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Published: Friday, 11/7/2008

Simons family hunts, finds time to knit relationships

If you want to see pheasant hunting done right, look no further than the example set by the Simons family of Hancock County.

Tomorrow morning, the day after the season opener today, on some CRP set-aside land in Hancock County, three generations of Simons hunters will celebrate their 15th year of family participation in much more than a hunt. They can write the book on what it is all about.

Travis Simons, a Wood County Park District ranger and middle-generation family member, tells the story so well that much of the tale is a narrative, which begins in 1993:

"I was a 20-year-old kid. It all started on Thanksgiving. When the whole family got together they would talk about Granddad [Joe] and his generation. He would hunt anything. If it had legs and a tail and was legal, he'd go after it.

"I never got to hunt with Grampa. But we did get to do some plinking with .22s.

"They would tell us stories about the good old days, and I kind of got tired of it because I wasn't hunting. I memorized all the stories. I could tell them back, word for word. And I didn't have any of those stories [to tell]," reflecting on his own life.

Travis noted that changes in farming (from mixed plots and pastures and fence rows to now seamless monocultures with no cover) and the sprouting of no-trespass signs have taken a heavy toll on the tremendous pheasant hunting Grampa knew.

"My dad's generation pretty much gave up the pastime. It kind of petered out." Right with the pheasant hordes that used to fill northwest Ohio's fields and skies.

Travis' generation did some hunting, but it was not the same - a rabbit or two here, a squirrel there. He was concerned. He wanted Thanksgiving stories of his own.

"Hunting tradition is handed down. It's something that's taught." So he called the family to a pheasant hunting renewal.

"My Uncle Harvey was influential in helping it get started. It was like my father [John] and his brothers going back in time. They were buying things, hunting clothes that they hadn't bought in years. We rekindled something."

But the first chapter did not exactly have a lived-happily ever-after fairy-tale ending.

"We just kind of did it by the seat of our pants." Thus the family's reconstituted tradition began on a state public hunting area, pursuing stocked birds - alongside the proverbial million other landless hunters.

"It was like a Civil War re-enactment. It was not what we wanted to happen." Anyone who has experienced such an opening day - too often marred by rampant misbehavior, ignorance, carelessness and selfishness - might feel moved to hang up the scattergun for good in disgust, even though this darker side of human behavior is pervasive and not exclusive to some hunting situations.

For all that, Simons said, "everybody was happy we pulled it off."

But this also was where the family decided to take matters into their own hands. Fortunately, the federal Conservation Reserve Program, CRP, was in full swing by then. CRP pays farmers to place marginally productive or environmentally sensitive land into grasslands and similar cover crops, and upland wildlife, game and nongame alike love it. Pheasants included.

"CRP is a great program," said Simons. "We started to contact local farmers with set-aside ground and asked if we could stock birds. You could see their eyes light up like it was the '50s again. I haven't been turned down yet."

Understand, however, that the Simons family was not asking for the landowners for the moon. They wanted one hunt, that's it. "We just do it the one time. That's part of our deal with the farmers." For the rest of the year the landowners are free to hunt themselves, allow others to hunt or just watch.

Such a modest plan, however, "gave us control of our own hunt," said Simons. "We really rely on the farmers who have set-aside and they're been really cooperative. We always invite them."

The family buys and puts out about 50 ringnecks each year, Simons noting that their 15-year stocking tally now is 555 birds. "We put them out Friday night [which will be tonight], and that is a tradition in and of itself."

Nonhunting members of the family join in stocking of the family's pheasants as well. "We've made hats. We've made T-shirts. We've made roadside signs." The latter is because the family not only hunts, it cleans up roadside litter as part of the state's anti-trash Adopt-A-Road program. You can see their signs on a two-mile stretch of Allen Township Road 108 in Hancock County. The litter pickup is a family act too.

As for tomorrow's hunt, Simons noted, "we don't make it a turkey shoot. We take our time. No dogs either - nobody has one."

The post-hunt is worth showing up for as well. It includes a skeet shoot and a well-laid-out family potluck feast. "I'm just grateful to my wife, Sarah, for allowing everybody to come into our home," said Simons.

If you find yourself wishing you were part of the Simons annual event, just remember that you too can follow their lead and start your own. Yes it is work. But, as Travis puts it, "it's a labor of love and it's brought us a lot closer together. I know my uncles as people."

And so what if tomorrow morning is rainy and windy, as forecast? No matter, said Simons. For their family, "even if it rains, the sun's going to be shining this weekend."

For the record, many of the Simons family members work in various phases of law enforcement, said Travis the ranger. As best as he can recall, here are the Simons hunters:

First generation - John Simons, Travis' dad, and John's brothers Steve and Bill. Harvey is deceased. "We lost a good hunting partner there," said Travis. "His last hunt was in '99."

Second generation - Travis and his cousins and in-laws: Harvey's son Ronnie and Bill's son Bruce Simons, and Bruce's wife, Sherri; Bill's daughter Chelle Simons Fuss and her husband, Matt; Steve's sons Jeff and David Simons; brothers-in-law Adam Flick and Brian Dill.

Third generation - Madison Simons, 14, daughter of Travis, and Brooke Simons, 13, daughter of Bruce.

With that, Travis notes that if he left anyone out, he'll hear about it in the morning.

Meat shoot - The Camp Perry Shooting Club, State Rt. 2, Camp Perry, west of Port Clinton, has scheduled a public shotgun shoot for hams, turkey, bacon and other prizes for Sunday, starting at noon. The rain date is Nov. 16.

Contact Steve Pollick at:

spollick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6068.



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