Sunday, December 21, 2008

Making Lemons out of Lemonade

I don't normally post about my hunting experiences, per se, but I thought I should mention that I've had about the driest hunting year of my entire life. Five (count 'em, five!) days in blinds over rice fields has led to two shovelers, one wigeon, and one mallard. I was only able to dove hunt for two hours or so, and took two doves. My deer hunting was a complete bust (with the exception of seeing a gopher grab a tall, slender grass stalk and suck it into the ground), my pheasant hunting for six hours yielded me zero birds. However, these numbers, though frustrating (especially since I'm hooked on Hank Shaw's blog, and now I'm always hungry) are not depressing or sad. But, I have had a more depressing season, and it's my human experiences that have been different.

My one chance at taking geese this year came crashing down with a great crescendo when a newbie in my blind thought he knew better than the more experienced of us, and jumped up early without being told by the caller (me), shooting at birds at least 80 yards out. If you have never tried calling in birds, it can be tough. If you have never been in a goose or duck blind, then please take this away: You do whatever the caller tells you to do (if she says to balance an empty shotgun shell on your head and dance a jig, do, and ask about it later), and, in every instance, in every case, every time, you wait for the caller to tell you to, "take 'em!" My other human events include a depressing hunt for planted birds, and coming upon some free, public land that had been trashed with washing machines and 12 gauge shells, but yesterday at Yolo Bypass takes the cake.

Upon walking into the office at the hunting entrance to Yolo, I asked about an afternoon hunt. The young attendant, disgracing his DFG uniform, talking while eating nuts and rarely taking his eyes off the basketball game, made a sideways remark to me that they don't allow any more hunters after 3. It was 3:15. His callousness, disrespect and indifference was completely unnerving. Though pretty mad at the apparently arbitrary and capricious rule (because he couldn't tell me why it was when I asked him about it), I'm beyond sanity about the treatment. The young man made no attempt to help out, to at least act apologetic or sympathetic, or to talk about the opportunity for future hunting there. When I asked about the pheasant hunting this year, his response (again, while wearing the DFG uniform): "It sucked A$$." As I started to talk about my one experience last year, he cut me off - "no, no, no. Last year it just sucked," (toss in mouthful of almonds, stare up at the TV), "this year it sucked A$$."

What a horrible experience.

One bright spot: One other man was getting crappy treatment, too. Justin, with Drake the giant german wirehaired pointer, was writing his name down for tomorrow's chances to get in, said we could try a spot just outside of town, and that I could follow him to it. I did, and had a nice walk with a new hunting bud. My ten-year old mutt, his 4-year old GWP, and us men had a good ending to a horrible afternoon. No birds, but a great view and a new place to walk.

As a community, to continue and pass on our traditions, we need more of the latter experiences and fewer of the former. The value of exposing new and returning hunters to a good human experience is not incalculable; it shows up in license and stamp sales, in excise taxes collected and revenue on fairly expensive gadgets and gear. It also shows up in numbers of people understanding, appreciating, and fighting to protect and promote habitat, wild lands and fair access. We as hunters need to insist upon getting respectful treatment, in trying our best to inculcate new hunters about the traditions and respect for those who have been there before, and to work for better hunting lands and better management and treatment of those lands.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like a repeat of some of my experiences. I think we've all been there, but the good days make up for the bad so it sounds like you've got something good comming.

sportingdays said...


Sorry to read about the bad experience. I do think the DFG and the refuge staff ultimately need to understand that they are in the "customer service" business as much as they are in the wildlife business. They can't necessarily control the hunting experience in the field but they can 100 percent control their interactions with the public, the facilities and service they provide.

(You want to encourage new hunters, women and kids? Keep the bathrooms and porta potties spotless. Make it easier to find the blinds in the dark. Contract with some vendors to sell coffee or food in the refuge parking lots on weekends. Have some family friendly activities on the weekends. Sponsor a bonfire for the kids at night during the holidays and tell stories, roast marshmallows, and make smores. You're competing with the private sector, after all).

I must say I enjoy hunting CA's public wildlife areas quite a bit and have found the refuge staffs to be professional, helpful and accommodating. Some of those folks are real characters, too.

You can't really expect them to fudge on the rules. That 3 p.m. refill cutoff is pretty standard at all the refuges that allow blind refills. And, apparently, this has been one of the worst pheasant hatches -- and one of the poorest wild pheasant seasons -- in a generation.

That's no excuse for shoddy treatment of the public. Hope you have a better experience -- and hunt -- next time.

Josh said...

I'm pretty new to the refuge hunting scene, so it was pretty shocking to get that treatment, especially considering the respect and admiration I've had for the warden's uniform my whole life. This kid was a bad, bad example, and I shudder to think of the younger hunters getting this treatment and associating the uniform with that attitude.

I'll keep trying, though. Sportingdays, your comments about how to improve the refuge experience is something we should work on. I really like them. I didn't mind the rule, but I absolutely do mind when a government official cannot tell me why the rule exists, because that cuts to the heart of our Constitutional form of government. "Arbitrary and capricious" is a legal term.