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It's that magical time of year when glorious fall colors glow with iridescence in sparkling sunlight, when crisp air carries the first wisps of smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces, when flocks of migrating geese whistle and honk through the night – and when the hills are alive with the blast of shotguns.
Those of us who prefer to hit the trail armed only with trekking poles and digital cameras should now add one apparel item to their outdoor wardrobe – a vest emblazoned with international orange, the universal message to guys in Elmer Fudd hats: "Please don't shoot me."
I've used this forum previously to take aim at hunting in general – going against my better judgment by antagonizing guys with weapons – and realize my opinion carries about as much weight with the Field & Stream crowd as a BB gun does against a charging rhinoceros.
I've also taken pains to avoid tarring all hunters with the same brush, since my experience has been that for every Rambo trophy hunter there's at least one thoughtful, conservation-minded woodsman simply trying to put food on the table. I've hiked, kayaked and enjoyed various other outdoor activities with a few hunters, and for the most part we've agreed to disagree about the merits, or lack thereof, of their pastime.
However, one aspect of hunting (besides the obvious downside of slaughtering a living, breathing creature) has always stuck in my craw: the government's role as accomplice in a blood sport.
Last week the hunting season for wild turkey opened in Connecticut, which would not be possible if the state hadn't launched a stocking program in the 1970s that has swelled the estimated population to 35,000-38,000 birds.
I enjoy wild turkeys – even the tom behind my house that periodically wakes me at 5 a.m. with his mating gobble – and ordinarily I would applaud efforts to re-introduce a wild species that had been all but wiped out in the post-Colonial era. But the main purpose of the stocking program has been to provide hunters with game.
I'd almost rather have no wild turkeys than flocks propagated for fodder.
And while the birds can be wily and elusive, most of the ones I've seen waddle contentedly in plain view while foraging for food, are targets every bit as easy as the proverbial fish in a barrel.
Speaking of piscine programs, I might as well alienate another genre of outdoor enthusiasts and carp about a related pet peeve: fish stocking.
Also last week the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection released 100 salmon and trout into the Shetucket River at Sprague River Park in Baltic – a small fraction of the tens of thousands of fish raised in hatcheries and set loose elsewhere every year, only to be snagged later by fishermen's hooks.
Again, I'd feel a lot better about government programs to expand fish populations if I didn't suspect the primary goal was to satisfy fishing interests rather than to enhance biodiversity.
As long as I'm getting government-sanctioned animal "harvesting" off my chest, one more gripe: Why should the state establish such a Byzantine code that regulates everything from the caliber of bullets to the use of decoys in an apparent effort to make hunting more "sporting?"
If you're going to allow – more accurately, encourage – people to kill animals, why try to "legitimize" the practice by making the game more difficult, as if forcing hunters to tramp through the woods and hide in the bushes somehow levels the playing field. Why not force them to hunt blindfolded, or with nothing but a jackknife?
Better yet, how about permitting only mano-a-paw hunting?
Oh well, like the wild turkey I've indulged in a flight of fancy.
Watch your backs, hikers. Remember, sometimes its quiet out there – too quiet.
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