These connections I make with people, dogs, birds, my heritage and the soil along with the memories and stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life are why I hunt.
I got into this racket sort of backwards. What I mean by that is . . . I was not brought up gun in hand, nor raised in your stereotypical hunting household with time-honored generational sporting traditions. My bloodline has always had a hand in the outdoors, but was primarily concerned with fishing, and when my father had his fourth son (me), he chose to work overtime instead of go hunting. It was well-worth it though, and I am certainly not complaining. My family moved from the congested and dyspeptic, stripmalled and subdivisioned Camden County to Cape May, New Jersey about halfway through my life. This is where I fell in love with all that nature has to offer, but mostly the birds. Cape May has been described in countless ways as an aviary paradise drawing thousands upon thousands of migrating birds from shorebirds to ducks and geese, to hawks, eagles and songbirds all consequently attracting birders, artists, hunters, etc. and ultimately giving me and my shotgun a run for our money.
To answer why I hunt, though in one word, I’d say the connections. I moved down here and almost immediately connected with the birds, mostly the woodcock, and waterfowl logging countless hours of conservation work with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and a whole slew of various agencies. In the midst of it all, I discovered wooden duck decoys and the forgotten culture that is the “traditional sporting world”. This is what I mean when I say I got into this business backwards. I fell in love with decoys, literature, paintings, stories and old guns before I even thought about hunting myself. Now, decoy-making is my primary source of income, I hang around gun shops, art shows and workshops every chance I get, and I’m chasing birds nearly every day of the season.
The fella that got me started carving decoys is also the one who got me started with DU and got me obsessed with hunting upland game birds. He eventually got tired of me hanging around, I guess, and passed me over to an older gentleman who would become my mentor in decoy carving. I consider him one of my best friends now, and we like to chase birds together every chance we get. I have made friends with some of the finest people this world has to offer due to the out of doors. The breeder of my dog and his wife, of Shore Shot Kennels, have become good friends and we enjoy getting out for a woodcock hunts each season. Friends from the waterfowling and decoy-making world have taken the step over to chase woodcock with me, some haven’t turned back. It’s a great thing to be a part of, and I don’t really know if my life would be quite as exciting without all of this. As I got into hunting, my dad got back into it seeing as he has some time for himself now. In my dad, I happened to find another best friend with whom I have the pleasure of creating and sharing countless memories made afield.
Not to undermine any other connections I had made prior to canine companionship, but I think the most formative relationship I have had in this business has been that which I found in my blossoming, solid-liver shorthair, Pilot. He’s taught me more about the world and myself than I think any of the over-priced textbooks I’m plagued with at college ever could. Bird dogs find birds for us and give us something to brag about at the watering hole, but when we look closer we see that they teach us patience, understanding, determination, motivation to go even when it’s a bitter five degrees and looking like snow, and most of all they teach us how to be and how to have a true friend. There’s a reason that the focal point of upland art, literature, film, storytelling, etc. is and ought to be that of the dog in any given scenario. Humans are abundant and crude, bird dogs, however, well they are something special. These connections I make with people, dogs, birds, my heritage and the soil along with the memories and stories I’ll tell for the rest of my life are why I hunt. I wouldn’t have my life any other way, and this is the direction I intend on heading for the foreseeable future. The dogs, the art, the history, the birds and the people that I am connected to are what have helped make me the person I am, for better or for worse . . . I’m rolling with it!
More about Cooper and his decoys and stories can be found on Instagram and Twitter: @capemaydecoys
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