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The First Hunt

by Joe Riederer 
Copyright © 2000 Big Bluestem Press

    In the pre-dawn chill of autumn, a young boy stared at the digital clock on his dresser — 4:48. In just minutes, the alarm would go off and the much-anticipated day would begin. After years of waiting, Elijah was finally old enough to join the hunt. No longer the baby of the family, he had earned his place in the group alongside his older brother and sister.

It did not come easy. Every Tuesday night, for eight long weeks, he attended the class provided by the Department of Natural Resources. Passing the safety test was easy. The identification test was more difficult. The test on the regulations was almost impossible. With a white-knuckled grip on the pencil, the youngster answered the last question only minutes before time ran out.

Five o'clock finally arrived and the alarm sounded. Elijah flowed out of bed and into his hunting clothes with a speed and choreography that he could never duplicate on a school day. The early morning temperature was below freezing, but by noon it would climb to the mid-forties. Elijah heeded his father’s advice and dressed in layers that he could remove as the October air warmed. Jeans, a T-shirt, a long-sleeve flannel shirt, and his lucky socks went on quickly. After a hearty breakfast, he would put on his hunting boots and the fleece pullover his parents gave him just last week for his birthday. The perfectly centered tag on his back announced, in black letters on a field of neon green, that he was a hunter—not a kid running through the field—a hunter. It did not matter if he reached his bag limit, just being part of the hunt was enough.

It was a short drive to their hunting site. The car had barely gotten warm when his father turned off the engine. Watching the sun creep over the eastern horizon, Elijah sipped hot chocolate with his brother and sister while his parents listened to the public radio station.

“It’s seven o’clock. The regulation book says it's time to begin," his father announced. After a brief review of safety rules, they took the paper bags from the trunk and stepped into the field.

 It did not take long for the boy to collect his first seeds. The big bluestem he had been eyeing from the foggy window was only twenty yards from the car. From there, two clumps of Indian grass were just a few steps away. The dry brown grasses that seemed to go on forever hid asters, western sunflower, and an occasional thimbleweed.

Elijah soon fell into a seed collecting rhythm that had him off on his own, both in the field and in his head. He thought about the kids at school. Nearly a third of his classmates would be missing school for seed collecting season. Others complained that seed collecting was cruel. Even his girlfriend would not talk to him because he was a "plant killer." The newspaper ran a story about a group of protesters in Madison who were trying to get seed collecting banned because they thought it was cruel to take seeds away from their mothers.

    Following the ethics code printed on the inside cover of the regulation book, the collectors took no more than a quarter of the seed from any area. This insured enough for the annual and biennial plants to reseed themselves, and to feed the small mammals that relied on these seeds for winter food. The hunting party also shunned many of the technological advances that had become so popular among seed collectors. It was common to see hunters on four-wheelers, with cellular telephones, GPS navigation systems, and current satellite photos purchased just for this hunt. Although regulations required harvesting by hand, some hunters carried stainless steel harvesting combs that could strip a plant bare in seconds. This not only left little for the wildlife, but it also gave the rest of the seed collectors a bad name. 


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Page last updated: Thursday, March 17, 2011