Thursday, September 14, 2006

Hunting solo sucks and other revelations

So I've been out hunting pretty much everyday since September Goose season and the Fee Pheasant hunts started up last week. So far, what I've learned is that hunting solo sucks and I need a dog, at least if I'm going to stay with this birding business.

Opening day for Oregon's September Goose season: I get up at 5:30am, grab my coffee thermos, a bag of heavy-ass goose decoys a gun and head out the door. A little before 6am, I get to Fern Ridge and start the mile-long haul back to the marsh, sweating in my waders and camo jacket.

Legal shooting time is 6:18 am and by this time I'm set up in a thicket, kneeling in bog swill up to my hips, trying to keep my gun dry. I've set my small decoy spread to my left, and immediately realize that I've half-assed it and it's pretty pointless. I've got four geese and two ducks. I shouldn't have brought any at all and at least I'd have been more mobile.

I'd been set up for about 30 minutes when it was light enough to notice that I wasn't alone on the marsh. There were other groups of hunters across the water from me, one group of three and another guy by himself. I didn't figure I'd have the place to myself on public land, 15 minutes from town. But we were in a corner of the southern portion of the reserve, where not many hunters would be.

Not long after that, a flight headed my way that seemed more or less in shooting range. I'd read about "Sky busters", guys that just shoot any overhead bird, usually wounding or missing birds and messing up flights for nearby hunters, but I was pretty sure this was my shot. So I took it and dropped the first bird. It just crumpled. I was pretty excited; I got greedy and moved my gun to another bird. Took two more shots at this other bird and didn't even phase it. But by that time, I'd lost track of the bird that I'd hit.

I spent the next three hours dragging myself through swamp grass up to my eyebrows looking for this bird, crisscrossing my side of the marsh. I hated doing it. The other guys were watching me and I knew they wanted me to get the hell out of sight. And I tried. I stayed low, ducked down when I heard a flight coming. But I never found that bird. I'm pretty sure it was stunned by my shot and kicked back up when I wasn't looking.

Walking back wet, embarrassed and empty handed may have been the low point in my hunting career. But it should be kind of funny right? Wrong. Hunters take themselves very seriously, and they should. Killing wild animals, carrying weapons, it's serious business. When hunters mess up, that usually means something or someone died for a stupid reason. So it's serious. The holier than thou; no compromise attitude most hunters have isn't a front. It's their defense to protect the sport.

But it also makes them territorial, unwelcoming pricks for the most part. I said hi to a guy that I'd seen at the DU banquet as I was walking out of the woods one morning last week and he turned away and got in his truck. But you know, I'm going to have to keep on doing this if I'm going to find people to hunt with. And I've got to do that if I'm going to keep hunting.

I need an extra set of eyes, maybe somebody with a dog. I need somebody with me to help me drag my deer out of a ravine. I need somebody to tell me where I can get my deer processed or how to preserve my pheasant's skin for fly tying. So the struggle continues.

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