Fall reveals itself to all of us in many fashions. For some, it’s as simple as tearing off another sheet on a desk calendar and being surprised by the note on Sept. 22 that the autumnal equinox has arrived. For many parents, fall arrives to the tune of backpacks zipping and the rhythm of new school shoes racing out the door to meet the morning bus. And, in these parts, many rightfully mark the change in season by gold and red colors and the start of harvest.
For me, however, fall arrives in a much more subtle fashion when the heat of summer first yields at day’s end to a cool breeze. It’s a fleeting feeling, not as decisive as the first day of school or the last cut of alfalfa. It shows up when it wants, as there isn’t a single date on man’s calendar that can claim it.
In my mind, it’s as simple and as exhilarating as being able to step outside at midday and feel the cool, dry breeze on my neck while I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my face. Those two sensations combine in Mother Nature’s annual promise that shorter days filled with early mornings in the duck slough or deer stand are just around the corner.
Along those same lines, one of the annual harbingers of fall usually occurs around Labor Day weekend when the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department releases its annual pheasant-brood survey report. The annual survey, which SDGFP has been conducting since 1949, is a snapshot to estimate the pheasant population for the upcoming hunting season. It is the unofficial, official start to pheasant season for many, and hopes are high that the when the final report is tallied the pheasant index climbs for the third year in a row.
The survey relies heavily on two distinct numbers — pheasants per mile and average brood size. When those numbers are up and the pheasant population estimate is higher than the previous year, optimism abounds both far and wide. When the numbers are down, however, some people start to question whether or not it’s “worth it” to head out pheasant hunting. The same sentiment applies to survey numbers as they pertain to waterfowl, deer, turkey, walleyes or what have you. For whatever reason, a simple dip in numbers has the uncanny ability to cast a shadow on our outdoor prospects.
And that’s tragic, because at some point we got it stuck in our heads that hunting should be easy and that numbers from a population estimate somehow mean more than the act of actually hunting. More and more, it feels like we’ve become too focused on instant gratification and results instead of the process — that a pile of dead birds is somehow more important than the experience. And that’s a slippery slope.
What I find most concerning is the growing trend of fewer people choosing to hunt or fish because it just isn’t as easy as it used to be. As sportsmen we’re failing to look closely in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are truly willing to put in the necessary effort when it comes time to hit the field, climb into a deer stand, or even take a kid fishing or hunting.
While population estimates and other survey information are valuable assets wildlife managers and government officials use to formulate management plans or develop season structures, they should not be a determining factor in whether or not we choose to go hunting or fishing. In other words, while it’s great to hear numbers are up, or somewhat disappointing if they’re down, this whole thing we call hunting shouldn’t be easy. It’s a challenge, and it should be embraced, protected and passed down so more and more people can enjoy it in years to come.
After all, regardless of what any number might say, it still rings true that a bad day of hunting in the Dakotas is still better than a good day somewhere else.
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