A buddy and I were talking the other day about the old days when we first started hunting (with shotguns and .22s that is…I started BB gun hunting earlier). For me, real gun hunting started in 1967 when I was 12. My buddy and I both grew up in far south central Minnesota, which was known then (and still is) as the “black desert” due to intensive farming.
Since no one in my family ever hunted, I first hunted by myself. I got my first duck that way. A neighbor took me pheasant hunting, and I got my first rooster that way. I eventually made a hunting friend at school who lived in the country (perfect!). There was no goose, dove or turkey hunting back then because there were no turkeys, geese were very rare and dove hunting had been outlawed (I’m proud to say I helped get it reinstated in Minnesota a few years back). We didn’t hunt deer in those days because we were young, inexperienced and lacked someone to show us how to take on such a big task.
We hunted what few pheasants and ducks there were on a few wetlands that couldn’t be ditched and when we ran out of those, we hunted the ditches. Thinking of it now, walking those barren ditches was pathetic. We were walking what was pretty much a biological desert, but we kept trying as only naiveté, over-enthusiastic youth with boundless energy can. We’d read Outdoor Life during the week and then would go out and look for that life on weekends. We never found it. We never shot limits of anything. Granted, we weren’t that good at hunting, but the opportunities were very limited.
I will never forget, and this happened several times, hunting a wetland in fall and returning to it the next fall only to find a ditch running through it, corn on both sides. In those days, the federal government paid farmers to drain wetlands and farm them. It was policy. So, when I heard about a group of local hunters starting an effort to “Save the Wetlands: Save the Ducks,” I joined up. Seeing those wetlands destroyed didn’t discourage me, it made me angry and motivated me to do something about it, and I did …and still am. I didn’t need to be spoon-fed hunting or bribed to do something about habitat loss to get involved: the beauty of nature and the adventure of hunting were motivation enough.
It’s heartening to see some young people today, many in Pheasants Forever’s youth programs, rising to conservation’s cause as we face another habitat crisis (well, let’s be honest: a human crisis foisted upon the environment).
Though I shot my first pheasant on a private corn field (which is probably still in corn), I bagged my first duck on a public lake that’s still public, and my first goose on a private wetland that’s now public (my buddy called the neighbors to come see and they came, it was that rare to see a goose, much less bag one). I hope these areas are still making memories for folks and they, too, take up the cause of conservation to keep our hunting heritage alive, if not strong.
-Mark Herwig is editor of the Pheasants Forever Journal and Quail Forever Journal. Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.