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Scott Rall: Having a bout of human nature

Scott Rall

Daily Globe outdoors writer 

Do you have any idea what I mean when I say that I had a bout of “human nature?”

Everyone human that is alive will have a bout of human nature from time to time. My definition of having a bout of human nature includes one of these two things: They are wanting what you know you can’t have, and the other is wanting more of what you already have.

If you currently get two weeks paid vacation, you want 10 weeks of time off. For most people, this is wanting what you know you can’t or will never most likely have. The first part of human nature is wanting what is, for all practical purposed, not realistic.

The second part would be like recently getting a raise in pay at work and then, like most people, it will be a very short time before they think they deserve another one. You get a little more pay and then you want even a little more.

This is called, in my book, human nature. No one is immune, and sooner or later we will all do it.

When I think about my most current bout of human nature, I wish there were more pheasants. A hunter of this bird is not looking forward to a stellar season this fall. Weather and loss of habitat has lowered pheasant numbers by another 30 percent from the prior year, and this decline has been in place for the better part of the last half decade. I have harvested fewer birds every year for the past five seasons, and the human nature in me wants to see lots more pheasants than I have seen in recent history.

When you contemplate this desire to see and enjoy more game, I think back to a season many years ago.

I was hanging out at the time with a friend from Worthington named Mark Raveling. He and his dad Eugene ran a plumbing business in town. At that time pheasants were almost nonexistent in Nobles County. I got a call from Mark and he told me to be at his house as fast as I could because we were going hunting. He had received a call from his brother-in-law that he had flushed a rooster pheasant while combining, and that it had flown over to the railroad tracks a half mile away and that we should try to get it.

We drove about six miles to this spot and hunted this section of tracks up and back for an hour and finally flushed the bird and bagged it.

As we looked wide-eyed at the bird we had to decide who would get to keep it. We tossed a coin and the winner could choose if he wanted the tail feathers or the meat of the bird.

Mark won the toss and kept the tail feathers. The bird was badly shot up but I ate it anyway. Bagging a single pheasant after a hot tip and much effort was a supreme accomplishment. There were just no pheasants, and just seeing one even if it was out of range was a very big deal.

We would call the outing a success if we could walk all day (9 a.m. to sunset) and just see a limit of roosters. It did not matter if you got any — it was a successful day just to see them flush out of range.

This story was not an isolated incident at that time. You would see one bird and then pursue that one pheasant. I know there are many more pheasants in Nobles County today than there was at that time — even if the numbers are less than half of what they were five years ago. Back when I saw only one pheasant per day, on a good day I wanted to see 10 and now that I see 10 pheasants per day on a good day I want to see 20.

This is just human nature. This is no different than after shooting the best round of golf in your life, you still expect and want to do even better the next time out.

With the current state of grasslands in Minnesota, I am wondering if we will ever return to the time of chasing one bird. Wildlife needs undisturbed grassland habitat and it is currently being lost and converted at a rate not seen since the 1930s. Not so much around here, but in west central Minnesota and in the Dakotas it is almost frightening.

At one time there was 39 million acres nationwide of grass enrolled in the federal farm program called the Conservation Reserve Program, which was designed to idle marginal farm land to conserve soil from erosion and, more recently, to benefit wildlife. Most of those acres are going back to row crop production with the current high prices for commodities.

Less grass means less wildlife of all kinds and, for sure, fewer pheasants.

So as I contemplate the upcoming hunting season while having a bout of human nature wishing for more birds, I will think back to time that there were little to no pheasants at all. The past 10 years will most likely be considered the modern heyday of pheasant hunting. Years ago they talked about how the soil bank days were heydays of hunting.

In the decades to come, the years of 2005-2010 will be looked back on as most likely the best hunting that we will have ever enjoyed in our lifetimes. I hope they are wrong, but I have concluded that since last year was the poorest year of hunting success that I have had since I got my first professional trained dog over 15 years ago, this possibility is very real. I am now thinking with all the pressures on habitat that last year’s poor results might very well be the high benchmark of the next 10 years that I will spend afield.

This is a bleak outlook, but you cannot convert 3 million acres of grassland to row crop over the past three years with no end in sight and ever think you can raise a population of pheasants equal to when those grassland acres provided the critically needed nesting cover. My bout of human nature will need to bring into perspective that as bad as the future of pheasant hunting in Minnesota might look today, it is miles ahead of where it once was.

I am just not sure that if the current trend continues that we won’t be right back where started from not all that long ago — hunting all day just for the possibility of seeing just that one bird.