Hunting for days gone by

Posted on June 05 2019, by Alex Robinson

Some days, Paul Zinn goes to the place he learned how to shoot and talks to his dead father.

The two spent countless mornings, standing side by side in the wetlands of southern California, hunting waterfowl. But hunting has diminished in the area over the years and along with that, Zinn feels he has lost many of the places where he shared fond memories with his father.

Paul Melvin Zinn (left), Paul Zinn (centre) and Jim Dickherber hunting in Cibola, AZ. Photo courtesy of Paul Zinn.
Paul Melvin Zinn (left), Paul Zinn (centre) and Jim Dickherber hunting in Cibola, AZ. Photo courtesy of Paul Zinn.

The bird populations they hunted in the wetlands near Palm Springs have since waned. The Salton Sea — California’s largest inland body of water — has seen rapidly shrinking water levels as the runoff from nearby farms that fed the lake have been diverted elsewhere. Much of the wildlife that used to frequent the water has declined, as it has become saltier than the Pacific Ocean. 

Zinn can now drive his truck where he used to wade through thigh-deep in water years ago. A race track stands in an area which was once flooded and attracted birds. Development has brought highways and commercial buildings to places Zinn used to wait with his father for waterfowl to fly by.

“You’re just not allowed to shoot because you’re so close to buildings now. There are buildings everywhere,” he said.

He can no longer access other places he and his father would hunt, as they were bought by new owners, who don’t want hunters trespassing on their land.

“I feel a very huge loss in the areas we used to hunt, where we’re no longer allowed to go any more,” he said. “Fields are all fenced off with no trespassing signs. Where we used to go troll through alfalfa fields looking for waterfowl, it’s all trespassing now.”

Zinn still has a few places where he can sit, have lunch and feel a connection with his father, but not many. One of those places is where his father taught him how to shoot.

The 37-year-old, who lives in Morongo Valley, is hoping to leave California behind to start his own hunting lodge. But in order to make his dream a reality, he needs to raise at least $275,000. 

Ever since Zinn’s father, Paul Melvin Zinn, died less than two years ago, he hasn’t been happy. His father worked as a high school teacher and in pest control later in life, but his real passions were the wilderness and hunting. Zinn’s said his father shared these passions with him as often as he could.

Zinn’s father had planned to go traveling and hunting once he retired — but just a few days after his retirement, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He died only weeks later.

Zinn spread his father’s ashes in Cibola, AZ — a place of special hunting memories. It was where Zinn shot his first Canadian Goose when he was eight-years-old, and one of the few places the two went hunting that he still can. 

His vision for the hunting lodge is to have it be a summer retreat, where people can get away from the city life, relax and connect with the wilderness. He’s hoping he would be able to run guided hunts from the lodge.

“It’s basically not just helping me stay sane, [but] helping everybody stay sane,” he said.

Zinn, who currently works in construction, said he hopes to run the hunting lodge full time, and do taxidermy in the offseason.

He doesn’t think he will be able to start the kind of facility he wants in California and has been considering properties in other states, including Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Idaho.

Zinn is saving every penny he can to start the lodge, and has even started a GoFundMe campaign in the hope that a generous person might see it and help him fund his project. He said he first thought to start such a fundraising initiative after more than $700 million was donated within 24 hours to help rebuild France’s Notre Dame Cathedral after it burned down in April.

But whether or not someone comes along to help him with funding, Zinn’s absolutely determined to create his new happy place.

“It’s something that’s been imbedded in me and isn’t going to leave me,” he said. “It’s something I need to do whether I get help or not.”

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