ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Bruce Schroeder doesn’t have to bring home game to have a fulfilling day of hunting. For him, the sport is more about the quality of the hunt than the quantity of the harvest.
“I think at this point in my life, that is the biggest reason for doing it-the quality of the hunt,” said Schroeder, one of Hillsboro’s most ardent hunting enthusiasts.
“The quality of the hunt is the planning of the hunt, the preparation for the hunt-by that I mean the scouting, the evaluation, the finding of fields and the area, the finding of the specific animal in most cases if you’re doing deer,” Schroeder said. “All the get-ready stuff is almost as exciting as the actual daily hunt.
“If you prepare correctly, and the whole plan comes together and the weather cooperates-all these things add to the anticipation,” he said. “So if you go out and you don’t see a deer, you can come home just as happy as if you physically had a deer.”
Schroeder got his first taste of hunting as a young boy on the farms of his two grandfathers.
“It was kind of a normal occurrence,” he said. “The both fished and hunted. That was kind of what you did back in those days.”
When Schroeder was 7 or 8, he got his first BB gun-and his first ‘hunting’ assignment.’
“When you went to Grandpa’s farm, your job was the sparrows and vermin and whatever else was available,” he said.
As he got older, Schroeder was taught the rules and regulations of hunting and was entrusted with more powerful weapons.
His first “real” hunt was for ducks along his grandfather’s farm pond.
“My dad had bought me a shotgun and I practiced and practiced,” he recalled. “So they took me along -and put me as far away as they could and still keep an eye on me.
“The first time the ducks were flying, I shot and I shot and I shot and I shot-until I ran out of shells,” he said. “I came over to get some more shells, and my dad said, ‘That’s impossible, I gave you 50 rounds. How many ducks did you get?’ I told him, ‘I’m still working on it.’
“I didn’t hit anything for a long, long time,” he added with a smile. “But I had fun. Back then, it was more of an event than anything productive, as far as hunting. But I enjoyed it a great deal.”
In the years that followed, Schroeder has enjoyed many productive hunts. As he grew older and more experienced, he advanced from ducks to pheasant, quail and doves.
“We’d end up eating all this stuff we shot,” he said. Having to clean his own game, though, had a moderating effect on his enthusiasm.
“It kind of limited your activity,” he said. “It was kind of self-regulating.”
Schroeder remembers when local game officials launched a deer-hunting season in Kansas during the early 1960s.
“I had never even seen any deer anywhere,” he said. “It was kind of an event when you first saw a deer occasionally. Some of the guys would talk about actually shooting a deer, so you’d go over and look at it to see what a real deer looked like. That’s evolved into a major situation these days.”
Schroeder enjoys many types of hunting, but deer is still one of his favorites.
“That’s something that brings me great pleasure these days because, if it’s done enthusiastically, it is a highly skilled situation to be successful,” he said. “And success is measured not only in the animal, but the quality of the hunt.
“Quail and pheasants and ducks are very much the same,” he added. “There, you normally have friends and acquaintances and you have the camaraderie that’s very, very enjoyable. Then you have the after-hunt dinner…. Without those things, it wouldn’t be nearly as enticing.”
Over the years, Schroeder has hunted in about a dozen states. The changes of geography and culture have enriched those ventures immeasurably.
“I have been fortunate enough to be invited to dove hunts in southern Texas,” he said. “That is an orchestrated production; it’s a major social event.
“It’s like a football game or something,” he added. “Cars are lined up and they bring you over on trolleys and shuttles. The refreshment cart comes by every half an hour in case you’re out of shells. Then they pick you up, clean your birds, and have a barbecue with southern belles and bands…. It is unbelievable.”
Another out-of-state adventure was memorable for the lack of human contact. Several years ago, he went elk hunting in Colorado with Byron Lange, a Hillsboro native and friend. They were led to the remote hunting area on horseback and then left there to fend for themselves.
“It started to snow and kept snowing for seven days-hard,” he said. “The guide wasn’t coming back for us. We had enough food and warm sleeping bags, but the snow was waist deep.”
It turned out the pair had ventured into one of the worst blizzards to hit the area in years. Hunters were stranded throughout the area. Some were evacuated by helicopter.
Schroeder wants to venture beyond national borders, too. He has scheduled a duck and dove hunt in Mexico in the coming months, as well as a deer-hunting trip to Saskatchewan.
For all the attractions of out-of-state hunting, Schroeder said Kansas has a lot of good things going, too.
“Most of the comments I hear from out-of-state people are about quail and pheasants,” he said.
He said natives to this area don’t realize that pheasants, for instance, are limited to a four- to five-state area in the Midwest.
“It’s an exciting bird and very pretty, too,” he said. “And you get to watch the capabilities of (hunting) dogs.”
That opens the door to another obsession Schroeder has with outdoor life.
“I’m horribly into dogs,” he said.
Schroeder trains young dogs and enters them in competitions literally around the country almost year round. When he can-which isn’t as often as he’d like-Schroeder works the dogs himself. Usually, though, they are handled by professional trainers.
“They do amazing things in the field,” he said of the dogs. “Their life is to find birds and work.”
Schroeder’s work with dogs can pay off handsomely when an animal does well in competition. The dog doesn’t earn prize money per se, but it accumulates points for placing high. As the points increase, so does the dog’s value.
A top performer can be worth as much as “a fancy car.” The pups of a top performer can run from $4,000 to $5,000.
Dogs aside, though, Schroeder is an ardent supporter of hunting and feels it can be of great benefit to a young boy as he grows up.
“I think the interesting thing is that it requires a great deal of discipline,” he said. “It may not be readily apparent, but if you start taking shortcuts, the quality of the hunt goes down.”
By shortcuts, Schroeder means trespassing on private property, operating haphazardly and even dangerously, and otherwise showing disrespect for people and property.
“There are jerks and idiots in every walk of life,” he said. “They take short cuts, abuse privileges and give hunting a bad reputation. But a lot of us get along just fine. It’s a highly disciplined thing for us. Everybody I know believes that, too.”