We are in the midst of North Dakota's hunting season. While thousands of sportsmen and women go hunting, they do so for many more reasons than pulling a trigger and filling a game bag. I know I do.
I remember my first season in the field, carrying an .870 pump shotgun and walking soil bank acres in the hopes of raising sharp-tailed grouse and Hungarian partridge. My dad and brother were there too. I remember missing several sharptails before putting one on the ground. I can still see the feathers drifting through the air on a light wind and my dad congratulating me.
There were other hunts that year, and many more to follow. Sometimes we'd walk for upland game and other times we'd hunker down along a fence row or in a decoy spread and wait for ducks or geese to swoop within range. It was thrilling.
As excited as I was for the opportunity to harvest a few wild birds, I know I was equally as excited about experiencing much more than taking aim and shooting. We call it hunting season, but I've often thought that title never quite caught the essence of each outing.
I don't know what a more appropriate name for hunting should be, but it would have to reflect much more than pursuing or shooting wild game. To me, hunting has always been much more than what many people perceive it to be.
I've watched movie scenes where sandhill cranes fly across the sky to signify the changing of the seasons and the soundtrack is of Canada geese. A hunter notices such things even if audiences and Hollywood directors do not. It also makes me feel a little sorry for those who have never experienced the outdoors as most hunters do. Hunting, you see, is so much more than shooting.
The hunter - at least those who take the time do so - sees and hears many things while outdoors. There are voles scurrying in the grass, flocks of geese moving across the sky, ducks dabbling in potholes and a seemingly endless assortment of hawks and owls in flight. Dirt mounds mark the homes of fox or badger. Mink and weasels make unannounced forays along the edges of wetlands. Coyotes, deer, even moose make appearances when least expected.
For hunters fortunate enough to have a capable dog or two, they'll watch and marvel as the dogs do extraordinary things. Sometimes comical, sometimes inexplicable but dogs usually demonstrate an ability far greater than any hunter. All make up memories of the hunt that last well beyond any game in the freezer.
It's called hunting, but the accepted definition falls miserably short as an adequate explanation. Words never quite seem to be enough. To a hunter the real definition of hunting is far too broad to explain - it must be experienced.
Is it any wonder that so many North Dakotans enjoy the hunt?