For the Birds Radio Program: Duck Hunting, with a quote from Sam Cook

Original Air Date: Oct. 26, 1987

Laura reads from Sam Cook to explain her ambivalence about duck hunting. (3:46) Date confirmed.

Audio missing


(Recording of a Wood Duck)

I’m ambivalent about duck hunting. I’ve watched too many Wood Ducks during the breeding season–the mothers virtually never leave their babies, even for a moment. In the overall scheme of things, it somehow seems sad when any mother’s diligence leads to nothing more than some DNR official’s boast of a big harvest. And I shudder whenever I watch a line or wedge of geese in fall, headed toward guns already pointed skyward in anticipation of gooseflesh. Geese move in family groups, and every goose is mourned by its own.

But I have a great regard for many hunters, which makes me defend their sport even as I wince at a shotgun blast. My dearest brother, who introduced me to the outdoors, is an avid duck and goose hunter, yet he has an appreciation and understanding of the natural world that I find in only the most sensitive and dedicated of birders–and the most sensitive and dedicated of hunters. And I can never forget that it is hunters and their money that save huge tracts of U.S. wetlands from draining and development, saving countless ducks and other birds for me to watch.

My brother taught me how to shoot a BB gun when I was in fifth grade. I wouldn’t aim at a target that was patterned after a living thing, but I became a pretty good shot at tin cans and standard bullseye targets–my brother stopped shooting with me when I started beating his scores. There was something really satisfying about the competition for me, and about hitting dead center–I have some sense of the thrill a hunter must feel when he bags two woodies with a single shot. But the victory still seems a cheerless one, and I inwardly root for the ones that get away. I’m the only person I know who eats store-bought meat, but will not touch wild game. It might be someone I know.

Sam Cook, the outdoor writer for the Duluth News-Tribune and Herald, is a hunter I have deep regard for. In his book, Up North, he wrote, “Sometimes, just for a minute, I wish I didn’t hunt, because I would like to see what this business of hunting looks like to a nonhunter. And sometime I’m going to take a nonhunter hunting for a day, so he or she can see what hunting looks like from my point of view. Not so the two of us can walk off into the sunset hand-in-hand, but simply so we can understand each other a little better…

“Part of the reason for the gap between us now is the way we hunters paint the picture of our outings. Our talk is almost always of the way we dropped the big buck, the day we doubled on pheasants or the time we killed two ducks with one shot…

“But just once I’d like to say…’Let me tell you about the morning the pine marten ran past my deer stand.’ Or, ‘Yes, we shot a lot of ducks, but if I were allowed only one memory, it would be the one where we were paddling across the lake in the dark, with the stars reflecting in the water, when we heard the wing beats of unseen ducks above us…’

“It is experiences like those, along with the million movements of uneventful waiting that string them together, that color hunts. To most hunters, those moments are just as significant as the chance to do some shooting. It’s too bad that few outside our own little fraternity ever hear about them.”

(Recording of a Wood Duck) That was Sam Cook, this is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”