This fall, while eating supper on the back deck, my wife, Sue said, "Listen," which to a person like me who's deaf as a post, means nothing. What she saw when she looked toward the sound were hundreds of white-fronted Geese heading south, which is a reminder that waterfowl hunting season is just around the corner, and I recall all too well the last time I got going on hunting at Hatfield Lake.
I received e-mails from guys who said they were hunters using language that would've made a sailor blush, and almost made me fear for my life. So, I'd like to set the record straight right from the get-go:
First. I am NOT anti-hunting, but I am very much FOR responsible hunting. OK? The way I saw the flap over waterfowl hunting at Hatfield Lake last year was that it was irresponsible and illegal - as it turned out - I was right on both accounts. No one can hunt anything at Hatfield Lake legally.
And just so you know, I hunted waterfowl, quail and cottontails from the time it was legal for me to carry the shotgun. I was raised in Connecticut, which is the home of the mallard of the east, the black duck. I enjoyed eating black ducks, in the same way I enjoyed eating mallards I shot (legally) at Crane Prairie, Summer Lake and on the Deschutes River. I just don't hunt any more, and I'll tell you why.
Back in the mid-'50s, a longtime hunting pal of mine and I were out doing our thing two days into the season when two mallards were about to go sailing by our blind on Crane Prairie. I called out the first one and he said he'd take the trailing one. I shot mine with an ancient long-barreled 12-gauge my grandfather gave me years ago. Seconds later, Bill's shotgun banged in my ears, and his duck, which was higher up than mine, went tumbling. Then, right out of nowhere, came a huge, female northern goshawk, headed for the duck. "Son-of-a....," my pal grumbled, and took aim at the hawk.
"No!" I shouted, jerking to my feet, making enough commotion to cause the hawk to shy off, out of range.
"What did you do that for?!" He shouted.
I tried to convince him we had plenty of ducks, shooting that goshawk for going after his bird wasn't necessary. It didn't work. He was as mad as anyone could get, and from that day forward we never hunted together again, and I hung up my grandfather's 12-gauge. I still buy a duck stamp, and for years I was a member of Ducks Unlimited.
One more thing - I always ate what I shot. My grandfather made sure of that. One day when I was about 12, I came back to the farm carrying a huge female great horned owl I shot with my .22. The first person I met was my grandfather, who asked what I was carrying and I told him.
"Did you shoot it?" He asked.
"Yes," I responded, "and I got it with one shot."
"That's pretty good shooting," he said, looking at the owl more carefully, then added, "But why did you shoot it?"
I immediately thought of all the owl-eating-chicken stories I'd heard, and said, "Well, owls eat chickens."
"Yes," he replied, "Some owls will eat chickens. Was that one eating a chicken?"
It went on like that, and each time he asked the question, "why," I got myself in deeper and deeper. I even thought about lying to him, but I remember with shame and agony to this day the one time I lied to my grandfather. He whipped me on my legs with a horse-whip. And I still cry at that memory, because I recall his crying, too.
Anyway, he gave me his pocketknife and sent me out behind the barn to pluck the owl clean, and with instructions to cut it open and bring back the owl and what it had been eating.
I did as instructed, and it would take me all day to tell you what I learned about the physiology and anatomy of the great horned owl. Suffice to say, when I got back to my grandfather I showed him the three mice I found in the owls gullet, and then, lighting up his pipe, he said to me: "Now, tell me about the role of mice on this farm..."
I need go no further, except to say that was my first lesson in ecological thinking, and to share his final thoughts about the owl, "From this day on I want you to remember, what ever you shoot, you eat." And I did - and have never shot another owl, coot, or anything else that wasn't "legal game."