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WOSTER: Best bad season - Cold-weather hunts, losing baseball teams still exciting

Terry Woster, Daily Republic columnist  I didn’t make it into the fields Saturday for opening day of pheasant season — again.

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Truth is, I had no plans to be among the orange-clad throng tromping through sloughs and tree lines and fields of dry cane. I haven’t really hunted since I left the farm. I’ve been out a few times. I’ve been with kids and cousins and such, and that’s great, even without carrying a shotgun. And a time or two years ago I was with people who did a little road hunting — once at college with a bunch of guys, a couple of shotguns and a case of beer (what could go wrong there?), and once when a relative visiting from Los Angeles decided we should road hunt our way from Chamberlain down to Platte and back. (We didn’t see any pheasants, but we stopped at a tavern on the main street in Platte. He and I used to make bad choices at many levels.)

For me, it was never the same after our dad died and we sold the farm. I wasn’t good at hunting somebody else’s land. I know people do it all the time. I remember good friendships my dad and my uncle developed with hunters from Sioux Falls and Rapid City because we had land and they asked to hunt. That’s a great way to build relationships. I just couldn’t ask someone else to let me hunt. Too much of an introvert, I suppose.

Besides, when I think of hunting as a kid, it isn’t so much the opening day I remember as the rest of the season after that. In some ways, opening day is like the World Series. Everybody loves baseball during the Series. Do they love it in August when their team is 18 games out? Everyone loves opening day of pheasant season. Do they love it in November’s flurries and wind? That’s when I liked it best, but then, I’ve been a Milwaukee fan since 1957.

(In my defense, fans back at old County Stadium didn’t do that tomahawk chop thing. That didn’t start until Atlanta. I followed the Braves there, but when Milwaukee returned to the National League, I returned to Milwaukee and found the Brewers.)

Being a Braves and Milwaukee fan that long, I celebrated a few successful periods and endured many long, losing seasons. I remained loyal through the losses (which helps me understand the loyalty of Twins fans). In the worst of seasons, I delighted in finding my team playing on television late on a weekday evening. I’d watch the entire game, me and the 3,000 or so steadfast fans who actually showed at the ballpark. (Great story, often attributed to Braves’ first-baseman Gerald Perry. During a long losing streak when fan support was at its lowest, he walked out of the dugout, looked around the empty stadium and said, “This'd be a good night to paint the seats.”)

The period later in the pheasant hunting season was, for me, like the late-season, late-night “paint-the-seat-night’’ games I watched. I loved every pitch and running catch and error on the screen in the same way that I loved every long, lazy late-fall afternoon kicking through dusty lakebeds and weed-clogged shelterbelts and occasional snow drifts. I knew the odds of scaring up a rooster were slim, but I was excited at the possibility, and I was alive just being out on the land in that remarkable time of year when summer is grudgingly giving way to winter.

I did a lot of that late-season hunting with my cousin Leo, my big brother, Jim, and once in a while with my dad, when he and I would walk a field or two after Saturday morning chores.

People say it doesn’t matter whether they limit out or not. They say it’s about the experience. I don’t know how many of them really mean it, but it was true for me, back in those younger days with my dad or brother or cousin.

These days I don’t miss the hunting. Sometimes, though, I miss that time in my life when I was young enough to think I’d hunt my own land forever.