Sometimes good things sneak up on you like sunny-day November mallards. When you go to the marsh on those sunny November days, you don’t expect much. You know the odds of taking home more than a bird or two are slim. But for some reason, unknown to you, the ducks arrive in numbers. The drake’s green heads glimmer in the bright sun and the birds come to your calling.
They don’t seem as wary and they give you shots you can hit. Your duck strap fills and you can’t believe your good fortune. Sunny-day mallards are the best of them all. But, to bag sunny day mallards, you’ve got to hunt often and have your share of empty straps as well.
That’s the way I felt about The Mule Deer Foundation convention in 2008. I had no great expectations about the trip. I hoped that it would provide me with energy and reason to continue to work for their conservation efforts. What I found was much like the flocks of sunny-day mallards that bring me back to the marsh.
The members of MDF are big hearted and appreciate these events for the right reasons. They donate what they can afford, sometimes more sometimes less, but it’s meaningful. There are no big buck awards at the MDF convention. It’s not a contest to see who can spend the most money to impress the crowd.
Yes there are those exceptions like the sale of the Utah Governor’s mule deer tag for $187,500, but the person who bought that tag phoned his bid in. The real “sunny-day mallards” at the convention are the people that just come to share good feelings about making a difference for wildlife.
One of those is Alan Stuart. On Friday night after the convention events were over, I joined my good friends Jerry and Pat Lowery and Hal and Linda Stauff in the MDF hospitality suit. As we had not attended the last of the evening events, we arrived a little early, before the crowd.
Tired from partying the night before, I was not expecting to last very long as I sipped on a bud light. A couple came in through the back door and approached the bar in a manner that let me know they were new. They had a European look about them and I was a bit surprised to see them.
Not that they weren’t welcome, but we don’t get many foreigners at the MDF hospitality suite. Mule deer are for common folks and unlike some of the other successful conservation organizations, we don’t have a lot of interest from traveling hunters; that’s for the sheep guys and Safari Club.
It wasn’t long before the couple approached the table where I sat and asked if the seats next to me were available. I replied yes, happy to have them aboard. They introduced themselves as Alan and Sue Stewart. As we struck up a conversation, I realized that Alan looked familiar.
“Are you the guy who won the desert sheep-hunt raffle?” I asked.
“Yes,” he replied.
I think he blushed, but I couldn’t see it in the dim light. Sue was a bit more comfortable with the subject and she filled in a few of the details about the upcoming hunt.
For those who don’t understand the significance of winning a desert sheep hunt, let me explain. Each year at the Wild Sheep Foundation’s convention, the Foundation conducts a series of drawings for sheep hunts. Raffle tickets are expensive, about $100 each, and the Wild Sheep Foundation sells many tickets with much of the proceeds going to conservation.
The desert sheep hunts typically sell for in the neighborhood of $50,000. The reason they sell for so much is that they are in high demand and are very limited in number. Sheep hunters looking to take home one of each species of North American sheep are often wanting a desert sheep as the last of four species.
The sheep hunt was Alan Stuart’s sunny-day mallard. As we continued our conversation, I learned he was from New Zealand and that he owned and managed a 10,000-acre ranch and hunting operation on the South Island. He farms sheep and red deer along with outfitting hunters for the many New Zealand exotic species. He claimed that his area was excellent for trophy red stags, and I believed him.
The evening came to a close and we exited the party about the same time. I thought nothing more about the meeting until later the next day, when I realized that Alan might be a good source of a donation for our Livermore-Pleasanton banquet. Just before the show closed, I located Alan’s show booth. His company is called Leithen Valley Trophy Hunts.
As I approached, Alan lit up and stepped over to acknowledge me. It’s always awkward, asking for donations, but I made my best effort.
“I don’t want to twist your arm, but I’d like to know if you could make a hunt donation to our MDF banquet coming up next month,” I asked.
“Yep,” he replied.
Not believing what I was hearing, I continued to talk, “We’ll have 350 to 400 people their and your hunt will sell well.”
“Yep,” he said one more time, “It will be a five-day hunt for silver-medal red stag.”
I finally realized that not only did we have a hunt to help us raise money at our dinner, but also that Alan had donated it in a way that had minimized my discomfort and for that (and the hunt as well) I thank him.
Alan and Sue’s web address is http://www.leithenvalley.com.
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