After years of begging various friends to take me out hunting as part of the American Experience I finally got to go for duck and pheasant hunting! Don't get me wrong, I am neither keen on killing stuff, nor gun happy. But for starters I am always very happy to be outside. Then I am also keen on new experiences and hunting is definitely a big part of American life. Unless you are vegan, you have to say killing and eating game is a lot more humane than eating that chicken cesar salad from fowl that was euthanized after most likely vegetating under abominable conditions, sorry, but it jst has to be said, or that omelett that was produced from above chickens while they were alive. Now plenty of folks will be wondering, why I have to justify myself to want to go hunting, but growing up in Germany I have a very different mentality, when it comes to hunting. Unlike in the US, were hunting is very much a working class sport in Germany it is very elitist. Foresters are the only "common folks" who hunt in Germany and who are in charge of keeping game populations balanced. Many of my friends will be shocked to know that I have gone on a hunting trip and even more, that I have wanted to for a long time.
Tom asked me, how many folks in Germany have shotguns. Now well noted for my friends in Germany, who only know shotguns as something from movies owned by unwashed beared guys who live alone and point it at anybody who approaches their front porch, a shotgun is not something to kill people with. Can you? Sure, if it's big enough and you are close enough. But then again there's plenty of household things that can kill a person at close range, like knives and beer bottles, etc. Just to put things into perspective here, rather than immediately thinking of something that is very hostile and dangerous to your fellow person.
Tom or Paul, can remember which, whether it was something like 1 in 50 Germans owning a shotgun. You can see, how different this is. I can assure you, that I know hundreds of Germans, but I would be very surprised, if anyone of them owned a shotgun and if they do, it's an old heirloom that wasn't fired since rationing stopped in the 50s of the last century. I didn't even know, that they made them in Germany, so I was very surprised, when Jim showed me his German shotgun, which was beautiful will lovely metal and wood detail.
Anyway, enough about the controversial stuff. This was a fun trip and I had been excited to go!
Tom in the lake view conservatory of the hunting "shack" on the eve of my adventure. I sure wished I'd been up a little earlier in the evening to enjoy a cosy evening.
Paul, who here looks a little worse for wear after a good amount of medicinal red wine to manage a really bad head cold. It was off to bed soon for all of us, since we had to get up WAY BEFORE the crack of dawn, to make sure we were in place in our boats with all of our decoy ducks in a row, ready to let the hunt begin at 7.01 am, which is the legal time to start the duck hunting.
See, Tom and I are ready sitting in the reeds and bullrushes and dawn's crack is nowhere in sight yet! It was actually quite tricky to get everything down a steep muddy bank without incidents. Getting ready for adventure before it's light out may just be the most dangerous part of the day! The other Saturday morning I had to pack the car while it was still dark out to go paddling in Eastern Wisconsin and I forgot that there was a step in the path from the backyard to the car. I was carrying two heavy gear bags as I went over on one ankle and jarred the other ankle at the same time trying not to break my tailbone. My neighbors were probably wondering, just what kind of a terrible animal made a sound like they were hearing at 5.45am in the morning until the pain had someone abated and I was able to move on to loud swearing to compensate for the excruciating pain, while telling myself, that, no worries, I don't need ankles to go paddling, do I? Since I could still move it and put weight on it I went ahead with my day as planned to come back to an ankle later that night (I had made sure not to look at it too closely during that day of paddling) that had sprouted a swelling the size of a large satsuma. But that's another days story. Just be warned not to get yourself too hurt before the actual action begins!
Tom in position. You know these earmuffs he's wearing are really very clever. Not only do they cut out the loud gun shot noise, but they amplify low key talking, so Tom could actually hear me a lot better than usual with his amps turned up! I was in position too. Camera at the ready on one side and pointed index fingers to protect my ear drums. It's not THAT loud, when you are not shooting the gun, but you still don't want to subject your eardrums to that more than once in a while.
The tranquil pictures are deceiving. We had quite a bit of duck action, probably attracted by my chattering with Tom and reassured by the decoys in front of it. Apart from those that were repelled, when Tom, as he said himself discovered the "alarm call" with his duck whistle (?)
Tom shot a duck early on. I have to say seeing it struggle there was hard. I was soundlessly mouthing to Tom to shoot again, so it would be over quick. It probably wasn't even that long, but still, not instantaneous.
After that Tom missed is shots and I truely believe it was because he did not want to see me suffer again over a dying duck. Well, not really, but I have to say it was all fun and games until I realized, that for the animal this is not over that quickly. You just never think about that. But then again that duck HAD a good life!, unlike that Southern fried chicken you are eating at lunch time...Just to prove, that I was actually there and that I am not blogging a life that I am downloading elsewhere on the internet, I made Tom take a picture of me in camou in our cosy little bullrush bay.
And yes, those are decoys. Paul explained to me, while you don't want too much wind and especially not coming right at you, so the ducks fly in from the side rather than at you, you still want a little water movement, so the decoys don't look too suspicious...
Tom's land with his pretty red trailer for gear. We checked his lake, but there wasn't a water bird in sight! He built a cool floating dock to get over the marshy areas to the lake. Feels nicely weard walking on those. Fine piece of engineering!
Tom and Paul: notice the difference? Blaze orange! Again for my European friends. When you are out during hunting season, no matter whether you hunt or not, you may want to wear a good amount of blaze orange. And that's not any type of orange, you want that really bright stuff, to make sure you are seen and don't blend in with the fall colors and the rest of the landscape! That also goes for Fido and Fluffy, or in our case, Chico!
Jim and Chico. Chico is trained for pointing, which means he finds the bird and then stays with it, so we can "flush it" out of hiding. He even had a collar that bleeps in intervals so we know, where he is in the brush or the over-person-high prairie grass. It also bleeps, when he stops, so we know, that he may be pointing. Well, or he may be stuck in the felted grass or taking a leak :-)
Paul and Jim in the prairie. This part of Minnesota denotes the start of the Western prairie. Unfortunately the flowers were mostly gone, but I could tell from the seed stalks that there were a variety of flowers in Toms land typical for the prairie, which I had come across during prairie seed collections. The golden wheat like grass on the picture is not that high, but some of the grasses we stalked through were over person high! No pictures, all you could see is grass stalks :-)
They were going to show me how to shoot a shotgun, but it started to storm so we just quickly made our way to the cars and off to lunch Leaf Valley Mercantile Exchange. Breakfast had been 6 hours ago...
As eager as I was to try the fried grizzards we had ordered for appetizers, I have to say, that they are just a little to much on the chewy/rubbery side for me. I do think they are better with BBQ sauce though than ranch dressing!
Unfortunately I could not sample any of the "Munis" this time round. Munis are Municipal bars that are run by the town and generate money for the town's coffers. I hadn't even known about such a thing until that morning, but now that I obviously couldn't wait to check them out!
I had had a very nice time with the boys out hunting and although I had a great evening of paddling with truely splendid folks lined up, which was what was calling me back to the Cities, I left with a surprisingly heavy heart! Gosh I would have loved to stay until the next day and abandon this life as an outdoor jet setter...
(Oh yes, Paul and Jim also had a couple of ducks. No pheasants. We saw a bunch of hens, but you can only shoot the males. One we were not entirely sure of the gender and one rooster, which was flying awkward and made a very bad shot. Just in case you had been wondering... But you can see, the amount of animals brought back in coolers is not the most important thing about going hunting and fishing.)