Archive for January, 2014

Ask a Hunter

Legitimate hunters, particularly Nebraska’s recent mountain lion hunters and the winner of a Safari Club auction, have been unjustly criticized and misunderstood. The Nebraska hunters were called killers by a senator from their own state, while the auction winner, who will hunt a black rhino in Namibia, has had death threats. Understanding the roles hunters play in conservation and the purpose of these hunts might ease this tension.

It appears that there are three main contentions with these hunts: 1. The animals that will be hunted are beautiful, and as such, shouldn’t be hunted; 2. There aren’t very many of them, so they shouldn’t be hunted; and 3. The hunting methods used aren’t sporting. As an experienced hunter, I would like to address these misperceptions.

I’ve had the good fortune to hunt successfully some of nature’s most beautiful creatures, starting with a Nebraska icon – the ringneck pheasant. There are few birds as colorful and statuesque as a male ringneck pheasant. Hunters are captivated by this beautiful bird and fascinated with its canny behavior, and they will travel from all around the country and spend thousands of dollars for the opportunity to hunt it. The same thing could be said for Nebraska’s two deer species: the whitetail and mule deer. These are beautiful and graceful animals, and they are challenging to hunt. We don’t hunt these animals because we want to eradicate them. We hunt them because we enjoy being around them, and we hope to give younger generations the same opportunity. If we thought that hunting them would hurt the species’ survival, we wouldn’t do it.

With every license we buy and much of the equipment we purchase, we contribute to government efforts to preserve wildlife and protect habitat. In addition, hunter-funded groups like Pheasants Forever and the National Wild Turkey Federation create sanctuaries for wildlife. Hunters are directly responsible for the resurgence of some species, like the wild turkey and whitetail deer.

Nebraska’s mountain lions have made a huge resurgence in the state. There is an established population in the northwest corner of our state, so that’s where the majority of the hunting is done, but they are all over the state, being captured in Omaha and spotted everywhere between. Not every mountain lion spotting makes the newspaper. Just this past year, a trail camera on land I hunt near Burwell captured the image of a mature male lion, not just a juvenile looking for a new territory. The Game and Parks has chosen to take a few out of the population to minimize conflict with humans, as well to ensure as survival of the species.

In the case of the black rhino, while it’s true that the species is endangered, that’s not due to hunters. Rhino poaching is an enormous problem in Africa, as demand in Asia drives desperate people to profit by killing these creatures and taking their horns. The $350,000 paid at the auction will be donated to the Namibian government to fight the poaching problem. In this way, one rhino will be sacrificed to save several others. Furthermore, the hunter isn’t able to take just any rhino. He must take one of the older males that wildlife managers have determined is past breeding age, and even more importantly, a threat to other rhinos in the area. The animal taken will be in his last days, and a bullet will be a much better way to die than sickness and starvation.

Lastly, Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers and others have criticized hunting mountain lions with dogs and shooting them out of trees. Those who have experienced this will say that keeping up with dogs on a lion track is one of the most physically taxing hunts a person can experience. Shooting them out of a tree is the anti-climatic end to the excitement, and many hunters often pass on the animal they treed, if it isn’t mature or the wrong gender. In fact, there is no better way to determine a cat’s gender and maturity than observing it in a tree. This keeps hunters from accidentally shooting a female or immature male.

I am passionate about hunting, as are most of my fellow hunters. If something doesn’t seem right, please ask us before attacking us.

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You Think You’re Tough?

Cold weather has dominated the news recently, as frigid temperatures have gripped much of the nation. Locally, our newspaper ran a feature on Nebraska’s coldest December on record, the December of 1983. For several consecutive days thirty years ago, the temperature failed to break zero degrees, as the snow piled up. I remember it well, because I lived smack dab in the middle of the state in small town called Loup City, and I had a paper route.

When the weather was nice, the 40-some stops on my paper route took about an hour, despite our inefficient delivery method. Instead of tossing a bagged newspaper from a car window into a driveway, we carried the newspaper to the door, usually carefully placing it between the screen and main doors. In this way, our customers were spared the discomfort of wandering out into the elements to retrieve their news.

There was no discomfort spared on Loup City’s newspaper carriers in 1983. The deep snow kept us off our bicycles, and the barricade-like drifts made it nearly impossible to navigate the streets and sidewalks with our newspaper bags slung over our shoulders. I strapped my bag to a sled that I pulled behind me. Though the sled made my downhill trips much more enjoyable, it was drudgery, and what usually took about an hour now stretched to nearly two and a half hours. It was dark before I got home and started to thaw.

I’ve always felt pretty smug about my toughness, but I’m not even in the same ballpark as Marcus Luttrell and his fellow Navy SEALs. Luttrell’s experiences as an aspiring SEAL and in combat as a SEAL were chronicled in a book he co-authored, “Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.” That book became a New York Times bestseller, and served as the basis of a movie released just this month, “Lone Survivor.”

SEALs are trained and constantly tested for toughness. The Navy selects only the most elite and dedicated sailors for SEAL training, and few of those have what it takes to pass the rigorous physical and mental training. SEAL trainees are subject to intense discomfort for several consecutive weeks, as their trainers keep them cold, wet and sleep-deprived throughout much of the training. To simulate the psychological challenges of combat, they constantly test the trainees’ mental toughness. After hours of grueling drills in the cold ocean, on very little sleep, the trainees are allowed a warm shower, but then trotted right back into the ocean and told to roll around in the sand. The training is so intense that it is monitored by physicians to ensure that the trainees’ bodies don’t shut down under the extreme temperatures and fatigue. Only the most physically fit can withstand such punishment.

A bell is present throughout the most intense physical training, and trainees are reminded that a warm shower, food and sleep are immediately available to them if they want to ring the bell, signifying their decision to quit. Even after the careful selection process, 75-80% of SEAL trainees quit or fail each year. In Luttrell’s class, only 32 of the nearly 180 who started completed the full year of training.

After fulfilling his dream of becoming a SEAL, Luttrell was sent into combat situations where the skills and expertise of a SEAL were needed. One such mission was Operation Red Wings, the mission upon which the book and movie were based. After an intense firefight with the Taliban, Luttrell was the lone survivor of his team of four. Badly wounded with a broken back and other injuries, and fading in and out of consciousness, Luttrell relied on the mental toughness he learned through SEAL training to survive for four more days, until special forces teams were able to recover him. During that time, because his body was so badly wounded, he had to be especially mentally strong to avoid capture by an enemy who was actively hunting him.

Without extreme efforts to develop extreme toughness, he likely wouldn’t have survived, and this is precisely why SEALs are trained in the manner I described. Because he knew how to cope with almost incomprehensible adversity, Luttrell was able to maintain his composure and give himself a chance at survival.

How mentally tough are you? Do you ring the bell and quit when things get tough? I believe that most of us aren’t very tough, and we know it. If you are among that group, don’t despair; toughness can be learned, and you don’t have to go through SEAL training to do it.

Start by identifying situations in which you are tempted to quit. Your New Year’s resolution might be a place to look. Identify the discomfort that you are trying to avoid, and remind yourself why it is important to persevere in the face of that discomfort. Then, devise a strategy for overcoming the urge to quit when faced with discomfort. Once you train your brain to treat discomfort and adversity as temporary obstacles that must be overcome, instead of avoided, you’ll start to develop the mental toughness necessary to reach your goals.


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