Targeting Slob Hunters

by PAUL LINDHOLDT & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & utumn means hunting season in the wilder parts of the rural West -- a season that can jeopardize those of us who do not tote a gun or wear orange. Stray outside the city limits, either in a kayak or on a bicycle or on foot, and you better be prepared to yield ground to los hombres armados -- the men with guns.

I know full well that living in the thick of an insurgency or among drug cartels would be far worse than visiting in provinces where gun racks on pickup trucks are more the norm than the exception. In case anyone needs to hear it: yes, the U.S. is a wonderful place to live. Still, it bugs the spit out of me to watch my children drop to the ground and crawl when the guns of autumn boom nearby.

In the Spokesman-Review recently, Rich Landers wrote a story about a robotic deer that wildlife officials are using to catch slob -- i.e. unprincipled -- hunters. The deer decoys poachers and scofflaws by wagging its tail and twitching its head. Cosmic justice allows the so-called hunter to become the hunted and get bagged.

One trait of the slob hunter is hunting from roads. Pickup trucks moving slowly along rural routes are a dead giveaway. Another is a spotlight sweeping a field after dark. Public land, private land, highways, dirt roads, pastures and even yards are the prowling grounds of the subspecies of slob too lazy to walk.

There are other subspecies of slob hunter. One shoots road signs, passing untold replacement costs on to you and me. Others hunt illegally out of state, kill more than the law allows, gun down protected species, or lean on the crutch of technology to make the odds of slaughter more lopsided.

Landers' story was entitled "Bogus buck targets road hunters." It told how several sportsmen groups are so focused on the growing need to arrest slob hunters that they are donating equipment to that worthy cause. Rangefinders, mapping equipment, metal detectors and surveillance cameras are brought to bear on those who kill sans license, cause or law.

But Landers missed an opportunity to connect the upward trajectory of the slob hunter with the downward trajectory of legal hunting in these United States. There are fewer licensed hunters every year. The rising price of gas, shells, licenses, tags and gear compounds the many other problems. Diminishing populations of birds and animals turn slobs to jacklighting. At the same time, slobs turn legal hunters away in disgust from fields and streams.

Recently I exchanged words on this topic with Fred Zitterkopf of the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council. One in every three hunters is a scofflaw and a slob, I claimed. Fred found my numbers inflated. His solution, and Landers' too, is to get away from all the other guys to remote pockets of rural counties like Pend Oreille.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & L & lt;/span & ast month, I walked with my wife and kids on a gorgeous stretch of Oden Bay in Lake Pend Oreille. It was a Saturday afternoon. Grebes were feeding in the shallow inlet where the public enjoys rare lakeside access.

The aspens shielded a hunter who was calling from a blind. Then a blue pickup stopped on the dike and two slobs bailed out with shotguns booming. They were shooting illegally from the road at the feeding grebes. Their pellets raked the water where we were walking and where the other hunter hid in his blind. The grebes never got to fly. The slobs ground-sluiced that protected species.

I whistled to let the "hunters" know where we were. Their booming continued as more grebes surfaced. Then a flock of geese, at least 100 yards high, far out of range, drew fire from the slobs, whose pellets rained around us.

That did it for the hunter in the blind. He loosed a stream of curses and threats, including a promise to perform spontaneous jackknife surgery on the slobs. Our first fall outing now sour, we traced our path back to the car, careful to keep our heads low and our opinions about los hombres armados quietly to ourselves.