If today's column is a rant, it's a rant against me, or at least my former self.
A few days ago my friend Randy and I were talking about the decline of hunting. Or at least its decline in the view of a couple of old-timers. (Are we really old-timers? Some people probably think so.)
The line between Randy's thoughts and my thoughts are sometimes clear. Other times they're not so clear. But one thing that's perfectly clear is that hunting has changed during our lifetimes. The truth is that everything is constantly changing, and changing faster than ever.
I don't know where we're going for sure. We're living in a great time for deer hunting in Pennsylvania, but we have no guarantee that the next 50 years will be good for hunting. That's one reason I used Uncle Rico as a negative role model—Generation Y and maybe some of Generation Z are familiar with this comical character, a caricature in the movie "Napoleon Dynamite."
Photo: Some days I wish I had one of these, but I’ve learned a lot by not having one. (Steve Sorensen photo.)
To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.
Don't Be Uncle Rico
For many new hunters today, hunting means sitting in a tree stand. Some stands are fancy—elevated box blinds that border on luxury with plush carpeting, a heater, sliding double-pane windows, and a stove. I heard about one equipped with wi-fi. Where does it end? Somewhere, there’s probably a hunting shack with sensors to notify a napping hunter that a deer is in range.
I’ll wager most people who get into hunting these days don’t get far in. They’ve passed a hunter education class. They’re dressed in the appropriate orange. They have a rifle they’re familiar with from a sighting-in day. But will they ever learn to shoot offhand? To scout. To read sign? To cope with wind and weather? Will they learn how deer interact with their habitat, what they eat, where they travel? Will they ever be more than a few hundred yards from their car?
A first successful hunt will get some toes wet but won’t teach much that can be applied to the next hunt. Someone else will field dress the deer for them. They’ll leave it with a butcher who will slip off its winter coat and carve the deer into edible cuts. The hunter won’t learn anatomy, the different paths a bullet can take through the deer, and what that bullet does on those paths. The next hunt might not happen for some kids, because now they’ve been there, done that, and learned the adrenaline charge from the newest video game is more immediate.
Every baby takes baby steps. Most kids need training wheels on their first two-wheelers. We’ve all been there, and no one can escape beginning-ness. But if a person takes baby steps all through his threescore and ten, he never matures. You don’t see training wheels at the Tour de France.
I’m not saying there’s nothing positive about the guy who hunts from that luxury stand. It can be a great way for a new hunter to take his first step, but making a lifelong hunter is much more than that. For the guy nearing the end of a career, maybe it’s his only way of hunting. Or maybe a guy makes a practice of introducing new hunters year after year, and that’s his best way of doing it. And the mere fact that a hunter buys a license is still an important contribution to wildlife management, no matter his method.
For what it’s worth, few of our forebears would recognize waiting in a tree as hunting. One famous deer tracker slams tree stand hunting with a blunt question, “Are you a hunter or a shooter?” The truth is that most of us are both because we have more ways to hunt today than ever. I’ll never say no one but the old-timers knows how to hunt. I only say we limit ourselves and our skills when we fail to expand and grow.
The best hunters are more than mere shooters. They are curious about what happens in the woods, and why. They pay attention to the science of weather, habitat, changes in land use, and more. Learning is both a labor and a challenge as they continually hone their skills.
In popular parlance, we sometimes call a football quarterback “a natural,” but that’s never true. Every game is work—an exercise in understanding the opposition and developing skills so in the next game mistakes can be eliminated and new skills can be employed. Hunting is no different. Some hunters are like Uncle Rico in “Napoleon Dynamite”—reminiscing about his quarterback glory days that didn’t amount to much and hoping nobody notices he never took the training wheels off. The Uncle Ricos among us will avoid being in the snowy woods with a rifle. It’s too hard. (Keep in mind Uncle Rico is not necessarily a new hunter.)
Don’t get me wrong. My respect for dedicated hunters is high no matter their method, and I will rejoice with those who rejoice. So, my words today are not a rant. I simply have a special respect for old methods, for still-hunting, for silently oozing through the woods until you earn a shot at a buck, you make it good, and you know you’re still in for some hard work.
I remember Dad getting frustrated with me sticking to a stand until a buck walked by. “Don’t wait for them to come to you. Go after them! Start moving. You’ll enjoy it a lot more.” I wore the training wheels for a long time, but I do it Dad’s way now. My skills are still improving, and I’m enjoying hunting more than ever.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com.