Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge

An early morning sunrise in the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, a favored duck hunting location.

It’s been a busy winter with several major trips, bird watching, some skiing, fishing and some hunting both waterfowl and upland birds.

I don’t get that much work guiding fly fishing this time of year, so it’s time to get going on my other interests in life that get ignored during the time when I’m working on the river most every day.

Then there are my grandkids, they get a lot of my time as well.

It turns out that I am an Adult Onset Hunter. That’s a real thing. You can Google it.

I guess that I am a severe case, taking up hunting in my mid-60s. It has given me insight into the difficulties experienced by the Adult Onset Fly Fishers that occupy much of my time during the rest of the year.

It’s not an easy thing to do, taking up hunting at my age. For one thing, it is physically demanding. I like to think of myself as a guy that is in pretty good shape.

But when I come home from a day of duck hunting, or a day following a German shorthaired pointer that is in her prime out in the Great Plains pheasant hunting, I’m plumb tuckered out.

I have had a lot to learn, too. This included learning safe handling and shooting a shotgun, the ecology and behavioral patterns of migrating ducks and the feeding and loafing patterns of pheasants.

Just finding the right places to hunt, without trespassing, has been a research project. It is all the price of admission to a better understanding of nature.

Partly to blame for this is my son, another Adult Onset Hunter and also a fly fishing guide. We’d talked about hunting for a long time, and I guess that I planted the seed a long time ago, when he was only 4, when our family pet was a German shorthaired pointer.

One day about 3 years ago, he called and said that I needed to meet their new puppy, a German shorthair.

“I hope that you realize what you have gotten yourself into,” was all that I said.

Whether he did or not, he did a great job training her for birds, even though he himself had never hunted or trained a dog to hunt.

The energy level of these dogs can’t be exaggerated, and her good genetics helped a lot. Today, when hunting, she is a thing of beauty.

I realize more vividly now how tough it must be for those folks that I take out that have never had a fly rod in their hands, those Adult Onset Fly Fishers. Pity those, in particular, that spent their lives fishing with a spinning rod, as things don’t go well when you cast a fly rod as if it were a spinning rod. I feel your frustration.

An hour before sunrise one morning last week, I settled down into a camp chair in a duck blind in a nearby state wildlife area. It was 12 degrees with no breeze whatsoever. The full moon was setting over Mount Shavano behind me.

A minute or two after I settled down with my thermos of coffee warming my hands, a Virginia rail squawked and called a few feet away.

Diminutive birds, rails are difficult to see at best, lurking in the cattails. But in the light of the moon and the gaining light of the sunrise, I did catch a quick glimpse of him.

I smiled and played a trick on him, I wasn’t there to hunt rails, so I pulled out my phone and opened a bird app and played his call back to him. As I did, he and at least four others indignantly responded to my intrusion. After that, I left them alone.

One of the reasons that I have taken up hunting waterfowl is that mornings on the marsh can be magical.

The colors of the sunrise are sometimes subtle, but they always are truly sublime.

I had hoped for cloudy morning, as snow was predicted for the mountains. This sky was cloudless, save a few in the far eastern sky.

I was probably going to see ducks flying high, well out of shotgun range, unless a few decided to turn and fly in to the few decoys that I had set out. I wasn’t particularly hopeful.

I’ve had success in this particular spot, the springs in the area keep the water open, even in the coldest weather. There are rarely many ducks, but sometimes a couple will turn and come to the decoys. Today, though, promised to be slow.

Just at the official hunting time, a half-hour before sunrise, I did see three ducks, well out of range, flying low over the river. Three shots rang out at the other end of the wildlife area. I wasn’t the only one out hunting this morning.

A few Brewer’s blackbirds were rustling in the cattails, and then flew up to the top of a nearby willow.

Over the next few minutes several small groups of blackbirds joined them, apparently for the morning briefing. Like many meetings that I’ve attended, everyone was talking at once.

I had a poster on the wall of my dorm room in college by nature photographer Eliot Porter, and it had a quote by Henry David Thoreau, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

I have pondered that quote many times. Many would look at what I was doing as recreating, but I take that quote seriously.

I believe it to be true, not in a syrupy, get-back-to-natureway, but in a deeper metaphysical way.

I think that we all need that solitude and fulfillment found in nature, especially our children. It gives us a better sense of place, as well as a better sense of self.

The future of the world may depend upon it. I find it is what truly is important.

Also, in an ecological sense, wild, unfragmented landscapes not only protect wildlife and plant species, but they also increase the numbers of species.

Higher diversity, in both human and natural systems, is always a good thing. Higher biodiversity means a healthier ecosystem, and may be the real key to preserving the world.

In a few minutes, the blackbird briefing was over, and the whole group went instantly silent and took flight.

Bobbing and weaving in unison, they flew with what ethologists call allelomimetic behavior.

During the flight, small groups would break off and go their assigned ways. The remainder would then land again and have another discussion, and then they would all fly again.

After several sub-meetings, they had all gone their ways for the day, except for one confused bird that hadn’t listened to the plan.

Ducks or not, this morning on the wetlands was a special time for me. Likewise, pheasant hunting and following a working dog through Great Plains farmland is something that can’t be described.

Casting a dry fly to a rising wild brown trout is another not to be missed event.

You should try both.

On the way home, I glanced up to the top of a power pole. There sitting atop the pole was a mature ferruginous hawk, a striking winter visitor here, posing and waiting for me to take its picture.

Living in this valley, the natural rewards just don’t stop.

Larimer has been an avid fly fisher and fly tier for almost 40 years.  He has an advanced degree in Wildlife Science and taught college and high school environmental science, marine ecology and biology for many years. In addition to fly fishing, he is a skilled naturalist and birder. He and his wife own Rock Run Gallery in Buena Vista, and he is a full time guide for Arkanglers.

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