By Daniel D. Narum

With age, the motivations and gratifications of hunting change

On an early morning in September, I awoke just before my alarm sounded and spared my wife the noise. It was 4:45 a.m., and a balmy 63 degrees outside. My gear was already loaded and I had a cup of fresh hot coffee to enjoy on my way to the field. A good number of local Canadian geese had been feeding in a local barley field for several days. We planned to meet them there this morning.

My hunting companions were right on time. Doug and Barry Townsend, father and son respectively, are exemplary sportsman. The Townsends are well known as goose hunters in LaMoure North Dakota. Barry, a volunteer instructor for the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, has taught hundreds of eager young hunters to be safe and ethical in the field. Doug, in his eighties, has spent time in the fields and marshes of southeastern North Dakota with several generations of local hunters.

Waterfowl hunting is a Townsend family tradition going back to Doug's return from European battlefields after WWII. Doug survived the D-Day landings at Normandy's Omaha Beach, and received the Silver Star for his efforts during Hitler's last great offensive, the Battle of the Bulge. Even in his eighties, he can still carry his share of decoys into the field in the morning and out again at the end of the day.

In between the excitement of several small flocks of honkers circling our decoys, Doug shared some of his wartime experiences and a few tales from a lifetime chasing waterfowl. There was a serious tone in his voice when he explained that, in no small measure, it is the hope of enjoying another fall that keeps him alive.

At this stage in his hunting life, Doug enjoys watching others experience North Dakota's hunting opportunities as much as being in the field himself. His pleasure in the sport of waterfowling has no relation to the number of birds bagged. It comes simply from being there; from the camaraderie; the conversation; from leaning on a pickup box and eating a sandwich while recounting the day's hunt; from the sights and sounds of North Dakota's fields and wetlands; and, I suppose, from the chance that we might be lucky enough to call a flock of honkers into our decoys.

In our diverse society there are those who believe that hunting should be a thing of the past. There are those who believe hunting is a cruel remnant from a less civilized time, that hunters are bloodthirsty and take pleasure only in the kill. As a group, we hunters have little time for such people and offer them little in the way of understanding. If we have a chance at being understood by such people our best chance is to have them spend a day in the field with someone like Doug Townsend.

Along with the urbanization of our society comes a greater population of non-hunters and greater numbers of those who misunderstand us. Make no mistake about it, we are in the minority. Our goal ought to be that all hunters aspire to Doug's stage in the hunting life. We all know that hunting is about much more than bagging game. Let's live that way and police our own ranks. We should encourage each other to find this stage in our thirties instead of our eighties and set our children on this path from their first hunt. This may be the only way to preserve our traditions and pass them on to our children.

We all need to be mindful of that fact that we are a category of people. The unethical and illegal hunters among us, often motivated by greed for game, reflect upon all of us. One bad experience with a hunter can create a lasting prejudice against all of us. Our hunting lives are far too precious to be squandered by such people.

We don't litter but, do we spend a little time each fall picking up after the slobs that have come before us? Do we cover our game from view in transit? Do we wash the blood from ourselves before going into the grocery store or café? Are we gracious in taking "no" for an answer to an inquiry about hunting posted land? These are not legal requirements to be found in the proclamation; these are ethical considerations and there are countless more.

As we take to the field this fall, if we hunt not just legally but ethically as well, we will give pause, and provide an opportunity for understanding to those who do not understand our love of hunting. We will carry on the traditions of men like Doug and Barry Townsend. Perhaps, in doing so, we will also give our children and generations to come, the chance at honkers circling their decoys.