for the suitcase I had to fight back the tears.   Hey, I’ll be the first to admit…even though his death occurred over 18 months ago his memory is still quite vivid and he continues to live on in my heart.   I knew that whatever would be in that suitcase would only be a small piece of tangible property, but it would further embody his soul and be a constant reminder for me not to forget the man he once was.

Immediately upon opening the case I knew what it was.   I had inherited a matching pair of Colt New Frontier .22LR revolvers.   Now mind you…these were not just any pistols.   Nope, my cousin was fanatical about plinking and these two pistols were his favorites for that particular activity.   So much so that he even had a custom made holster set made for the guns with .22 shell loops and all the fancy leather detailing.   I inherited the whole works…wow!   I truly was excited.

After my cousin completed his legal obligation of transferring property and departed my house I held the guns and couldn’t help but feel weird about the entire experience.   Truth is, I have never inherited property before…except, I suppose, you could say I did when my dad died.   But somehow this was much different.   When you inherit something from within your own immediate family you already feel as though you own it by the way you use it.   Yet, in this case getting the guns was much different.   Oh sure, I had shot them before on the range with my now deceased cousin…but never did I feel as though they were mine.   And now, of course, they were mine to have and to hold much like he once did.

I couldn’t help but wonder about the thought process that must go into distributing one’s own property.   Oddly enough, my wife and I are currently engaged in the process of updating our will…so receiving estate property along with making decisions on who should get your own property at the time of your death makes one feel quite mortal, I must say.   Nobody likes to think about dying…yet we all know that throughout the history of civilization nobody has ever cheated death forever.   Eventually it catches up to all of us.

To me receiving a gift of the two pistols was certainly much more than distributing property from a person who no longer is living.   In fact, I could tell that my cousin put lots of thought into who should receive those pistols.   Seemingly nothing he ever did in his life was poorly planned out, and I truly believe that to be the case with who got what particular property in his will, too.   I didn’t just inherit two nicely collectible pieces of American firearms history…there was also an unspoken and unwritten message attached to those guns that said I should take them and be sure to use them often.   I know my cousin…he would consider it almost sinful to let the guns rot away inside some gun safe never to see the light of day.   That’s not how he operated, nor would it be the expectation he would have of their new owner.

I suspect that each and every time I bring these guns out to the range to do some plinking I will think fond thoughts of their previous owner.   After all, isn’t that the ideal goal for anyone who bestows property on another individual through inheritance?   Being remembered.

Yet, I feel the pressure…the pressure to perform, that is.   I’ve seen how these guns are capable of shooting in the hands of someone who once cared deeply about his entire firearms collection.   It’s sort of a lofty expectation for me to live up to that same level of expertise and proficiency these guns are accustomed to experiencing by their previous owner.

Even so…these guns have a new owner now…someone who will long cherish not only the two guns I received, but also the person who thought enough of me to entrust them in my life-long care.   Tonight I placed them both inside my gun safe next to the ol’ Winchester shotgun that was once my dad’s only gun.   Suddenly I now have three guns occupying space in that storage container each in their own way exuding character way beyond their tangible being.   The other guns I own, that I purchased, won’t achieve that level of respect and appreciation until someday when I pass them on to some other lucky person or persons…then they, too, will hopefully begin to take on a character of their own with a new owner.

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.