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Traditions keep hunting alive

11/28/2006

What's the most extraordinary hunting experience that you've had?

I'm working on a new book about extraordinary hunting heritage experiences all around the world. By "extraordinary" I do not mean "extreme hunting."

"Extreme" is something that kids do on skateboards, surfers do on huge waves, mountain bikers do on mountains or bungee jumpers do leaping from bridges. You get the picture: slightly out of control and definitely dangerous.

A hunting high doesn't require risking your life. It can come from shooting a big trophy-book critter or bagging a limit of birds. But there are other elements that make a hunt extraordinary.

Sometimes it comes from hunting in unusual conditions, such as pursuing graylag and pink-footed geese under the Northern lights in Iceland, like the hunts that Bjorn Birgisson offers through the Icelandic Hunting Club.

Extraordinary hunts also can come from immersing yourself in another culture and learning skills and traditions of hunting with native guides, like bowhunting for water buffalo in Australia's Arnhemland with Aborigine guides who take you to visit their dream caves.

Or with Nunavat Inuit guides that let you live in their village while pursuing caribou and musk ox. Or with the hunting and fishing guiding service run by three Sami reindeer-herding families in northern Norway.

It also can come from stepping back in time. If you'd like a "Dances With Wolves" experience, how about buffalo hunting on horseback on the prairie while living in a teepee or a sod hut, like Lee Hawes offers on his family's centennial ranch in Kansas.

To experience another era and another culture, a truly extraordinary adventure is trekking to Mongolia to hunt fox and wolves with eagles, as Stephen Bodio describes so magically in his book, "Eagle Dreams."

Or, it could mean sitting on a stand, waiting for a bear, and you hear a noise behind you. You turn around and there, five feet, away is a timber wolf staring you in the eyes. A priest friend says that he came closest to God when this happened to him in Canada.

Shooting a hundred, or even a thousand, ducks, geese, or pigeons in day is not likely to make it into the pages of our book, unless it's very special. That's good shooting more than good hunting and otherwise runs the risk of being gluttony (unless there is a wildlife crop damage issue).

Extraordinary hunting experiences that can change your life may happen once in a lifetime. They usually happen when you are alone, unless there is someone there with a camera, which usually changes the whole experience. So, we use stories to share them.

Such experiences and the stories they generate keep hunters going and make us conservationists. But the future of hunting is based on something equally important: widespread community acceptance of hunting as normal and ethical and a useful part of the community.

As the hunter's moon shines brightly in the skies, rural communities across North America are holding events that welcome hunters as part of the community. That's where the future of hunting lies: preserving the hunting heritage through widespread community support.

Consider these notable examples:


Every year around Labor Day in Cap St. Ignace, Quebec, a Mass of St. Hubert — the patron saint of hunting — is held in the village Catholic church. Hunters in full accoutrement bring their dogs and guns into the church for a blessing. The procession enters and exits the church under an archway of guns.

The wild game supper on the eve of the opening of deer season at the United Church of Christ in Bradford, Vt., began more than 50 years ago as a fund-raiser to help build a sidewalk.

It has grown over the years into an annual event with 900 tickets sold to feast on home-cooked bear, beaver, boar, buffalo, moose, rabbit, venison, pheasant, vegetables, homemade rolls and gingerbread. It's sold out nearly a month in advance. Call (802) 222-5913 for more information.

Other communities in Vermont are doing their own suppers, and they, too, are very popular.

In Tomahawk, Wis., on the eve of deer season, deer hunters can help themselves to free burgers and coffee served by the Chamber of Commerce.

The folks in Winner, S.D., where there are more pheasants than people, hold a festival on the opening pheasant season.

In Gridley, Calif., some motels offer free tickets in a raffle for a new shotgun to people who stay there.

Throughout Maine, on the first Saturday morning of deer season, communities sponsor hunters' breakfasts. Those in Hope, West Paris, Farmington, Wales and Brewer are home to some of the many feeds. A good place to get hunters' breakfasts in Maine is at the Web site.

And on the eve of duck season on the Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the town of Doris, Calif., holds a Hunters' All-You-Can-Buffet. The last time I was there, the meal cost $5. You can bet that a lot of guys were going back for seconds and thirds.

I'm collecting examples of extraordinary hunts and hunting heritage experiences for this book, which is being co-authored by TV show hosts Jeff and Sherol Engel. It will be coming out next fall from Harper Collins. If you want to pass along any special heritage places or heritage events, please contact me via my Web site.

The challenge for the modern hunter is that as the percentage of the population that hunts declines, the size of the non-hunting public increases and hunting becomes more and more of a mystery to people who are numb with violence thanks to daily news — daily news that in my opinion tends to be anti-hunting and anti-gun.

A tip of my camouflage hat goes to those communities sponsoring breakfasts, suppers, festivals, church services, and other special benefits for hunters. Get out there and support them.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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