I’m a better angler than hunter and I’m a better thinker than angler, but to be honest, I do not hold the bar very high for the latter. This ranking of skill probably has to do with the fact that I spend a fair amount of time fishing and a fair amount of time hunting and during both of those pursuits I frequently find myself in situations where the only reasonable conclusion I can draw is that the fish or game I’m chasing simply doesn’t exist. This leaves ample time for me to practice my thinking skills and ponder life’s great questions like, why is my freezer so empty? But on occasion I stumble into those rare moments when I find success and some time to think about different questions.
Several years ago I was hunting ptarmigan on top of Murphy Dome outside of Fairbanks. It was right after the first dusting of snow, my favorite time of year to hunt birds. I was walking down the trail and saw a couple of old shotgun shells sitting in the tundra. I bent down, picked them up, stuck them in my pocket and continued on my way.
For the sake of getting to the point, I’ll withhold the details of the dramatic stalk and impressive 15-yard shots on several birds that day, but needless to say I was successful. On my walk back to the truck, carrying not quite a limit of birds, I had time to think.
My mind kept wandering back to the shotgun shells I had picked up on my walk in. Was there a correlation between me picking up those shells and being successful? Did it cause me to stop for just the right amount of time that I would run into the ptarmigan later? Did Mother Nature command the ptarmigan gods to reward me for performing my civic responsibility by picking up trash?
Well, that’s unlikely.
I’ll chalk up my success to being in the right place at the right time and at least on that day, a half-decent shot. But perhaps there is some correlation, albeit a reach, but really not so far-fetched.
If I hadn’t picked up those shotgun shells, I still likely would’ve found birds that day. The extent of my belief in superstitions is limited to “knocking on wood”. Like I said , I was in the right place at the right time. I don’t study ptarmigan behavior. I am not a biologist, so I don’t know why the birds were there that day. But if I had to venture a guess, it’s because it was a good place for a ptarmigan to be. Murphy Dome offers a fair amount of windswept tundra where lingonberries, blueberries and crowberries may be exposed later into the year for foraging ptarmigan to feed. It’s a nice place for a bird, and for the most part, it’s pretty clean.
If the habitat was degraded and Murphy Dome was covered in shotgun shells, old tires, plastic bags, beer cans, cigarette butts, burnt couches, tired out refrigerators and washing machines, maybe the birds wouldn’t be there, maybe they would. But who wants to hunt in a landfill?
Most people I know have experienced the frustration of seeing trash along the bank of their favorite fishing river, or having walked into a pigsty of a campsite. No one appreciates it. But we’re fortunate that most places in Alaska are clean. In most places you can go and not find a single piece of trash. That shouldn’t be taken for granted.
September is Public Lands Month. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers will be promoting our annual Public Lands Pack Out to encourage our members to help clean up our public lands. Whether you choose to formally participate or not, you can still help out. While you’re stalking caribou and bear, grunting to a moose, or casting for gluttonous salmon-egg stuffed rainbow trout, take the time to consider the land you’re on and the opportunities it provides. I ask you pick up some old fishing line, a beer can, a plastic bag and aim to leave the land and water a little cleaner for when you come back next.
That day up hunting on Murphy Dome, I was not successful because I picked up those shotgun shells and picking up trash will not fill your freezer. But in the big picture, there may be a correlation between picking up some trash and having a successful hunting or fishing trip.
It’s our responsibility as stewards of the land to take care of it so that we can continue to enjoy it. This September, take a few moments, an afternoon or a weekend to get outside, enjoy the fall air and help clean up our public lands.
To help out with BHA’s effort to keep our Public Lands clean, and participate in our Public Lands Pack Out, click here. You can report the number of bags you picked up while out hunting, fishing, and hiking through the link on the above page and tag your work on social, #PublicLandsPackOut.