Illinois Department of Natural Resources
May 2020
May 1, 2020
Photo courtesy of Patty Gillespie.

The Hunter’s Way of Thinking

By Patty Gillespie

About four decades ago, I was taught how to shoot a 410 shotgun and how to hunt safely and ethically. I was taught by an avid hunter whom I admired greatly. We were hunting on his grandfather’s farmland on a perfect fall day, trying to jump a rabbit without a beagle dog to help. We trudged through thick clumps of grass, walked along wooded fencerows, and pushed though tangles of briars. I was thinking that my gum boots were surely made of heavy lead not rubbery plastic when I spotted a rabbit sitting motionlessly up ahead. The hunter said, “Shoot.” I did. He cheered, “Good shot!” He went to retrieve the dying rabbit. The hunter was elated. I was deflated, nearly in tears.

There are two pairs of brown rubber boots in a row. They are lined up against a doorway with a white exterior door in the background.
The Hunter and author’s gum boots. Photo by Patty Gillespie.

Now, years later, I can say that I have hunted nearly every game animal in Illinois. I have bagged one rabbit. “Must be a bad shot,” you surmise. The truth is that when I go outdoors to hunt, I go without a firearm.

Speaking as the non-hunter that I am, I begin this treatise about hunting by offering some food for thought. A spicy Italian venison sandwich with pepperoncini, perhaps. How about a steaming bowl of wild turkey stew rich with vegetables? Crispy fried squirrel, tender and tasty. Grilled dove-ka-bobs.

Stacked beside the gallon pail of ice cream in my deep freeze are packages of wild game meat carefully labelled. I’m always tempted to write on those labels “Lean,” “Free Range,” and “All Natural.” Pertaining to the wild meat, such claims of quality would not be hype.

The hunter and I process the wild game ourselves with utmost care. If it’s April, into the freezer might go the meat of a harvested wild turkey in anticipation of a future family get-together. While the freezer’s lid is up, I might read “Snow Goose Slim Jims, January 10, 2020” or “Ground Venison, November 27, …”

The packages of frozen wild game are dated to help the cook, which is I, to use the meat when it’s as fresh as can be, but those dates also reveal much about the hunter’s way of thinking. Just as it is requisite to utilize the meat of the harvested game so is it to observe the regulated hunting seasons.

A booklet Illinois Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations, published by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), occupies its own special spot amongst the accumulation of stuff on the phone table. Often, IDNR’s website is up on the computer screen in the study. The hunter reviews the game laws and strictly adheres to the regulations. He understands that those rules are designed to assure the continuation of healthy game-species populations. Game laws are based on scientific thinking, ecological studies and public observations.

Over the past four decades the hunter has seen fluctuations in bag limits and season lengths. One year the Canada goose season was only 20 days, and the bag limit was just one goose per day. Why? Data which had been gathered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reflected a decline in the number of Canada geese on their breeding grounds.

Recently, in the county where the hunter pursues deer, a late-winter deer-hunting season was instituted, the reason being that deer/car collisions were on the rise in that county. Safety was the issue.

Turkey salad made up of roasted wild turkey breast cubed with diced onion, black olives and mayonnaise with a garnish of green leafy kale is on a bright yellow plate. The plate is resting on a table cloth with a blue and yellow stripe.
Patty Gillespie’s turkey salad ready for sandwich making. Photo by Uros Marjanovic.

Yes, while accompanying the hunter, I’ve “hunted” nearly every game animal in Illinois. A pair of gum boots just my size stands ready for another tromp into the outdoors, and I’ll do just that as soon as I finish my turkey salad sandwich (roasted wild turkey breast cubed with diced onion, black olives and mayonnaise between white bread).

For years, Patty Gillespie shared her enthusiasm for language and nature and got paid for it at a public school and at a nature center. Now she plays outdoors as often as she can and writes for the sheer joy of it.