2013 marked my 10th year with the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.
The certificate of appreciation I received as proof is stored in my office desk, where you’ll also find a 1971 Rand McNally Road Atlas, nail clipper, three keys, five screw drivers, spare change, 7-inch plastic ruler, a bottle cap for a free Dr. Pepper and a student of the month button from a middle school my kids didn’t attend.
Where much of this decade’s worth of flotsam washed in from is as puzzling as where the last 10 years hurried off to. While I clearly remember writing my first column for this back page, I have a tough time wrapping my head around the reality that I’ve done it nearly 100 times since early 2003.
Time flies – be it the last decade or simply 2013 – as they say.
Like many others, I suspect, this is not how I wanted it to end. The 2013 hunting season officially closed over the weekend (January 5), but it might as well have come days earlier as unforgiving winter weather settled over the state, keeping the most rational hunters, a category in which I typically land, indoors.
Going into the final weekend, the National Weather Service was calling for a wild weather parade of rain, high winds, blowing snow, bitter temperatures and grave wind chills.
Alas, they nailed it. Life-threatening wind chills extended into the first day of the work week, closing many schools until things warmed up.
There is no fun in hanging it up at the end of the hunting season, prematurely or not. Storing gear, stacking travel kennels in the corner of the garage, oiling shotguns, sorting ammunition … there is finality to it all and you realize it will be months until you get to do it again.
We did our share in 2013, hunting 20-plus days, starting in early September and ending before Christmas. This sounded like a lot to me, and maybe felt like plenty to my short-legged hunting partner, but I know our commitment was unremarkable in comparison. (I talked to one guy who hunted 15 days alone during the 16 ½-day deer gun season. He shot a nice buck, too.)
We started the season in early September in shirtsleeves, sitting on folding hunting stools, spitting store-bought sunflower seeds into the grass between our boots. Despite the number of spent, yellow shotgun shells tossed into a plastic garbage bag outnumbering our take of a half-dozen or so mourning doves, we had our first birds of the season.
Sharp-tailed grouse, fox squirrels, ring-necked pheasants and one ruffed grouse from Minnesota followed, slowly filling a cardboard box in the basement freezer.
When our northern seasons ends, it’s easy to reflect on birds flushed, triggers pulled and sandwiches eaten from the tailgate. What’s difficult to consider is the future as increasingly more wildlife habitat fades from the landscape, taking with it animals that depend on it for survival.
In 2013, my oldest son and I drew doe tags in a hunting unit 190 miles from home, and felt fortunate to do so. We’ve been hunting without interruption in the same unit for years and fall wouldn’t be anywhere near the same if we had to stay home. Yet, understanding that more than 40,000 hunters were denied deer gun licenses in North Dakota in 2013, we figure our turn is coming.
We’ll see what 2014 brings. But first, we need to get through winter.