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Versatile Hunter

Aldo Leopold Quotes Part 2

Mon, March 13, 2017

Since most of mankind today professes either one of the anthropomorphic religions or the scientific school of thought which is likewise anthropomorphic, I will not dispute the point.  It just occurs to me, however, in answer to the scientists, that God started his show a good many million years before he had any men for audience—a sad waste of both actors and music—and in answer to both, that it is just barely possible that God himself like to hear birds sing and see flowers grow.

There must exist in the public mind that fundamental respect for living things and that fundamental aversion to unjustifiable killing and to unnecessary ugliness which in all lands and all times has been a necessary foundation for good morals and good taste.

The man who does not like to see, hunt, photograph, or otherwise outwit birds or animals is hardly normal.  He is supercivilized, and I for one do not know how to deal with him.  Babes do not tremble when they are shown a golf ball but I should not like to own the boy whose hair does not lift his hat when he sees his first deer.  We are dealing, therefore, with something that lies pretty deep.
The ethics of sportsmanship is not a fixed code, but must be formulated and practiced by the individual, with no referee but the Almighty.

The bag limit has become the minimum proof of prowess, rather than the maximum limit of respectability (for which it was originally intended).

The dog knows what is grouseward better than you do.  You will do well to follow him closely, reading from the cock of ears the story the breeze is telling.  When at last he stops stock-still and says with a sideward glance, “Well get ready”, the question is, ready for what?  A twittering woodcock, or the rising roar of a grouse, or perhaps only a rabbit?  In this moment of uncertainty is condensed much of the virtue of grouse hunting.

The most serious defect in the whole collection of teaching materials is the absence of the phrase “we don’t know”.  Just why are we so undemocratic in professing ignorance? It seem a special privilege of scientists.

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

Poets sing and hunters scale the mountains primarily for one and the same reason—the thrill to beauty.  Critics write and hunters outwit their game primarily for one and the same reason—to reduce that beauty to possession.

To arrive too early in the marsh is an adventure in pure listening; the ear roams at will among the noises of the night, without let or hindrance from hand or eye.  When you hear a mallard being audibly enthusiastic about his soup, you are free to picture a score guzzling among the duck-weeds.  When one widgeon squeals, you may postulate a squadron without fear of visual contradiction.  And when a flock of bluebills, pitching pondward, tears the dark silk of heaven in one long rending nose-dive, you catch your breath at the sound, but there is nothing to see except stars.

By and large, our present problem is one of attitudes and implements.  We are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam-shovel and we are proud of our yardage.  We shall hardly relinquish the shovel, which after all has many good points, but we are in need of gentler and more objective criteria for its successful use.

Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.  By land I meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth.  Harmony with land is like harmony with a friends; you cannot cherish his right hand and chip off his left.  That is to say, you cannot love game and hater predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm.  The land is one organism.  Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other are co-operate with each other.  The competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the co-operations.  You can regulated them cautiously but not abolish them. 

How like fish we are: ready, nay eager, to seize upon whatever new things some wind of circumstance shakes down upon the river of time! And how we rue our haste, finding the gilded morsel to contain a hook.  Even so, I think there is some virtue in eagerness, whether its object prove true or false.  How utterly dull would be a wholly prudent man, or trout, or world!

The hawk which kills my pheasants is wicked and cruel, and hence must die.  Some hawks in some situations doubtless should die, but let us at least admit that we kill the hawk out of self-interest, and in so doing we act on exactly the same motives as the hawk did.
It may flatter our egos to be called the sons of man, but it would be nearer the truth to call ourselves the brothers of our fields and forests.

The protectionist’s devil is usually the sportsman.  The sportsman’s devil is usually “vermin” or the “game hog” or some other visible malefactor.  The invisible deterioration of habitat which causes the real damage, and to which both kinds of crusaders are at least indirectly a party, is commonly ignored or dismissed as incidental.

There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.  One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes.  I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes—something known only to her and to the mountain.  I was young then, and full of trigger-itch I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer that no wolves would mean a hunter’s paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sense that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

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Conservation Thoughts

Sun, February 26, 2017

I’ve long believed (as have so many others) that Aldo Leopold was a man that we all should look up to because of his deep belief in what true conservation is all about.  He believed in wise use of the land and a call for what he deemed a “land ethic” that would be used to sustain the land over the long term through a deeper understanding of the natural world around us.  He was an ardent hunter and outdoorsman but in a different sense than many of us consider someone who is an “outdoorsman”.  His version was one of learning our place amongst all living things and understanding that all things living (not just GAME animals) have a right (and a reason) to live on our planet. 

I recently finished a book by Curt Meine and Richard Knight entitled “The Essential Aldo Leopold” which contains a great compilation of many of his writings and thoughts over the course of his life.  I highly recommend it and will do it minor justice in my attempt to simplify it’s entries in this, a series of blogs with Aldo’s thoughts.

If you ever read anything that Aldo wrote, read “A Sand County Almanac”—you won’t be disappointed.  It’s perhaps the single reading that I can point to that led me down a path to better understanding the natural world—from my education to my career and overall belief in our place here on Earth.

“To see merely what a range is or has is to see nothing.  To see WHY it is, how it became, and the direction and velocity of it’s changes—this is the great drama of the land.”

“We love (and make intelligent use of) what we have learned to understand.”

“A conservationist,” Leopold decided as he stood with axe in hand, “is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”

“I do not pretend to know what is moderation, or where the line is between legitimate and illegitimate gadgets. . . I use many factory made gadgets myself.  Yet there must be some limit beyond which money-bought aids to sport destroy the cultural value of sport.”

“The hope of the future lies not in curbing the influence of human occupancy—it is already too late for that—but in creating a better undersanding of the extent of that influence and a new ethic for its governance.”

“In our attempts to save the bigger cogs and wheels we are still pretty naive. A little repentance just before a species goes over the brink is enough to make us feel virtuous.  When the species is gone we have a good cry and repeat the performance.”

“The average American township has lost a score of plants and animals through indifference for every one it has lost through necessity.”

“.. . . There is value in any experience that reminds us of our dependency on the soil-plant-animal-man food chain, and of the fundamental organization of the biota.  Civlization has so cluttered this elemental man-earth relation with gadgets and middlemen that awareness of it is growing dim. We fancy that industry supports us, forgetting what supports industry.”

“Girdling the old oak to squeeze one last crop out of the barnyard has the same finality as burning the furniture to keep warm.”

Hard to believe this man lived and wrote much of these things nearly 80 years ago—as much of it is as true today as it was back then.  Don’t get me wrong—in many ways Aldo would be proud of some of our conservation programs especially; however, as a larger society’s understanding of the natural world and its value we still struggle mightily. . .

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Waterfowl Season in Central Illinois

Sat, January 28, 2017

Duck season for our group of friends started slow, continued slow and then ended with a bang.  From what I hear, many others experienced similar experiences here in central Illinois this year.  We hunt mostly public ground with some private duck and goose hunting spots in Tazewell and Fulton counties. The following reports were based on our experiences (not a typical duck hunter’s perception of expertise on all things waterfowl wink 

Wood ducks abounded this year, staying later than I ever remember them staying before because of the mild weather.  Early teal was mostly a bust with what I understood to be birds coming later than expected—also a result of weather. 

Mallards did not arrive until the later part of the season with a huge influx of birds (both divers and mallards at the tail end due to sub-zero temperatures up north and here. The birds concentrated on the warm water lakes and personally we had 4 days of duck limit hunting right at the end.  We saw more canvasbacks and redheads this year than on average and had some incredible hunts in which we finished our canvasback limit and watched them work and land on several days.  Half of our ducks harvested this year were gadwall and the grey ducks provided a great break from the lull mid-season.  Mallards didn’t visit us in the big numbers until late and as can be typical—still managed to mostly allude our spread. 

The old dog reminded me just how good he still is at the game of waterfowl hunting.  With hundreds if not thousands of birds shot over him in the course of an 11 year life thus far, he knows the game without me having to tell him (other than an occasional shout because of his deafness [or propensity towards not listening to me over the years!]). It’s amazing how he knows where to look for birds both in the air and on the water.  The comparison this year was to my young drahthaar (on his second season now).  The old dog can spot a duck dead on the water at an amazing distance even as they lay nearly flat at his vantage point.  His ability to work the appropriate cover when searching for a downed duck is also a result of his experience—things you simply can’t teach a dog without repetition and good genetics. The young dog held his own especially with his blind manners which I would argue is MORE important much of the time in this sport.  The light bulb definitely turned on towards the end of the season as he was able to gain good experience in retrieving ducks at distance and completing searches in cover. 

I got my father out this year on his first ever duck hunt at the end (he’s a turkey and deer hunter for the most part).  It was a limit day and he had an absolute ball, knocking the second bird of the day down with an amazing (lucky??) swinging shot at a 30+ yard bird.  Breakfast that morning was that much better with pops in the blind to share that memory with another of our friends. The last day of the season ended with the freeze up of our deep strip pit lake as we were pulling the boat from the water.  Our gloves froze to the boat instantly as we wetted them pulling duck decoys for the year-an annoying (and cool) end to another year I won’t soon forget.

Some reflection on our new duck hunting spot cemented a few tricks of the trade for us:
Duck dogs need appropriate manners above all else, followed by force fetch training, repetitious retrieves at DISTANCE (erring on the side of ALWAYS doing longs retrieves else beware a dog that CONSTANTLY marks short), and then training involving blind searches for live ducks in dense cover at distance (something that can easily be done in the spring and summer). Another huge advantage for our duck dogs is to provide them a good line of sight on decoying birds from the blind in order to make retrieves faster and easier.

Although Common Reed is considered an invasive species (one species here is native and another exotic), it does a great job in acting as duck blind cover because of its height, color, and durability. Here’s my take on Common Reed (Phragmites australis): if it’s not taking over the entire lake, pond, or wetland and you plan on hunting there, use it as hunting cover; otherwise cut it down and use an appropriate water safe herbicide to remove it entirely and allow native wetland species to survive and provide food for waterfowl and other native species. Beware however that it’s extremely aggressive and over time if not controlled will overtake all other species of plants in similar water depth (see Banner Marsh as an example).

Deep strip pit lakes such as those here in central Illinois can take a LONG time to freeze up, especially if they are exposed to the wind.  Our ice eater remained unused through the end of duck season on our particular lake because of this fact when most every other pothole, pond, and smaller lake had frozen solid.

To get the most out of an ice eater, set it up so that you are using the wind to your advantage.  The ice eater works by pulling warm water from below up to the surface and preferably onto the ice in front of it.  Wind can then carry that water and open a hole beyond that in the direction of the wind so placement is critical.  An ice fishing auger is extremely useful when opening a hole in solid frozen ice directly in front of or above the ice eater.  A half hour of running the ice eater where it is pushing water up out of the hole and onto the ice will open up a hole generally large enough to hunt over.  Additional time beyond that is needed depending on ice depth and wind speed/direction. 

Respect is due to other duck species beyond the might mallard when it comes to table fare and overall enjoyment of our duck hunting sport: see the “lowly” spoonbill as a perfect example. . . . To this point, a good read on what ducks actually eat here in central Illinois (and by which they should therefore be measured as table fare), see “Waterfowl of Illinois: Status and Management” by legendary waterfowl Biologist Steve Havera. Like many animals in this world, what is available is often what is eaten.  It will likely surprise you as to just how omnivorous many species of waterfowl actually are.

In my opinion, “expert” duck hunters are measured by such species harvested as mallards, pintails, and white fronted (specklebelly) geese as these birds are typically some of our most wary here in central Illinois.  The ability to “talk” a large group of mallards into your spread late season is an art in and of itself—some old Arkansas boys I met down that way one year proved that to me personally.  Let me complete this paragraph by saying that based on the above I am NOT an expert duck hunter.  Ha.

All in all, a great season is any season we get outdoors and hunt and considering two growing young boys at home and a typical American’s busy life. . .  this was a great season.

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