Saturday, December 27, 2008

Guilty: Hunting and the numbers game

Cruising around the outdoor blog world this morning (because that's the best way to put off all the grading I have to do), I found myself reading a post on how obsessed the hunting world is with the body count, and how maybe that's not a good thing.

"(I)f we measure the success of our efforts afield based solely on the number of birds in the bag, we miss out on the many intrinsic rewards that make a day afield rewarding - the sight of October aspens, the smell of sage on the wind, and the sound of chukars on the far rimrock," wrote Mike Spies at Living with Bird Dogs (a post I found courtesy of Andrew Campbell at The Regal Vizsla). Spies went on to quote another blogger who believes counting "degrades" the sport.

I felt a little smaller when I read this. Read more...
Numbers have really been on my mind a lot lately. It started two weeks ago when I reached the occasion of hitting more ducks in an outing than Boyfriend did. And now I'm at it again because I am on the cusp of another important milestone: I've gotten 22 ducks this season, which is one shy of the number of waterfowl I got for the entire 07-08 season (23) which was far more than I got my first season (3).

And, oh yeah, I'm hoping to get my first-ever limit of ducks this year. I came close in October when I got six - one shy of California's limit of seven. I might've been able to get seven, but we had to leave the blind pretty early for a long trip home. I'm hunting at a really nice duck club on for New Year's, though, and it's entirely possible I could limit out...

See what I mean? I'm obsessed, and I feel guilty about it.

Boyfriend, who started hunting three years before I did, has already begun to impose limits on how much he wants to kill. When the freezer is full and we have enough game to get through the year, he feels "done."

But I still want more, more, more.

I know part of it is that hunters go through five stages, and that I am in the second one, the "limiting out" stage.

And in my defense...

The reason I'm constantly questing for ever-bigger numbers is that I want to know that I'm actually good enough to get them. My shooting is still pretty spotty - I have at best a 25 to 30 percent likelihood of hitting ducks I'm shooting at. I don't even expect perfection - 80 percent would be fine with me, because that means if ducks are flying at all, it's highly likely I'll bring home something for the freezer.

Furthermore, I don't measure success solely on numbers. With rare exception, I enjoy almost every day I spend in the field because sitting in the marsh makes me happy and connects me with my food in the most meaningful way possible. I truly am content to bring home just a couple birds after a day in the marsh, even though the cost of gas, ammunition and time make them very expensive little morsels. And if the ducks aren't flying on a given day, I really don't feel bad at all coming home empty-handed.

And finally, your honor, I am just the teensiest bit OCD - a little too in love with numbers and spreadsheets. Oh crap, that just sounded a bit too much like the Twinkie Defense...

Hell, I don't know. I'm just trying to keep my head on straight, trying to remain cognizant of my motivations so I know I'm always hunting for the right reasons. That's really important to me.

That said, I'm heading back into the marsh tomorrow, and getting two more ducks would put me past last year's record, with four weeks still to go in this season...

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


HELLEK said...

Well, you could see it as the natural course through the stages... only three more to go!

For grading: three down, 15 to go! Barring a long nap, a-hunting I will go!

Holly Heyser said...

Go, Hellen, go!

For me, four down, 44 articles to go, then 50 portfolios...

Jon Roth said...

While I do agree with the greater enlightened perspective of what Spies is talking about, I also think humans are pretty much predators with brains. Competition is both part of our DNA and certainly our culture so it is only natural for us to base some of what we define as 'success' on the numbers. I enjoy banging out a limit now and then just as much as I enjoy the whole hunting experience. To me they are compatible and not mutually exclusive.

Holly Heyser said...

I hope so, because I'm not sure I'll ever stop thinking about it completely.

Terry Scoville said...

Holly, it is truly a part of the process. The numbers game that is. When you are able to get your "limit" and have done so several times it will not be as big a deal, as having not achieved it. Also I understand your concern about your motives. I think you are doing just fine.

I keep track of species, sex, date and other pertinent info. for future use and historical purposes. I enjoy being in the field, regardless of firing a shot or not.I have many days every year that I do not harvest birds. This year is no exception. Ultimately I feel hunting is a vehicle to witness the passing migration, for yet another year.

Josh said...

Ya know, Holly, we are out there to hunt. If you were TOTALLY unconcerned with bagging, then you'd be more likely to leave the gun at home and take a camera.

You will always want to bring something home when you hunt - that is a big part of it. And I agree that there is a sense of competition in us all, curbed by social graces, ethics, the law, and religious compunctions, depending on the community. However, it's there within us, and it isn't all bad, else we wouldn't have the desire to hunt at all.

I think the process is much more circular or cyclical than a simple five stages. I was completely in the fourth/fifth stage from my first day hunting and up until I took a deer two years ago which I used to feed my new family. After the experience of providing, I'm now solidly in stage two, with stages three, four and five bubbling up from time to time. But, hey, I'm hunting.

Good luck on limiting out, and considering how bad this year has been weather-wise, I'm sure you'll have no trouble beating your old number.

Native said...

I agree with what most everyone has said here and the Idea of singularly enjoying "only the outing" is quite esoteric within itself.
There could be a myriad of discussions which would revolve around just that aspect of your personal hunting experience alone.

I have seen so very many different types and, from all walks of life individuals that come through the gates with what appeared to be, a single minded purpose concerning their hunt and harvest.
I have also witnessed the competition of which you speak that sometimes starts even before the hunt commences.
(My Pig is gonna' be bigger than yours or, mine had more ivory than yours did last year) etc. etc.

I used to allow myself to believe that these very individuals were expressing a callousness about the killing of a living creature and, my mindset up until a few short years ago, was completely immovable.
But, as I began to allow myself to know and understand these very same people, I slowly realized that they also were enjoying and appreciating the simple wilderness outing as much as I. Only in their own way!
And I also learned that they really were true sportsmen in every sense and meaning of the word.

So why the competitive attitudes? Why not just enjoy the experience regardless of the harvest or not?

Conclusion which I came to is that each and every individual will have their own personal and spiritual experience when venturing out and into the wilderness.

A person who is just embarking upon a simple photographic adventure will ultimately strive to take a better picture than their contemporary's.
A person that goes out for a nature walk believes that what they saw that day might just be the most singularly special event of a lifetime and can't wait to share it with his friends and, allows himself to "brag" just a little.
"Look how close I got to that animal! or, those animals did not even know that I was there!"

It is only human nature to "story tell" around the campfire and the bigger the story, the more captive your audience!
And we "all" are competitive by nature whether we like to admit it to ourselves or not.

There are admittedly some people who are simply into the "kill" and, these individuals thankfully, are few and far between and it is so unfortunate for them.
Because they will never truly understand the questions which have been raised on this particular post and quite simply put, A Sh*# head will always be a Sh*# head regardless of their being taught correctly.

Anonymous said...

Uh, HH ...

If you don't count, you might get arrested for getting more ducks than you oughta get. Everything in moderation, but keep on countin'. Or, you can kiss your blog good-bye when the headline reads "NorCal can't count, bags more than her fair share of ducks!"


Holly Heyser said...

Ha! Good point. But really, I should be so lucky as to shoot well enough to exceed my limit...

I think moderation is the key word here - not to let counting (or competitiveness) become too important.

Rebecca K. O'Connor said...

I'm trying to feel for you...but having caught NO DUCKS this season, I'm not. *grin* Of course, it's very easy not to count when there's nothing to count. It's when things start getting good that it gets competitive.Something about abundance making you want more...isn't this why the economy is in the shape its in?

SimplyOutdoors said...

While all of us do enjoy the hunt, we also do head out there to ultimately kill something.

I'm competitive as can be, so I would be lying if I said that not tagging any animal this year is killing me. And while I understand it's not all about killing, and not all about how many animals I've killed, there is still that little part of me that aches at the lack thereof.

Good luck the rest of your season.

Native said...

Once again Holly, a very good and thought provoking post.
The thing which I might add here is do not allow the: "Keep the playing field fair and politically correct" mentality to hamper your enjoyment of your chosen recreation.
Phillip Loughlin said it best when he stated that: Nature Is Not Fair!

As long as you stay within the limits of the"law" there is nothing wrong with a little friendly competition between yourself and whomever.

The antis (and I mean some hunting groups as well as the animal activists) love nothing more than provoking division and, the best way to accomplish that, is to make us feel guilty about what we do.
Ala, the Global Warming people,Karl Marx followers etc.etc.

Do not fall into such a set trap because you have "paid your dues" and now it is time to have fun.
Go and enjoy "all" of the benefits of embarking into the field and imbibing in the glory of the hunt!

Anonymous said...

I think sometimes hunters think that admitting they want to kill something is a bad thing. So it becomes about the experience and not about the kill. Part of the reason a person hunts is the fill the freezer and to do that, you have to kill something. Ultimately, hunting is about the kill, or about the possibility of a kill. If it's not, then it's not hunting.

Granted, there's a difference between having an acceptance of making a kill and wanting to rack up the body count. Still, I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to better your own previous record. Hunting is a skill, like anything else, and anyone who practices a skill wants to get more proficient. That's just human nature.

Anonymous said...


If you're having fun, none of that other stuff matters. Count those birds! Compete! Beat boyfriend... or watch him beat you. Set a goal to take more birds this year than last, or to down more birds with less shots.

So what?

Who is your judge?

By the way, I have always thought the Five Stages thing was pretty clever, and I've also found it reasonably accurate. But the thing is, you can't hurry up and jump to the next stage... the whole point is that it's a natural and real progression. Wanting to rush it is really just another manifestation of that competitive spirit anyway, isn't it?

And here's the kicker... I can almost promise you that, if you walked up in person asked that Skies fella or anyone else about their best day in the field, odds are that the reply would include the number of birds taken. For whatever value we take from the hunt, we're not out there just to take the air and view the mountains... unless maybe that's Stage Six of the hunter.

Andrew Campbell said...


Just catching up on old posts -- thanks for the nod. Thanks too for posting the Five Stages link -- I had been looking for it for a while.

The only thing I would add is that, for me, hunting with pointing dogs makes the killing part even less important. Watching a dog, and especially my dogs, work a bird is one of the most satisfying things I know. It has to be because my shooting isn't! 8-) But it is to say that harvesting game isn't the only result that brings satisfaction.

All best wishes for 2009