I used to be a hunter, back as a kid and through high school. I wasn’t an avid hunter or anything, but did go out occasionally with friends. However, in my current place in life, I can’t imagine ever going out hunting again. I can’t really say I see the thrill in going out and blasting away, but at least I can somewhat see hunting as one means of putting food on the table. I REALLY don’t understand anyone’s desire to go out and kill, just for the sake of killing (ala prairie dog, coyote, or mountain lion hunting in South Dakota). However, I at least have been telling myself for years that I’m not against hunting in general.
It’s getting harder…and harder…and harder…to keep telling myself that I’m not against hunting in general. Not when it seems every other time I go to bird and take photos that I run into yet another example of South Dakota “hunters” gone bad. I was recently up birding in the Lake Thompson area of South Dakota. Lake Thompson used to be a big wetland area with scattered shallow water, but since heavy rains in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s now the largest natural lake in South Dakota. Ice is just going out on the big lakes, including Lake Thompson. The lake was a mix of open water, rotten ice, and piles of slushy ice crystals being blown into masses by a strong northwest wind. Along the ice edge were gulls, several thousand snow geese, as well as thousands of ducks scattered around the lake.
In other words, a nice day of birding! That is…until I drove along “Oldham road”, a road bed slicing through the lake with water on both sides. As I started to drive along the grade, I saw a few thousand Snow Geese well south of the road, but near the road was a pair of Snow Geese. One was obviously wounded, with a wing dragging behind it as it and its partner struggled to walk away on the ice as my car approached. I drive another hundred yards, and I see a dead goose on the rocks by the road. A tough winter and a tough migration, I’m thinking. However, as I drive a bit further and approach the one bridge on Oldham road, I see a mass of white. I stop, and on the rocks by the bridge, I see a pile of about two dozen dead snow geese.
The birds were on the rocks, well above the water line, and it was quite obvious the wind or waves hadn’t deposited their bodies there. I didn’t closely examine the bodies, but when I got out and looked, there was quite a bit of blood on some of the birds. They had obviously died rather recently, and had died of trauma. Unfortunately, I’m positive it was a “South Dakota” type of trauma..some redneck or group of rednecks with shotguns, who saw the masses of geese on the lake and started blasting away.
The carnage didn’t end there. Further down were a few more dead snow geese. As I headed west from the lake on Oldham road, I approached a large lake, again with water on both sides of the road. As I started to cross the lake, a single snow goose struggled mightly to move to the water. It had been sitting on the side of the road, and could obviously barely move. It wasn’t hard to see why…it’s right lower part of it’s body was covered with blood. On the retreating ice on the lake, another sad pair of Snow Geese stood…one with a drooped wing, another victim. As a wildlife lover, it’s hard for me not to anthropomorphize animals at times. Snow Geese mate for life, so with one of the pair shot and injured, the other bird stays behind with it. It was pretty obvious that mating pair wasn’t going to ever raise young again.
I’m losing count of how many times I’ve run across this kind of thing in South Dakota in recent years. I’ve come over a hill, only to find two rednecks in a pickup, too lazy to even get out, guns pointing out of the window, and blasting away at American Coots in the wetland by the road. I’ve gone to a favorite birding spot, having a quiet day interrupted when two young girls pull into the parking area to drop off their two younger brothers, both of whom immediately start to blast away at ANY bird or living creature they come across. I’ve come across an idiot who wing-shot a goose, but didn’t know how to finish it off, so was chasing it around a field, kicking it and beating it with his fists.
Sadly, I could go on…and on…and on. There are unfortunately MANY South Dakota “sportsmen” who behave in such a manner, using wildlife for target practice or abuse.
I have some friends who hunt, and I know they are indeed sportsmen who follow the law to the letter. I know the good that groups like Ducks Unlimited do for habitat. However, when it seems that I run into examples of South Dakota rednecks about every other time I go out, it’s VERY hard for me to continue to say I’m not against hunting. Even for groups like Ducks Unlimited, it becomes VERY hard for my cynical side not to come out, for me to view them as simply focused on ensuring a steady supply of targets to blast away at.
It only takes a few idiots to spoil the “fun” for everybody else. It only takes a few idiots to forever taint the views folks like myself may have about hunting. However, the more I go out and about, the more my cynical side becomes convinced that there are one HELL of a lot more than just a FEW South Dakota rednecks who think this is acceptable behavior.