Last week, two court cases of interest to outdoor users made the
news. In Wisconsin, a man was convicted of unintentional homicide
in the second degree for fatally shooting a fellow hunter after
they allegedly argued over squirrel hunting. In Minnesota, six men
from Ely who allegedly terrorized campers on Basswood Lake in the
BWCAW last August had their first court appearance. Among the six
individuals, a total of 78 charges have been filed. Additional
federal and Canadian charges are possible.
While the media have tried to explain the Wisconsin murder as a
racial hate crime and the Minnesota incident as a political
statement, there really is no explanation for aberrant, violent
behavior. While the circumstances differ, the incidents share a
chilling similarity. In both cases, the victims were outdoor users
on public land who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong
time. They had little or no control over what happened to them.
We all know that the real world can be a scary place. Yet we
ought to be able to enjoy lawful outdoor pursuits on public land.
While outdoor activities are safe pastimes by any measure, these
incidents demonstrate that bad things can happen to anyone – though
the risk of something bad happening to you is very, very small. You
have a far greater chance of drowning or being struck by lightning
than becoming the victim of an outdoor violent crime.
Unfortunately, rare incidents such as these – a man kills a
Southeast Asian hunter because he hates his race, and six men
threaten to rape and kill campers because they hate wilderness
users – reinforce the worst stereotypes. Some folks believe the
average hunter or local Joe are gun-toting, hate-filled savages.
The recent incidents give those beliefs a stamp of stereotypical
For that reason, hunters should be outraged by these incidents.
There is no greater threat to hunting or gun ownership than a fool
with a gun. Hunting and traditional outdoor activities have enough
problems without adding gun crimes to the mix. The old saying about
one bad apple spoiling the bunch is especially true when it comes
to violent behavior.
They came out of the gloom like a dream. On a recent, fogbound
morning, I was set up in a swamp with a handful of decoys that were
being buzzed occasionally by small flocks of ringbills. I heard
wing beats before seeing the ducks, which were just about in range
when they popped into view.
Suddenly, on the edge of my fog-limited field of view, I saw
three white, spectral shapes appear in a creek channel. At first, I
couldn’t discern their identity, wondering if perhaps the shapes
were gobs of foam formed upstream in flood-churned rapids. As they
came closer, I was able to make out white bodies and long necks.
Hoping they were an errant trio of snow geese – a rarity in these
parts, I waited as they came closer.
Eventually, their grace gave them away. The three birds were
swans. Soon they drifted to within a few yards of my decoys, where
they paused and I got a better look at them. One swan was slightly
larger and angel white. The smaller pair was slightly dusky in
color. I decided it was probably an adult swan with two members of
the summer brood.
My wildlife watching was cut short by the sound of rushing wings
and I fired (alas, in vain) at a pair of ringers as they came over
the decoys. Amazingly, the swans were unperturbed by the shooting.
Swimming in close formation, they remained in the same place.
I convinced the dog that he didn’t need to attempt a retrieve,
though he kept a watchful eye on the big white birds. When I began
quacking on a duck call, the adult swan joined in with deep,
musical notes. More ducks flew by and I made more noise. On one
occasion, the dog retrieved a ringer drake that fell less than 20
yards from the swans.
Although I had neither binoculars nor a bird book for
identification, I decided the birds were tundra swans, a relatively
common species that passes through our state during the spring
migration. If memory serves me, I’ve seen them in this same swamp
while beaver trapping in early spring. An incessant deluge,
accompanied with gloomy low ceilings and fog, was likely causing
them to stay put.
After a while, they swam back up the channel and disappeared. I
discovered them standing on the bank a little over 100 yards away
while chasing a cripple. Later, they returned to their position
just beyond the edge of the decoys. The adult swan called
Eventually, it was time to pick up the decoys and go home. The
swans swam a short distance away when I appeared with the canoe and
began calling more. However, they made no real attempt to get away
or fly. I went wide to get around them as I left, hoping they would
return to their quiet channel where they could rest undisturbed. I
could hear their calls in the fog as I rowed toward the