When it comes to conversations about hunting and fishing, it’s pretty easy to understand when someone relates they caught a 5-pound walleye or bagged a limit of mallards. For me, those references bring to mind a stream of different fish and fowl I’ve seen, caught or shot for a comparative point of reference.
But when the conversation shifts to if a hunter or angler is “happy” or “satisfied,” the mental transition might veer in a slightly different direction. Not everyone who catches a 5-pound walleye leaves the water happy or satisfied. Maybe it was the only fish caught during a 12-hour day, or their favorite fishing spot was clogged with other boats, or the day before the fish were jumping in the boat.
In fact, many hunters and anglers would probably nod in agreement that defining satisfied or dissatisfied is about as easy as explaining a nice day. If you like to ice fish, November 2016 in North Dakota wasn’t particularly nice. If you enjoy deer hunting in short-sleeves, then by all means it was “nice.”
It boils down to each hunter or angler’s personal definition of a good, fun and satisfying hunting or fishing trip. Trying to meet those expectations is an ongoing responsibility for natural resource management agencies, and it sometimes a challenging benchmark.
For instance, during a typical North Dakota deer gun season, State Game and Fish Department wildlife managers consider that a hunter success rate of around 70 percent goes a long way toward meeting overall hunter expectations. But even at that high level, about 30 percent of hunters don’t get their deer.
If you think about, though, not everyone who gets a deer is completely satisfied or feels they had a quality hunt. On the other hand, some people who don’t get a deer have much more positive experiences than some people who are successful.
The bottom line is, simply filling a deer tag, shooting a limit of ducks or catching a 5-pound walleye is not the only factor that defines quality or success.
It’s kind of like going out for dinner. If your only expectation was to leave the restaurant no longer feeling hungry, you’d be pretty easy to please. It wouldn’t matter if the food was cold, or you had to eat out of a pot with 10 other people at the same table.
However, if you wanted a choice of steak, chicken or seafood, with a side salad and a table by yourself, all with red carpet service, you’d go to a place with higher expectations for quality.
Odds are if you asked three different hunters and anglers for their definition of quality and success, the answers might vary considerably.
We’re fortunate in North Dakota to have enough wildlife and space so most hunters and anglers can have a reasonable chance for achieving their personal expectations at least some of the time. The challenge for managing agencies is to maintain that variety so most people are satisfied with their outdoor experiences … most of the time.
Leier is a biologist with the Game and Fish Department.