“So where are you from in the States?”
The question was both carefully enunciated and heavily accented, owing to its owner’s Bavarian roots, and it began a conversation that profoundly affected my life.
I was in south-central Germany, sitting across the table from the CEO of a premium firearms manufacturer and eating lunch on his dime. The trip was on his dime, too, as was the straight-pull, bolt action rifle bearing his brand that I’d recently picked up from a stateside dealer. I’d won a writing contest cosponsored by the firearm manufacturer and a well-known website and I was thoroughly enjoying the prize package.
We were eating that afternoon in the private restaurant on the firearm manufacturer’s campus, surrounded by the taxidermied trophies taken on exotic hunts the world over. Red stag and roe deer skulls hung on every wall, and the full body mount of a leaping Alpine Ibex stood next to the table where we sat.
“I’m from Oklahoma, born and raised,” I said as the company chef set before me a plate of grilled salmon with a side of the ever present sauerkraut.
“And where exactly is Oklahoma?”
“We’re smack dab in the middle of the United States, east to west, and straight north of Texas.”
“I assume you are a hunter?”
“And what game is there to hunt in Oklahoma?”
“Oh, I just hunt whitetail deer and Rio Grande turkey for the most part.”
I forked another bite of the perfectly prepared salmon but stopped short of my mouth.
“I say just deer and turkey, but my brother did draw a rifle tag for pronghorn antelope a couple of years ago. Compared to the western states, Oklahoma doesn’t have a particularly large population of pronghorn, but our numbers are growing and the herd is healthy. There are mule deer where our antelope roam, too.”
I laid down my fork, dabbed at the corner of my mouth with a cloth napkin, and continued.
“Come to think of it, the wildlife department opened an elk season on privately owned lands year before last. And we’ve even got a black bear season in Oklahoma now.”
By that time, my host was staring at me in openmouthed disbelief. I’d just rattled off the four or five species of western game that people pay big money to hunt. But I wasn’t finished.
“After deer season wraps up, I usually do some predator hunting in the winter – calling for coyote and bobcat. Sometimes even fox. And while there aren’t seasons for them per se, we have huntable populations of feral pigs and aoudad, which you probably know as Barbary sheep. The feral pigs are thick in Oklahoma. In fact, in many places, they’re actually considered a nuisance.”
If I didn’t have his attention before, I certainly did after that comment. Bavarians sure love their boar hunting.
“Then there are the migratory and upland bird seasons – duck and dove, quail and pheasant. Oh, and three species of turkey, too.”
He was particularly interested in the turkeys that populate my home state so I pulled out my cel phone and showed him pictures of the Rio Grande and Eastern toms that I’ve taken through the years. Then I described the snowy white fan of the Merriam’s Turkey found in the westernmost reaches of Oklahoma’s panhandle. I could see my host practically booking a hunt in his head.
“Why, you sound like a Professional Hunter in Africa rattling options off his price list!”
I’d never thought about hunting in Oklahoma that way, but the man wasn’t wrong. And though I was starting to feel like I was bragging, I still wasn’t finished.
“I should probably mention, too, that we have the opportunity to draw tags for controlled hunts. Some of those tags allow for the use of different weapons and some of them offer access to lands unavailable to hunt during regular seasons.”
“Hunting in Oklahoma must cost a fortune! Between the prices of tags and trips, I bet only the rich can afford it!”
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But I have a lifetime license that allows me to hunt everything the state has to offer. It’s already paid for itself several times over. And putting in for those controlled hunts I mentioned only cost $5 per person.”
“$5 per species, per person, you mean?”
“No, actually. $5 for everything. Elk, antelope, deer, turkey, all of it.”
My host had heard enough.
“But with licenses and tags that cheap, the whole state of Oklahoma must hunt! Trophy animals have to be hard to come by, surely!”
I hated to keep contradicting the man who was so generously footing my bill but I had to be honest.
“You’d think so, wouldn’t you, but that’s really not the case. A hunter can complete three fourths of a grand slam for wild turkey without crossing state lines. And the whitetail hunting draws sportsmen from all over the United States.”
I polished off the salmon on my plate as my host pontificated about an embarrassment of hunting opportunities and how I couldn’t possibly appreciate just how fortunate I was. He was right on both counts. It took a trip to Germany and a conversation with a man who’s hunted all over the world to make me realize just how blessed I am to be a sportsman in right here at home. But I’m sure glad I did.