Stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, turkey, and your 12 gauge. All of them traditions here in Brown County, South Dakota. It is Thanksgiving weekend and the second full weekend of deer hunting season. Pheasant season has been in full flower for about a month. Hunting in these parts is as much a part of the late fall as pumpkin pie. And it adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's economic bottom line. More out-of-staters apply for hunting licenses than local residents do.
Everybody finds his or her special moment or space. That time, that day, that activity, when you leave the so-called troubles of the work-a-day world behind. When you are singularly focused on something else. When your mind is clear and you're at peace. For some it's running. For others it's chess. Heck, this weekend, for millions it's all about finding the bargain, shopping till they drop. For me and nearly 13 million other Americans it's in the field, hunting.
There are fewer hunters now than when I first started at 16. There are also fewer places to hunt, less open ground. But the interesting thing about hunting is that the average net worth of the participants is going up. The number of "hunting clubs" or destinations for hunting are also on the rise. The reason? We baby boomers are returning to things we did as kids, those things from our youth that we fondly remember. For a large swath of the country that something is hunting. The crisp mornings walking the open fields of harvested corn, watching the dogs work, Waiting for the birds to be flushed.
Nearly 2 million pheasants were harvested in South Dakota last season. Two million out of nearly 18 million. There are likely more pheasants now than there were when the Pilgrims landed. There are certainly more deer. While the point of the hunt is to bring home game, clean it, and prepare it for dinner; in actuality, it doesn't matter if you come away empty handed. The real reason for hunting for many of us is the "doing". The friends we make, the time you spend with family. The outdoors and what that means in today's world.
The upcoming farm bill has a provision for something called "CRP". It's a minimal payment the government makes to farmers to keep a certain percentage of their land in it's natural state, or even improved, planted with food stock for pheasants and ducks. CRP land is declining because the payment is very little, and farmers believe they can make more, and they can, by planting corn for ethanol. How that will work out in the long run is still in question. What isn't, is how important keeping land available for upland bird and water fowl hunting is to so many.
It's as traditional as football in the fall, and eggnog at Christmas, the wonder of watching nature play out across the open fields of South Dakota.
"Mike On America" will be in Montana next week, with new "MOA" episodes being shown on Power Lunch all week.
We'll see you along the open road.
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