UNDER THE SUN

A safe hunt

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— When I was 19, I went to a friend's home in rural Nebraska to go pheasant hunting. It was a good time, even though I didn't shoot a bird.

That evening, I was introduced to something the local kids there called "blazing the countryside." This consisted of piling into a minivan with semiautomatic rifles, driving through the countryside and shooting every animal we saw. It was utterly ridiculous, harmful, illegal and totally out of my nature.

With archery season going full strong and muzzleloading season starting Saturday, the 2001 big-game hunting season has kicked off.

Though both these primitive styles of hunting don't produce an extraordinary amount of people in the field, they are a reminder that more orange-clad visitors are to come. In fact, thanks to last year's season restructuring, Routt County can expect a full month of rifle-carrying hunters. The dates for rifle season are Oct. 13 to 17, Oct. 20 to 26, Nov. 3 to 9 and Nov. 10 to 14.

Unfortunately, for those who are more into shooting in the fall with a camera than a gun, October through November may be a discouraging time.

Each year during the rifle seasons, I usually receive a few e-mails from locals expressing their displeasure. Some people have asked for the dates of the rifle seasons so they know when the "safest" time will be to go in the woods. Others suggest that the increased numbers of people in the woods and the echoes of rifle shots in the distance disrupts their solitudinous exchange with nature. Still, there always are those who come right out and say that they don't believe in hunting animals.

Of course, opinions can only be deemed right or wrong from one person's perspective. But the facts remain that the hunters are in the field, need to be in the field and probably will be allowed in the field for a long time.

The need for humans to kill big game began when we eliminated most of the natural predators of those animals. Now that we have inherited that role, we have a certain responsibility to fulfill it.

However, the responsibility of fulfilling that role correctly is something a good hunter should always put on their shoulders. In fact, because there are some people who disagree with the sport, hunters should be sensitive to their impact on a community and the environment.

I'd dare to say that most complaints about hunting come from people who believe that gross negligence of hunting laws, like "blazing the countryside," is a common thing.

When hunters resort to breaking the law for their own kicks, they should remember that their actions could be judged and then labeled to all of those who hunt. Even the good hunters.

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