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Despite affinity for fishing, shooting birds gave Luke Ovgard his start in outdoors

I grew up hunting. In fact, despite my love of fishing, the Ovgards actually were a hunting family. Most of the fishing rods we had were ancient things that came out a few times per year. I remember thinking how incredible of an upgrade the Ugly Stik and Pflueger Ambassador combo I got in high school were.

Our hunting gear wasn't top of the line, but we did have a few new guns, new equipment from Susie's Archery and generally prioritized hunting over fishing.

Though bowhunting for deer was the main event, we also chased bears, waterfowl and upland game with some regularity and some success.

Both of my grandfathers hunted, and they passed down some of that passion and skill.

My dad was an incredible shot with his bow and routinely headshot grouse and gray squirrels with rubber blunts from what seemed to me impossibly far distances. I wasn't similarly talented, so my grouse usually came after a shotgun blast.

Dad and Mom both shot deer with their bows, though Mom wasn't really into bird hunting. Given more frequent harvest opportunities with feathered creatures, I became Dad's hunting partner when he chased birds. I finished my Hunter Education Course at age 11 in preparation to go deer hunting for the first time just after my 12th birthday.

I wasn't ready to bowhunt, so I grabbed a rifle and was quickly turned off after participating in the General Rifle Season, but this made me even more interested in hunting birds.

My first bird (a ruffed grouse) marked my limited success in early years, but eventually I got my first duck (green-winged teal), my first goose (Canada goose), my first pheasant, quail, dove, snipe and coot (a mistake you only make once).

COURTESY PHOTO: LUKE OVGARD - The author's brother, Jake Ovgard, poses with a beautiful drake mallard duck harvested last winter.

Hunting is work

Part of my training as a hunter was cleaning the guns and birds. Meticulous little Luke cleaned the guns after almost every hunt, as well as the birds. As my brothers started hunting, too, Luke still cleaned the guns and birds and eventually developed a resentment sitting just beneath the surface.

My youngest brother, Gabe, wasn't wholly sold on hunting as a kid (he has since married into a much more hardcore hunting family and shot his first archery elk), so it was my brother Jake, who became my hunting companion when Dad or Mom weren't able to go.

We chased quail and doves and rabbits most often, honing our skills every September (doves) and October (quail) with pellet guns in open fields and sage flats long since developed.

Weekends without sports were reserved for deer, grouse, ducks or pheasants when we'd hop into my dad's truck, then his van, then another truck to drive beyond the fields and hunt with real weapons.

We all played sports, and for years, sports took a priority over hunting and fishing. It paid off for my brothers, both of whom went on to be multisport, all-state athletes in high school before receiving scholarships and becoming Division I athletes.

Meanwhile, I was the family dIsappointment, sticking to intramural sports and the freedom they afforded me to spend time with what I really loved: fishing. In college, I realized how hunting had just become extra work that I didn't enjoy, so I walked away.

For almost a decade, I didn't hunt. There were a handful of times I went deer hunting with my family on opening weekend, one or two ground squirrel trips, but I didn't actually hunt. I was just present.

Then, after years and years away from it, Jake asked me to go duck hunting with him. After all of the soul-searching the past few years had forced on me, I realized I was missing out on time with family during a time of year where the limited fishing available is rarely worth it.

When we went out a couple times last season, I enjoyed it. To be honest, I still don't like actually killing the ducks, and I feel awful when I injure them, but I'm not a vegan, so I have to accept my culpability for the death of what I eat whether I pull a trigger or place an order.

This season, Jake and Dad and I went duck hunting together a few times. One day, we got limits, but mostly we walked miles and miles of ditch banks and bonded over an activity I'd given up on while shooting at a lot of ducks and hitting a few. The snickering, cartoon dog was annoying, but fortunately that was one element of the duck hunt I didn't miss.

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