Few people in North Dakota would ever ask the question “why do you hunt?”
I’m sure that not everyone understands the hunting heritage and it's place in tradition, but with around 90,000 or more deer hunters in a given year, plus another 10,000 or so who don't hunt deer but pursue other game, it's evident that hunting ranks right up there with Friday night high school football as a fall interest.
In fact, a few years ago a high school coach related how one player was contemplating missing a Friday night game as it would cut into his Saturday morning hunt.
It's probably fortunate that those 100,000 resident hunters don't all try to gather at the same location at the same time. They fan out to all corners of the state on weekends, and many at one time or another take a few days off during the week as well.
And then there's the extra-avid, who when they aren't working, spend every fall minute out scouting, hunting or travelling.
I grew up in a home where hunting, fishing and/or trapping were always on the agenda. We didn't really have an off season, just changes of season.
From the first time I can remember, I liked those outdoor experiences. I didn't really contemplate why, I just did. And that's basically how I’d answer the “Why do I hunt?” question today. Because I like to.
It's not social, even though hunting experiences can certainly have a social element to them. I save the real social outings for coffee and neighborhood visits.
It's also not completely about harvesting game or enjoying wild game table fare. I don't always need to bring something home to call my day a success, but that's part of the objective each time I head out the door.
I think my reasons for hunting have evolved over the years. Today, that involves time with my son and the wide open spaces, the crystal clear view and the mental purity provided by fresh air, open country and the critters kind enough to share it with me.
There's something to be said for a few hours of working up a sweat, quenching your thirst with prairie air in the lungs and the sweet smell of ripe cattails. We all have our own devices to help keep us balanced, and for legions of hunters the common denominator is being out in the “sticks,” or the open countryside.
That plus familiar companions, the drive to and from, breakfast at the same cafÃ©, recollections about past hunts and anticipation of the future all come together as part of a tradition that is much more about the whole experience than it is about individual parts.
Every once in awhile my column will spark a negative response from someone who doesn't hunt, whether it's against hunting in general or based on a particular species like cougars, swans or doves.
But for the most part we live in a state where hunting is understood and appreciated. We can't assume this will never change, and we as hunters need to stay vigilant and continue to impress upon others the important role of hunting and conservation, not only for North Dakota, but the states around us as well.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org