Late winter usually means one thing to most of us here in Iowa: Spring is coming! We think of wildflowers blooming, song birds singing, waterfowl migrating, ice melting, and spring cleaning. For me the onset of spring means all that, but most importantly it means turkey season is near. The other day I was thinking about my success last turkey season and realized it was time to reflect on an important goal that I made last March. The goal was to hunt as many wild game species as possible.
I wanted to try new things and expand on my hunting repertoire by seeking a few new species found here in Iowa. Throughout the year in Iowa, hunters have the opportunity to harvest eastern wild turkey, mourning dove, ring-necked pheasant, bobwhite quail, gray partridge, ruffed grouse, white-tailed deer, eastern cottontail, red fox squirrel, and multiple waterfowl species. I have not included species that trappers often pursue, because my goal only included wild game sought after for the dinner table (maybe next year!).
Now that a year has gone by since I made the goal, how did I do?
I hunted two turkey seasons for the first time and was successful in each. In previous years, I only had time for one season. It was the toughest and most rewarding spring turkey hunting I have ever done. A few months later, I hunted the mourning dove season for the first time. The season was brought to Iowa in 2011 and it was one that I had been missing out on.
The biggest challenge of the year was hunting waterfowl for the first time. I pretty much exhausted my hunting budget with all the gear I needed, so I made a point to get out in the water as often as possible. I hunted hard and usually came out with an empty bag, but it was a new experience well worth the effort. Between waterfowl hunts I had to juggle all my other fall hunting activities. It is crazy how much the seasons overlap. Realistically, a person could waterfowl hunt early in the morning, pheasant hunt mid-morning, musky fish in the afternoon, and bow hunt white-tails in the evening. Mostly dependent on weather factors, I organized my hunts week by week. One week for upland hunting and waterfowl the following week. Pheasant hunting is by far my favorite, and I was able to upland hunt more last fall than I have in previous years. With a recent comeback in population sizes, my hunting party was extra ambitious this year and we were able to put on a lot of miles searching for a flush.
One of the last seasons of the year, shotgun deer season, was also a huge success for my hunting group. We were lucky enough to fill all of our tags, and I can attribute that to spending more hours on the hunt. We hunted hard and our reward was a freezer full of venison.
So I had a great year, right?
In terms of hunting as many game species as possible, I wasn’t as successful as I should have been. I only harvested five new species (mourning dove, wood duck, green-winged teal, blue-winged teal, american coot) and three of those were in the duck family. I had the opportunity to pursue other species, like Canada goose and mallard, without success, but at least I can say I tried. The number of new species added to the bucket list wasn’t high, but that’s alright with me.
The goal should have been to hunt more game seasons and spend more hours in the field. Basically, it turned out that by creating the goal to bag as many species as possible, it made me hunt every season harder than I had ever hunted before. When I think back, saying that I added five new species to my list doesn’t come close to explaining what actually happened.
Adding a new turkey season, dove season, and waterfowl season was a great improvement to my hunting experiences. However, I am disappointed that I wasn’t able to hit a few other seasons. I wanted to hunt the early bow deer season, early teal season, fall light/dark goose seasons, and the snow goose conservation order season. The limiting factor usually preventing me from being in the field for these hunts is gear. Those pursuits require more gear and supplies that I don’t have in order to have a successful hunt. I also missed out on some late season quail hunting in January, after most other seasons had closed. That is a time when the avid upland hunters get some last chance hunting in. I can admit that I’m not one of those hunters, yet. Without a bird dog it becomes easier to make excuses not to go. Hopefully, someday soon I will have a little four-legged hunting companion and I’ll spend even more time out there.
All in all, it was my best year of hunting yet, and I don’t believe I even scratched the surface of what is possible. I learned so much about what Iowa’s wild places have to offer and gained a better understanding of our relationship with wildlife.
It all started with a goal.
We all know about goals, how they help us get where we want to be, and how they should be made. But when I make a goal, the most important thing is the philosophy behind it. I may make a goal to lose weight and accomplish that by working out more, taking control of how I eat, and all that jazz. But it won’t stick unless I know why I want that goal. It must have meaning. Is the meaning behind the goal only touching the surface of my core values? Or is the meaning critically important to my core values? The goals I set that have a philosophy behind them deeply rooted with my core values or passions usually get accomplished.
At first, the goal I made last year seemed superficial. Yeah, I’d like to hunt more. But, as I started hunting more and more throughout the year I realized what it meant. I was absolutely loving it, because it correlated so well with what I value. I have a strong passion for the natural world. Immersing myself within wild ecosystems is one of my favorite things to do. Duck hunting was exhilarating, because I was so close to nature. I was happy even if I didn’t harvest anything. Hunting is a way for me to carry out my passion for our natural places, and the goal helped me become closer to what I love.
It will be hard to top last year’s turkey season, but I’m going to try. And as you can imagine, I will be adding new seasons and wild game to the dinner table this year as well. If the budget will allow it, I want to attempt to harvest a white-tail with a bow for the first time. I also want to try snow goose hunting. Who knows, maybe someday I will be able to hunt every game species in Iowa throughout a single calendar year!
(Okay, maybe that goal is a little unrealistic.)