A Defining Moment Awaits Ducks And Duck Hunting

This morning at 9:00am duck season opened here in Minnesota.   Back 20 years ago you would have found me either jump-shooting ducks along some small river, or perhaps readying the decoys on some lake for the then noon-time opener.   During that time in my life duck hunting was an important fall ritual.   As the leaves on the landscape started their explosion of colors, duck hunting signaled to me that indeed the fall hunting seasons had truly arrived in earnest.

I’m sad to say things just don’t happen that way any longer.   Perhaps my interest in duck hunting has waned a bit…more likely the explanation is my free-time has undergone a rearrangement of priorities.   Whatever the case, the truth is I just don’t feel as passionate about hunting ducks as I did back in my youth.

Even so, for the past 30 years I have religiously purchased my state and federal duck stamps even though I didn’t always need them for licensing purposes.   I always felt it was a good and proper thing to support waterfowl and wetlands conservation by making this small donation.   I also have spent thousands of dollars on attending Ducks Unlimited banquets over the years…both on the meals and all the fun activities that take place at those events.   In business, I have worked on fundraising efforts that over the past 15 years totals nearly a quarter of a million dollars donated to DU.   Suffice it to say, even though my interest in duck hunting may have peaked several years ago…my commitment toward doing my part to financially support the conservation efforts has not wavered over this same time.

In Minnesota duck numbers have been on the decline for quite some time.   There’s various explanations for why this is likely occurring, but nevertheless it is frustrating.   Estimates show that over the years nearly $600 million has been generated and spent in Canada to improve and preserve our vital wetland habitats.      Some have suggested this money has not been well invested…and they may have a strong argument.   This is critical because here in my state well over 70 percent of the ducks shot cross the border from Canada.   No doubt about it what happens in Canada has a direct impact on how many of us enjoy the sport of duck hunting—no matter where you might live.

Many of us can sense that we are closing in on a defining moment in waterfowl conservation.   Money doesn’t seem to be an issue…for well over 60 years waterfowl conservation has been one of the most well funded wildlife programs in history.   Name another species of game that has received as much attention and resources for developing conservation measures than waterfowl?   Truth is…there just isn’t any.   And despite the successful, and albeit very necessary money-raising efforts, what have we got to show for our investment?   A declining resource, at least in many areas, that is leaving hunters/conservationists frustrated because of the diminishing population trends for many duck species.

I’m not here to suggest I know the answer.   Quite honestly, this problem is so multi-faceted I’m not even convinced that all the experts really have a solid grasp on what needs to be done to change the course.   Obviously throwing money at the problem is not a solution in itself.   Yet, of course, money is vitally needed and will continue to be needed long into the future.

When you buy licenses, belong to conservation organizations and attend fundraising functions you expect to see results.   Certainly not to pick on DU as they are one of the truly great conservation organizations of our time. Yet, when you leave a DU banquet having spent more than you ordinarily would spend on a night out…this feeling is easily mitigated when you reason you “did it for the ducks.”   I can’t tell you how many times I have heard this mantra repeated over the years.

The problem is, for most of us sportsmen we view conservation spending akin to investing money in a bank.   For example, if we shell out $200 and “do it for the ducks” we expect to eventually see positive results with our money.   Instead, the general consensus among many waterfowlers has been we are seeing substantially depreciated returns on our money.   Perhaps it’s time we take a critical look at waterfowl conservation spending—both in Canada and domestically—to readjust our conservation portfolio.   Most sportsmen equate ducks as the great dividends we receive from our conservation investments…and when the dividends start to dry up then perhaps it is time to better scrutinize how that money is being spent.

The bottom line is I want to see more ducks flying in the skies.   I’m not naive to say this alone would get me back into the marsh or puddle-jumping for ducks.   Truth is over the years I have gravitated toward interests other than waterfowling…and that’s perfectly okay.   Still, that doesn’t mean my interest in seeing a thriving, healthy waterfowl resource is any less than it ever has been.   I’ll continue spending my hard-earned dollars on ducks…but the folks entrusted with spending that money better start doing a better job with the fiduciary responsibility they’ve been given to show more positive results.

Many of the hard-core waterfowlers I’ve known are beginning to lose hope that we’ll ever see “the good ol’ days” of waterfowling once again.   What a shame.   Along with that fleeting hope may soon come diminishing dollars for wetlands conservation.   Certainly the problem of ducks is more than just money…but to accomplish just about anything these days requires adequate funding, so there’s no denying the importance of seeing funding resources continue.   It’s time, however, for the decision makers to realize that the patrons are expecting to see some positive returns on their shares.   To improve our current situation, perhaps some attitudes and philosophies need to be adjusted before it’s too late…and my hunch is it needs to happen soon!

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

WARNING: Some Assembly May Be Required

As I loaded the big box into my truck I silently wondered what I was getting myself into with this new purchase.   You see, this year I decided that in my deer woods I wasn’t going to hunt solely out of permanent tree stands.   Nope, this year I wanted the flexibility of using at least a few portable deer stands that could be moved around, if necessary.   I settled on a 12’ ladder tree stand with the over-sized seat and platform.

DeerStandSo, there I was unloading the big gangly-looking 105 pound box and carrying it into my shed to begin the assembly process.   This evening I had the choice of either going to the local high school football game on a Friday night…or tackling this project.   It was a tough choice…but I opted for assembly of the deer stand because these days my mind is definitely on hunting.   Besides, I need to get the stand out in the woods soon so it acclimates to the woodland landscape.

I cut open the box knowing full well there would be several loose parts inside.   I grabbed some metal and began pulling…only to find a sticker suddenly attached to my hand.   It was one of those hi-glow safety warning stickers that read: “DO NOT ATTEMPT TO USE THIS STAND UNTIL FINAL ASSEMBLY IS COMPLETED.”   Hmm…it never occurred to me that I could begin testing it or even hunting from the stand prior to tightening the last bolt.   Oh well, I realize we live in a litigious society making these goofy stickers necessary…but often the messages can be down-right silly.

Worse yet…as I continued reading all of the “fine print” on this sticker it went on to say “DO NOT REMOVE, DESTROY OR DEFACE THIS LABEL UNDER PENALTY OF LAW.”   What law?   I’ve never heard of a friend or acquaintance prosecuted under such legislation…and let’s face it people have been removing such tags off of pillows and furniture for years.   Even so, my intent was not to purposefully remove the sticker…it simply fell off in my hands while removing the parts from the box.

Little did I realize the warnings contained on this sticker was only a harbinger of many, many more warnings yet to come.   The next warning that really caught my attention was: “PLEASE NOTE: THIS PRODUCT WILL TAKE SOME TIME TO ASSEMBLE.”   Really…I guess I figured that was probably the case…but what exactly do they mean by the making the ambiguous wording “some time?”   Hours?   Days?

Well, just when the stand was starting to take shape and I had about 1/2 of the bolts tightened, I discovered what this warning truly meant.   Indeed, what the comment tried to forewarn me about was to be prepared to disassemble and then reassemble the product once again.   Why?   Because the damn assembly instructions were not only poorly written, but the instructions contained few diagrams for those of us who like to view schematic pictures to see how things should properly go together.   What should have been a project taking only half the evening…in reality ended up taking most of the evening to complete.   Oh, well…!!

Quite honestly I understand the reasoning why consumers are inundated with warnings when purchasing these sort of products.   It’s to help the manufacturer insulate themselves from liability.   In fact, I wouldn’t be surprise if most of the verbiage is standard coming from the Treestand Manufacturer’s Association.   I think it’s great that an organization like this exists to rate these products and now oversees the industry by not only improving safety, but to maintain a quality standard within the industry.

In the end, I was extremely satisfied with the quality and appearance of the product I spent my evening assembling.   If you haven’t looked at ladder stands lately take a closer look.   I think the quality has vastly improved over the years and the prices are getting extremely competitive.   For about $100 you can purchase a functional ladder stand that will serve many years of hard use.   Just remember, some assembly may be required and the project may take more time than you anticipate.   There you have it…you’ve now been given the only warning you realistically need when purchasing such a product.   Have fun and be safe!!!

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

Teaching The Hunting Camp Cook An Important Lesson

It truly wouldn’t be hunting camp without one.   I’m talking about that special person who proudly (or in some cases, not so proudly) wears the designation as camp cook.   In many camps this person is worshiped for their unique culinary abilities…in other camps, well…let’s just say you know how the old joke goes.   The hunters sitting around after a hard day’s hunt complaining about the cooking, but finishing their statement “but this is just how I like it” (so as not to totally piss off the guy responsible for the food preparation duties).

Just a few days ago my old camp cook stopped by for a visit with his wife.   It was good to see ol’ Tom once again.   When he left I started thinking about our relationship that started about 14 years or so ago.   You see…Tom doesn’t hunt, but he likes to camp.   So one day I asked him how he would like to be my hunting camp cook and accompany 8 of us antelope hunters out to Montana for the fall hunt.   Foolishly, he jumped at the opportunity and I’m not quite sure his life was ever quite the same again.

You see, having a camp cook who is not a hunter is like the best of both worlds.   First, the cook can stay in camp all day putzing and putting a little extra effort into the meal preparation.   Yet, when the hunters are spending the day miles from camp it also serves nicely to have someone back in camp watching over things.   Tom was great, for several years we coaxed him into this critical role.   Quite honestly, when the cook is also a hunter it usually just doesn’t work out quite this ideal.   But with Tom, he would have the food hot and ready as we arrived back in camp hungry and cold.   Now that’s living.

I can’t help but think back to a funny story involving Tom and the aspect of meal planning.   You see, I would usually ask him to plan out all the meals so I knew what grub to bring with on the trip.   On one particular occasion Tom had down a meal calling for Tuna Helper.   I SAID NO WAY!!   My guys are not going to eat that crap.   Tom was relentless…he said you guys just have never experienced the way I doctor it up and serve it.

I consulted with my friend Mitch and explained our predicament.   Tom was bound and determined to serve Tuna Helper in camp no matter how we tried to dissuade him otherwise.   That’s when the idea finally struck us.   Mitch and I both said if he won’t listen…well, then let’s fix his butt.   And fix his butt we did.   To this day Tom does not realize this but we played a prank on him that year in camp.   We’ll see if he reads this blog because if he does he will surely respond when he reads what I’m about to disclose.

TunahelperNo doubt about it Tuna Helper IS NOT HUNTING CAMP FOOD!   To ensure that our camp cook understood this critical concept Mitch and I purchased two boxes of the stuff and carefully opened the packaging with a knife.   Next, a small slit was made in the bag of ingredients found inside.   We then carefully took a small funnel and poured several ounces of red-hot cayenne pepper inside the mix…shook the contents to disperse…and then hot-glued everything back shut just like it came from the store.   Then during the trip, when the time was right, we snuck into our cook’s food chest and substituted the real boxes with, as Emeril Lagasse would say, the stuff that was “cranked up a few notches.”

Poor Tom…when the day finally arrived for serving Tuna Helper we all told him again not to expect many hunters coming back to camp for lunch if he was still hell bent on serving that shit.   He was…and mixed up a big heaping of the pre-packaged (tainted) concoction.   As I recall, many of us hunters decided to come back to camp that day not to actually eat the crap…but we wanted to see Tom swallow his own cooking.   Cooking that we had heard him brag so much about.

Well, let me tell you…if memory serves me correctly Tom was flabbergasted by the awful taste of his special gourmet dish that we all pleaded with him not to make.   He didn’t suspect it then…and I don’t believe he realizes it even to this day that his cooking on that day had just a little outside help unbeknownst to him.   It was so worth it though…trying to watch him eat that god-awful concoction about which we had heard so many positive things.

In the future, when we went on subsequent hunting trips, I don’t remember Tom being quite so bold by insisting on preparing a food dish that did not pass majority approval.   I guess this proves that sometimes in hunting camp you have to be downright mean to get your point across…and I believe it worked this time.   I will contend until my dying day that hunting camp is no place for foods such as Tuna Helper, no matter how you doctor up the pathetic taste.

Over the years I’ve been curious to ask Tom if he’s ever prepared TH again for his family.   My only fear is on that infamous hunting camp day we might have ruined what he considered to be one of his signature dishes.   Still, sometimes to preserve the taste palate of the hard working hunters in camp, a person’s got to do what a person’s got to do.   Sorry, Tom…with only this single minor deficiency in culinary meal planning you were without a doubt one of the best cooks I’ve ever experienced out on the middle of the Montana prairie.

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