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The Scarlet & Black

A Hunter’s Holiday


Fall is “the” holiday season. Everybody knows that trick-or-treating takes place at the end of October, or that Christmas is on December 25, or that Thanksgiving-themed gluttony can only happen when red, yellow and green leaves carpet the walkways. When I studied abroad in London last year, I had the chance to see how England celebrates these holidays, like Halloween (All Hallows Eve) or Christmas (Christmas). But there was one holiday that I missed so badly, it drove me wild with cabin fever sitting in a third-story flat. If you’re an avid reader of this column, I think you can guess what it is. For outdoorsmen in Poweshiek County and all around Iowa, there’s another special day in mind, which brings together the festivities all on one overwhelming day of splendor: October 1.

On this day, numerous hunting seasons kick off: waterfowl hunters in the South Zone (the primary delineator is Highway 30, and Poweshiek County is south of it) have the chance to throw down a coffin blind in a cornfield, surround themselves with big plastic decoys and try to serenade some geese. For those in pursuit of slightly more colorful game, one can lay out wood duck (woodies) or mallard decoys on open water and quack them in, hailing migratory flocks with an assortment of different calls.

Looking for a slightly bigger bird? Congratulations, you’re in luck! Grab a chair, cover your face with some brown-and green-colored paint and get your bow ready for some wild turkey. They’re active, loud and looking for a good time, so you might just get lucky. It’s October, after all, when dreams come true.

But what if you’re sick of staying on the ground this whole time? Yep, it’s October 1, so anything is possible. You can climb into a tree, covered in summer foliage-colored camouflage and wait for that big buck or doe you’ve been seeing on your field cameras all this time. Grunt, snort, wheeze and rattle your way to success, but stay safe and strapped to those trees. Also, take the time to look up every once in awhile: if you’re staring too often at the ground, you’re gonna miss the beautiful foliage. (Shout out to Cassidy Peterson ’17 for a mutual appreciation of foliage).

If you’re not a hunter or even slightly interested in hunting, I can see why this day sounds quite bloodthirsty and gory, and why this column can seem like a heavy-handed glorification of killing. (Yes, I have watched Bambi, and Open Season, but not the 3 sequels to Open Season. But have you seen Steven Rinella’s MeatEater, or Time Magazine’s cover story on the need to lower deer populations?) Hunting is more than killing, in the same way that fishing is not just catching: it’s about the preparation as much as it is about the pursuit. It’s about eating “tag soup” as much as it is about getting lucky. Countless hours spent scouting, trimming and maintaining are all but invisible come October 1, except in the hearts of hunters.

In my opinion, hunting is equal parts the camaraderie as it is the solitude, providing ample time to ponder one’s relationship with the wilderness like a better-armed Thoreau. If Walden took place in Iowa, I imagine that Mr. Thoreau would have a lot of memories like mine, pondering his mortality and how precious body heat is when it’s twenty degrees below zero and you can’t even move a muscle to stay warm.

Of course, the point of this column is not to persuade you to take up hunting. If you do, that’s great, but if you don’t, I understand that there are hundreds of good reasons not to. My goal is simply to shed light on a tradition that (believe it or not) many Grinnellians partake in, but also as a way of reminding my parents why my grades will likely start to dip in October and November.

And speaking of Grinnell, I would argue that there are few things more stereotypically “Grinnellian” than hunting: fresh/local/organic/humanely raised meat, licensing funds going directly to conservation efforts and an extraordinarily active opportunity to learn about the community around you. Several Grinnell alums are prominently placed in fields (no pun intended) that are directly related to or are funded by hunting. I have heard repeatedly that back in the day, Poweshiek County was “the” hot spot to hunt for Chinese ring-necked pheasant: entire wings of our local motels were designated for hunting dogs and the revenue hunters brought in was a major boon to the economy.

So you’ll probably start seeing a lot more camo clothing in Grinnell in the next three months. Remember: on October 1 and for approximately the next 90 days, camo is like the wrapping paper on an outdoorsman’s Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving combined. Happy October 1!

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