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Hunting's future depends on support

5/31/2006

Filmmaker Michael Moore opens his controversial, but successful documentary film, "Bowling For Columbine," with him getting a new gun for starting a bank account.

If Moore had journeyed to Gridley, Calif., in the Sacramento Valley, and stayed at the Gridley Inn, he would not have been given a gun, but he could have won one.

Until the end of the waterfowl season, which in most of California runs through Jan. 26, if you check in at the Gridley Inn and show them a copy of a valid hunting license, you are registered in a free drawing for a new Beretta "Pintail" 12-gauge shotgun.

Gridley is a mecca for waterfowl hunters and watchers. It is located near several federal and state wildlife refuges, and hundreds of acres of rice fields.

These fields are flooded from November-through February to provide additional food and habitat for ducks and geese, thanks to incentive programs offered by state and federal governments and organizations like California Waterfowl Association.

Gridley is not just a duck hunter's town, however. It is also the kiwi fruit capital of the U.S., the home of a major peach cannery and a major player in California's rice-growing industry.

But like many other small towns across North America, Gridley openly welcomes hunters, and that is what I want to talk about.

The kind of support that Gridley and other towns give is something that we hunters need more of, because in a lot of towns hanging out a "Welcome Hunters" sign would probably make you a target.

Some towns show their respect for hunters openly by displaying such banners. Some do a lot more.

For the last 37 years, the Tomahawk (Wis.) Chamber of Commerce has kicked off deer season with a free "Hunters' Feed" dinner on the eve of the nine-day Wisconsin rifle deer season.

In a similar fashion, the Duck Hunter's Feed in Doris, Calif., near Lake Klamath, is held on the eve of the opening of the waterfowl season. It is not free, but the prices are so low for the heaping plates of food that it's almost free, and awfully good.

Some hunting organizations like Buckmasters and Ducks Unlimited hold major conventions and expositions.

That is great, but we also need to honor towns that are willing to stick their necks out and hold a hunting festival, such as the Huron Ringneck Festival in South Dakota, which honors pheasants and pheasant hunting; or North Dakota's Kenmare Goosefest.

Fabulous. We need more events like this. They reach out beyond the boundaries of hunting organizations to contact the entire community, and we need such widespread community support, because, folks, we are a minority group capable of being voted out of existence.

A spectacular hunting ceremony is the special mass to honor St. Hubert, the Patron Saint of Hunting, which takes places every fall in Cap St. Ignace, Quebec.

In that service, hunters bring their guns into the church to be blessed. Those guns are held aloft over the aisle for the procession to enter and exit the church.

I know other towns in the Midwest, northern Rockies and the South, as well as across Canada, that hold hunter's masses and prayer sessions. Such services are another way that communities recognize and honor hunters.

Nearly all religions have guidance for hunters. More people need to know about that.

The rest of the year

Hunters give a boost to the economy during hunting season. But when communities continue to support hunting during the rest of the year, we should take notice and honor that support.

Wild game dinners, such as the one held annually by the Detroit Area Steelheaders, often benefit sportsmen's organizations, but they may also benefit churches, social services and educational programs.

Game dinners are a powerful statement that hunters are concerned with service to the community in general, as well as the future of wildlife and hunting.

They also are a great way to introduce non-hunters to tasty, wild food.

Some wild game dinners directly also help the needy. Case in point is Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, which provides hundreds of thousands of free meals of wild game to needy every year.

This demonstrates the compassion that is part of being an ethical hunter.

In Europe there are literally hundreds of hunting museums. The fact that we have so few here is worrisome, but there are some good hunting museums in America.

Lake Erie Metropark, about halfway between Detroit and Toledo, has a Wetlands Museum and Nature Center which in addition to the usual nature center displays of birds and plants has a room the interprets the history of duck hunting in that area.

You can find a more in-depth educational coverage of hunting at the Wonders of Wildlife: American National Fish And Wildlife Museum in Springfield, Mo., and the Texas Wild exhibit, at the Fort Worth Zoo.

A similar high-quality museum and nature center with more than 270 exhibits is the Mann Museum and Outdoors in Opelika, Ala.

I could go on, but my point is that hunting will survive because of what the general population thinks of hunters.

Yes, hunting does generate billions of dollars of revenue every year, and provides many jobs. But hunters remain a minority group that could be voted out of existence.

As long as that condition exists, the hunting community must always be considering how it can show the general public, in deed and in kind, what hunters are like.

If the community in general sees hunters as heroes, their future is much brighter than if they are seen as a mysterious group of people that retreats to the woods to drink excessively and murder helpless animals.

So, even when it is not hunting season, support the motels, towns, churches, and museums that welcome and support hunters. They are the cultural context who can provide the support that is essential to the future of hunting.

James Swan is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting."

To purchase a copy of the title, click here. To learn more about Swan,
visit his website.

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