Tale feathers: Generations connect in hunting tradition

Photo: Richard Wanberg Eleven members of three generations from two continents gather for a ritual that bonds them together.

Photo: Richard Wanberg
Eleven members of three generations from two continents gather for a ritual that bonds them together.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

Picture for a moment how one family connects: with Norwegian relatives in a bird hunting tradition that brings a three-generation family from Norway to the high plateau of Nevada for a week of wild game-bird hunting with their American counterparts.

Last year at this time, a NAW feature reported the high-mountain Ptarmigan hunt by my son, Erik Wanberg, in the mountains of Voss, Norway. This year, the Norwegian side of the family visited from Voss with my brother-in-law, his son, and his two grandsons joining the adventure with my three sons and one grandson in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada. Norwegian and American cousins and teenage second cousins engaged in the camaraderie of the hunt, an annual tradition that helps them stay in touch with each other through the years.

Although I had hoped to join them, I was hospitalized five days that week for an infection. Yet I could still participate to some degree via the internet. My reward for staying behind was medical assurance of a complete recovery from my bladder cancer surgery in August.

But I wished to join the 11 people crowded into a primitive “cabin” for the week in a remote area near a “ghost town,” with a rocky landscape that is about 100 miles from a shopping mall.

At the crack of dawn, the hunters divided into small groups for designated areas, while the non-hunters became photographers and explored the historic Indian trails and pictograph sites dating back to 1300 B.C. At the end of the day, cooking from the hunt was a group experience. The great food “never tasted so good” than it did after many hours of hunting in the mountains, they reported.

One evening, they stopped at some natural hot springs and relaxed their sore muscles. After dark, the group sat around a fire pit and reminisced of stories handed down from one generation to another and relived last year’s adventure in Norway. Above them were a canopy of bright stars and an occasional streak of meteor across the sky. The sound of nearby coyotes howling added to the adventure with a cozy aural blanket of being in wild nature.

A twist this year was that everyone had an iPhone and connectivity was clear from nearby mountain towers. Two Norwegian teenagers had a GoPro camera, which they could attach to the four-wheeler vehicle to record the “moonscape-like” terrain as they traveled faint trails to a hunting site. With a headband for a camera, they could record parts of the hunt. One young hunter strapped a GoPro near the muzzle of the shotgun to document his hits and misses.

Imagine the peer networking that went on from youth connecting with multi-media to online networks.

One teenager had a birdcall mouthpiece that by practicing brought an owl within sight from a distant tree so that they could see the owl’s massive wingspan up-close.

Reports came back to me: “Saw a herd of wild horses on a ridge. A couple of wild burros too.”

“Encountered four coyotes up close. Kind of nervy.”

“Saw seven or eight pronghorn antelope, eight deer, lots of cottontail rabbits, and many of the wary chukar.” Chukar are a species of partridge (Alectoris chukar) native to the mountains of Eurasia and introduced to Nevada in the 1950s and now well established over the Western U.S.

On the eve of their flight’s departure from San Francisco, the families gathered at my son Richard’s home for a wild game dinner and barbeque with a full menu of stories.

On the phone after their dinner, I reminded them of my growing up in a small Dakota town that carried on the emigrant tradition of organizing hunting parties during upland game seasons, spending an hour or so hunting as the sun rose, returning by nine o’clock to open the shops and offices along Main Street. I hunted with the neighboring County Judge and Sheriff, which left a lasting impact on me from getting to know them as individuals, and not with their robe or badge.

For two months in this Dakota town, we hunted pheasant, prairie chickens, ducks, and geese. The purpose, though, was not to stock up on the game, but to share the food throughout the community, as was tradition from days past. I will never forget the bonds that were forged on those hunts and the great adventures we had so many decades ago.

At last week’s farewell dinner, foremost on the menu were the stories of birds on the wing, the ones bagged and the ones that got away. They told stories about previous trips and stories from generations in Norway and the U.S. The group started discussing plans for the annual meet next year in Norway, continuing the traditions and the close family connections.

Hunting and being in nature are the common bonds that bind these distant relatives together. Most satisfying, as reported by all, is seeing young 18-year-old second cousins from Norway and America, who might otherwise never have met each other, bond to become lifelong friends.

I’m hoping to go next year with a camera to document the tradition for my current five great grandchildren.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 20, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.