Fences, gates and hunters

Cow-calf commentary

KIMBALL, Neb. – A very long time ago I took a mandatory hunter safety course in school. It was obviously a very long time ago, for such a thing is no longer possible in today’s school systems. Back then, hunter safety was part of the curriculum in junior high physical education.

We watched a film during the course which showed the proper way for hunters to seek and gain permission to hunt on private property. The film depicted a father, son and daughter stopping by a farmstead and asking permission. It emphasized politeness, the recognition that hunting private land is a privilege bestowed by the landowner and the notion that hunters should be meticulous in their respect for the privilege by treading lightly and within the bounds set by the landowner. Unfortunately, such behavior is largely a thing of the past.

Sunday morning found me struggling to count cows. It’s something that happens occasionally; cows – which are mobile, after all – can be devilishly hard to tally. They move while grazing and can disappear in the shallowest terrain depressions. Or a pair can graze close to one another and look for all the world like a single. Sometimes three or even four can pull the same trick, looking like one or two cows from a particular angle.

The layout of the rangeland doesn’t help, either. The topography is divided by three big gullies and there are five large hills in the middle of the roughly 1,000-acre pasture. Getting a good tally is doable, though, and not that much of a chore. It is vital, though, with the relatively high value of cattle these days and a seeming increase in the number of folks who think cattle theft is a good way to supplement their income.

Finally, after an hour’s worth of driving and meticulous counting, I got the same number three times in a row. Which would have been a good thing, if it had been the correct number. But it wasn’t. Three short. Dang.

I drove to high ground and glassed the surrounding area with my binoculars. Far away to the west, at the base of an earthen dam in an adjacent pasture, a tiny black dot resolved itself into a young cow. Good. Cows, being herding prey animals by nature, don’t generally wander off as singles. Where there’s one missing cow, there’s likely to be three.

Our pasture and the one to the west share a good, tight fence with two gates. From my perch on high ground, it looked like the southerly gate was open. So, the question of how the cows got out was potentially solved as well. 

Sure enough, the gate was open when I drove up to it. And not by accident, either. The four-wire gate was pulled back and leaning against the fence and the top gate post keeper was flipped over and dangling by the staple. 

The cows could, in theory, have nosed the keeper wire off, but I’ve yet to see a cow pull a gate wide open and lean the gate post neatly against the fence. There were also fresh tire tracks on both sides of the gate, which is so seldom used I can’t even remember the last time I opened it. Grr.

Getting the cows back in and headed toward the rest of the herd took only a few minutes. Then I went back and studied the tracks. I could see that the vehicle had passed through the gate both ways, entering and leaving our pasture. I followed the meandering trail of wide, four-wheel drive tracks back to where they’d entered the adjacent pasture from a low-maintenance county road on the south. The gate was open there, too. Half-way between the two open gates there was a scatter of empty beer cans, a gut pile, and a half-dozen shiny, unfired rifle

Well, at least they didn’t cut the wire like they did last year, right?


Trespassers, whether they call themselves hunters or not, have no business and no legal right to be on private property without permission. The gates they leave open not only cause headaches for livestock producers, but can potentially cause the loss of thousands of dollars in revenue. Wandering cattle can potentially be involved in tragic road and highway accidents as well.

Those who hunt private land without permission are breaking the law. Those who mix alcohol with hunting are idiots. Those who leave gates open or tear fences down are vandals and jerks.

One of the things which historically made America a truly exceptional place is the fact that our very first founding document named as the first principle of our nation, that all men are self-evidently equal. What this meant in practice is that the majority of Americans recognized and practiced the Golden Rule, that you must treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.

This has become a thing of the past for the most part. A great many of the people who live within the borders of our land are all for being treated well and having their rights viewed as sacrosanct. The people I’m talking about are also, by and large, of the belief that other people and their rights don’t really matter.

I’m a bit puzzled. Do the folks who live here really want to make America great again? If so, I suspect many are barking up the wrong tree. The path to greatness does not pass through the White House. It begins and ends with the principles and behavior of We the People.