Know when and how to hunt
When you jump over the line of scrimmage in a football game before the ball is snapped you generally know what is going to happen.
It is not that easy for a hunter. The hunter has to know when they are "offside" and make the call themselves.
Last winter I quit hunting pheasants on a December day when my yellow lab caught four pheasants, all hens, in a snow-choked patch of cattails. I decided to quit for good that day even though there was more than a week of the season left and the birds were all over. There was too much snow and they were having a tough enough time finding food and shelter.
The same kind of frustration is going on this season. The state opened the 2009 pheasant hunting season Oct. 10 but it was pretty clear right away that it was going to be "advantage pheasant" because of all the unharvested soybeans and corn. The dog and I have been out several times but the crops and the weather have been too much for us. The state could just as well open the pheasant hunting season on Nov. 10 next year. By then, a pheasant hunter should have a fighting chance. If hunters and businesses complain, give them a three-bird daily limit and two extra weeks in January.
There are going to be times when it just does not make sense to hunt even if the hunting season is open. The Department of Natural Resources is very generous with the length of the seasons, but how many ducks are shot in late November and how many grouse are taken in late December? By that time we are usually blowing snow, playing cards and ice fishing.
Of course the state does not tell hunters they have to hunt. They just give them some parameters. The hunter makes up his own mind.
My son and I went out one dark and stormy morning to hunt ducks many years ago. The conditions were wild. The wind was shrieking around 30 miles an hour from the west, the clouds were a dark gray and hanging low in the sky. Setting the decoys was going to take some time. I was getting ready to fetch the boat from the back of our truck when I realized my son was not crazy about our spot. He was looking at the morning through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. When I asked him if he would prefer to try hunting on a more protected lake. The answer was a quick "yes." We did not shoot a lot of ducks that morning but we did not have to go swimming either and we still had a good time.
Perhaps no where is judgment more needed than in hunting deer. They want you to cover yourself in blaze orange so you will not be taken for a deer but that is no guarantee you are not going to get hurt. A lot of deer hunters fall out of their deer stands. My wife was climbing up a tree into a deer stand once and slipped on an icy rung. She fell, hit her head, counted some stars and constellations and then sat on the ground under the stand for the rest of the hunt.
Another time my wife and I were on a drive with four other people. I was posting near a road, my wife was going into the tall cover where we hoped the deer were lurking, and the rest of our party was lined up firing squad-style across from my roadside position. A deer jumped up and started heading right into the squad. My wife and I both had to make a quick choice, join the fracas or take cover. We took cover and we were glad of it because the lead started flying pretty thick and fast -- not right at us but too close for comfort.
Driving deer is especially dangerous for a few reasons. The biggest is one we call "buck fever" which can make hunters do all sorts of crazy things. It is human nature to get excited when a big animal explodes out of the brush or cattails the first impulse is to start shooting. A pal of mine and his nephew had two slugs whiz over their heads on a drive near Elbow Lake once while hunting with members of another party. That was the last time those two parties ever got together for a drive. Deer hunters on a drive are firing on a level trajectory at a running target with a heavy shell that can travel a long way. You have hunters of all ages and experience levels behind those guns. Some of them get into the woods just one or two days a year.
The Minnesota Hunting and Trapping Regulations Handbook is 130 pages long, counting the front and back covers, but the ethics and decisions that drive most hunters do not come out of a book. The policeman has to be in the same pair of boots as the hunter.