The Minnesota Waterfowl Association’s annual Woodie Camp is taking place here at the Prairie Wetlands Learning Center. For the first time this summer, the Center is abuzz with activity. Its dorms filled with campers, counselors and instructors. The campers are 13-15 year olds with an interest and some experience with waterfowl hunting. Waterfowl hunting is a highly popular form of outdoor recreation here in Minnesota where the ﬂocks of ducks and geese fill the state’s wide skies and numerous bodies of water with their calls and ﬂapping during their fall migrations.
This was not always the case, however. Before regulation enacted by conservationist was enforced, many species of waterfowl became dangerously rare due to hunting. Today, most hunters are avid outdoorspeople as well as conservationists, and by controlling populations of waterfowl and foragers like deer, they help protect ecosystems that have suffered predator loss from human action. Here in Minnesota, hunters not only pay for this right to help regulate population levels, but they enjoy it and are often inclined to defend these natural resources through democratic participation, donation and involvement.
For me personally hunting has always seemed totally weird. Growing up as I did, a bleeding-heart liberal in the suburb of San Francisco, the world of hunting was very much seen through Bambi’s eyes as she watched her mother perish. “Why would you ever want to hurt another being?” was the dominant refrain in reaction to the idea of hunting. Indeed, when the National Park Service in Marin’s Point Reyes National Seashore began eliminating invasive deer which were competing with native quadrupeds on some of their last protected habitat, there was a massive public outcry. Hunting - even when being done to protect ecosystemic health - was seen as horribly unethical.
Yet rarely was a word spoken of the suburban sprawl, water and land management projects, or toxic pollution that harm animals and their habitat. The cultural aspect of hunting was never recognized in the culture of my upbringing. Not only did I not know anybody who hunted, I don’t believe I knew anyone who knew anyone who hunted. Hiking, (catch-and-release) fishing, and camping were seen as the only “proper” ways to appreciate nature.
But rather than being cautious and afraid of this huge pack of hunters descending on the refuge - students, instructors, and supervisors all united under a love of taking guns to waterfowl - I’ve been doing my best to get to know and try to understand this “foreign culture.” I have found these “waterfowlers” to be genuinely caring individuals who love spending time together outdoors, removing themselves from society for sometimes entire days for the pursuit of game and to enjoy each other’s company.
I’ve formed friendships with counselors, who are around my age, and learned much from the knowledgeable expert hunters and conservationists brought to the refuge. Though the days have been long, with the students starting their activities at 7:30 AM and bedding down at 10:30PM, and myself assisting and photographing all the way through, I’ve found this program to be eminently entertaining and educational so far.
Fortunately, there are two and a half more days of Woodie Camp, and I’m ready to learn more about this world of waterfowl. I’ve already learned quite a bit about firing and cleaning shotguns, using decoys, waterfowl ecology, duck behavior, building duck nesting structures, and cleaning and cooking duck. To top it all off, I found out that totally unbeknownst to me, my sister’s boyfriend - and a good friend of mine - is also an avid waterfowler, and if I ever return to California, we’re planning on going hunting together. Turns out, I do know someone who hunts after all.