posted on January 14, 2010 07:01
Most hunters and anglers remember their first deer, goose or big fish, but it’s the little things that happen in pursuit of game and fish that also help keep people interested in the long term.
Think about it. I'd bet most readers would have a favorite story to share about getting stuck on the way to a hunting spot, some strange animal showing up in an unexpected area, or something else that has little to do with fish or game, like the time I was deer hunting with my dad and we found a weather balloon, or when I caught a 40-inch pike on a fishing setup so primitive that Tom Sawyer wouldn't have used it.
My coworker Greg Gullickson, the Game and Fish Department’s outreach biologist for the Minot area, and I were discussing this after he returned from a recent conference relating to recruitment and retention of hunters. While we both remembered our first deer, so many other memories beyond those initial "firsts" are woven into the time people spend outdoors, and are a big part of why they keep coming back.
Many programs designed to develop interest among young hunters and anglers are more or less directed at “firsts.” Things like specific youth hunts or special licenses for waterfowl, pheasants, deer or turkey create outdoors opportunities for those firsts to happen. These opportunities are complemented by other Game and Fish Department efforts such as hunter education courses, National Archery in the Schools and kids’ fishing programs, plus youth outdoor activities put on by local wildlife clubs and other groups.
The bottom line is, the more times a kid, or an adult, heads outdoors, the greater the chance one of those random events that go in the memory bank might occur. These intangibles are difficult to explain, because they are totally unpredictable and they can happen to anyone, young or old, who walks out the door in the morning and gives luck a chance to happen on a lake or in a field.
With that in mind, on the first weekend of deer season in 2009, I went … fishing. After working on deer, deer and more deer-related issues for a couple of days before that, a balmy, 55-degree Saturday provided a perfect setting for my first ever opening weekend of deer season fishing excursion. Never in my 38 years had I wet a line on the opening weekend, so I decided to make a memory.
And you know what? I did. And I learned something in the process. I learned that you can’t buy nightcrawlers and leeches just anywhere in early November because they are out of season. I also learned that people wearing blaze orange while they are buying bait get asked a lot of questions.
Eventually I planted myself along the banks of the river, wearing my blaze orange so any nearby deer hunter could see where I was sitting. I didn't get so much as a nibble, probably because I had to use smelt instead of the preferred crawlers or leeches.
While my fishing success that day was forgettable, I will always remember that warm November sun on my face while I was fishing instead of deer hunting. I never thought twice about my choice to fish instead of hunt deer. I was just fortunate to have options.
Our challenge in 2010, by ourselves and with friends, relatives and children, is to head out the door as much as possible, and give new memories a chance to happen.
Doug Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email:firstname.lastname@example.org