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— With fall here, I can’t help but want to spend time out in the field hunting. It’s an urge I feel each year when the leaves turn and the cool winds begin to blow through the trees and rustle the fallen leaves on the ground.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been hooked on hunting. I think it started back when I was so small, the only gun I had was a double-barreled pop gun with corks for bullets. I can’t remember whether or not the corks were attached with strings to keep them from getting lost, but I do remember using it to “finish off” the game brought home from a coon hunt one night - I expect it might have been overkill, but for some reason I still remember the occasion.

When I got just a little older, I tried spears, bows and arrows, slingshots, box traps and whatever else I could think of to get my first rabbit. I just couldn’t wait to be old enough to have a BB gun so I could actually hunt on my own. And I was persistent. Failures didn’t seem to stop me even though any game I hunted probably had the odds strongly in its favor. I was determined to prove my hunting skills and prowess even though I probably had none.

Though a move from the hills of Missouri to southern California put an end to most of my hunting opportunities, I went along on hunting excursions whenever an opportunity did arise. My first .22 rifle gave me a much better edge, but beer cans and bottles were more often my targets.

I tried partridge hunting in Minnesota with a borrowed shotgun, but found that the birds were too quickly through the trees and shielded from my shot by limbs and brush. While I shot squirrels, quail and some unwanted varmints over the years, I wasn’t too successful at pheasant hunting either. I’d walk and walk to scare up the allusive birds. And when they finally did take to flight and I got over the shock of the birds’ sudden takeoff from almost under my feet, they were beyond my shotgun’s range before I had my gun cocked and on target.

After several attempts at pheasant hunting, I decided I needed bigger shot and an extended range or perhaps some sort of guided projectile. It took a while, but I finally did get my first pheasant. It was with an 18-wheeler and there just wasn’t much left of it to take home as a trophy.

Though I didn’t try it until almost 40, deer hunting was the most enjoyable of my hunting experiences. I think it was because of the time I spent in the fields and woods just waiting and watching. It always amazed me the wildlife I’d see and hear while watching for just the right deer - coveys of quail, wild turkey, coyote and a whole host of other creatures that would walk by my post and not even know I was there - I could probably have shot a pheasant too, if it would have been okay to shoot one with my deer rifle.

Watching deer cautiously leave the cover of trees and brush and move out to graze in the fields was exciting. But while I enjoy shooting, I can’t say that the actual shooting of a deer was at all the best part of the hunt. It was too easy and marked the end of the fun and the beginning of hard work - field dressing and dragging the animal back to my car or truck. And the deer where I used to hunt in northern Kansas weren’t little. There was a time or two I wondered who would be the winner of the hunt if I died of a heart attack while trying to get a trophy deer or just a good-sized doe back to the road and my car or truck.

The last time or two I had deer tags, I went out and watched the deer and had one or two in my rifle sights. I could have squeezed the trigger and been done, but shooting the deer wasn’t that important to me so I didn’t. I just watched and admired and prolonged my hunting experience.

Don’t get me wrong! I haven’t changed my mind about hunting. It’s an enjoyable sport, and harvesting game is anecessity to prevent overpopulation and disease among the animals. When I served as a sheriff’s deputy, I had to shoot injured deer along the highways almost nightly for a couple of years because of an overpopulation of deer in the area. Increased hunting brought those numbers back under control and reduced the number of car-deer accidents there.

Though I don’t feel any need to shoot a deer or any other animal to prove my manhood or hunting prowess, I’m not saying I won’t go again or that I won’t shoot an animal again. I might. But for now, I just enjoy the hunt. I just go out and watch, when I can. And yes, it’s still amazing what a fellow can see if he just sits still for a while and listens and watches.

I do still shoot, but I’ve found it a whole lot more enjoyable to shoot with a Nikon or Canon than with a deer rifle or shotgun. And contrary to what some might think, shooting with a camera and bringing home an image to brag about is a whole lot harder than bagging a trophy with a rifle. To shoot an animal, I only need enough light to see it, take careful aim and squeeze the trigger. To shoot with a camera, I need to have just the right lighting and angle, use the right camera settings and be even more steady than with my rifle. Then, if all goes well, I might have an image worth showing.

But, of course, hunting with a camera does have its advantages. There are no seasons, no bag limits and a fellow can shoot the same animal again and again with no harm to the creature. A fellow can even shoot rare and endangered species if he does it with a camera.

In the same way as having the finest rifle or shotgun does not make the hunter, having the best of cameras and equipment does not make a photographer. If a fellow enjoys the hunt, he’ll keep hunting and make do with the equipment he’s got. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily stop him from dreaming about the shots he could take if only he had the right lens and the right camera. Like the hunter who drools a bit every time he walks in a gun shop, I tend to drool every time I see the long lens and camera I need to capture the images I want.

Opinion, Pages 5 on 11/25/2009

Print Headline: Griz Bear Comments Hunting, Somehow It’s Gotten Into My Blood

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