Leadership for couch potatoes
For sure, the author of an Aug. 14 Cape Cod Times editorial "Taking Stock" never spent a morning walking behind a good hunting dog in pursuit of the pheasants described by the editorialist as "tame befuddled animals." That characterization may be useful for argument's sake but is not entirely accurate. The editorial writer's hollow lamentations over the decline of hunting across the Cape, and particularly at the National Seashore, lead ultimately to nothing more than his feckless acquiescence in the end of a long sporting tradition among bird hunters. He suggests cable television's Outdoor Channel as the fallback position for sportsmen.
Hunting pheasants on the National Seashore or Martha's Vineyard will never match an outing in a Nebraska cornfield. But there is still a sense of anticipation for the hunter who takes a walk with a dog with a good nose on a crisp fall day and holds a shotgun in the crook of his arm.
Some people subscribe to the idea that pheasants do not belong on public lands, simply because they are not indigenous. I doubt that they hold a similar view regarding the many varieties of plants, vegetables, and animals, including popular breeds of cats and dogs, popular here but immigrants every one.
In 1881, Judge Owen Denny of Oregon, a diplomatic appointee of President Ulysses Grant, went to Shanghai where he tasted ringneck pheasant for the first time.
Impressed with the ringneck's game and culinary qualities, Judge Denny shipped a small number of birds to his brother's farm in Oregon. By 1892, a reported 50,000 cocks were killed on opening day of Oregon's first pheasant season.
Pheasants spread across the nation, quickly adapting to the vast agricultural areas of the Midwest and the brushy cover adjacent to New England farm fields. In many areas of the country, the pheasant provided hunters at all levels of society and from every background with a bird they could hunt without traveling very far.
The loss of farmland and suitable cover has led to a decline in all ground nesting birds. The Massachusetts stocking program is funded entirely by the sale of hunting licenses. It ensures that even hunters without access to private property or special privileges can enjoy the excitement of hunting pheasants in the field.
Wild turkey and quail will be fitting additions to the National Seashore, as its managers propose. One supposes they will face the same challenges to survival that afflict the pheasants that the editorialist thinks are so dumb, namely a lack of suitable habitat and a host of predators including hawks, owls, feral cats, skunks, and raccoons.
The editorialist rightly notes that sale of hunting licenses has declined, and the availability of parcels of sufficient size where hunting is allowed is shrinking. But, apparently, those are just facts, and not lamentable.
Ah well, forget New England's rich hunting tradition, with its roots in the marksmanship of the Minutemen. Forget the generations of young people who went hunting with family members and in the process learned to respect, love and protect the outdoors.
The Cape Cod Times advises avid New England hunters "to lift their sights to that vast American landscape featured on the Outdoor Channel." He might have added video games? N.S.