Americans are spectators, far more than our pioneer and patriot ancestors were. Those rugged folks could not have survived if they had settled for being spectators. Today, being a spectator is a way of life, whether we're watching sports, the popular TV serial Yellowstone, the scripted game show called Survivor, or any other favorite program.
More than ever in history, we are a nation of spectators. We watch. If you watched the recent NBA finals, you watched not only the athletes, but you watched professional watchers explain the game. Watch... watch... watch! It's what we do! Read my June 26 column in the Jamestown Gazette, “I don’t regard nature as a spectator sport,” and you'll realize we've lost something significant if all we do is watch nature documentaries without getting our feet muddy, swimming in the creek, or catching our own bait. Sadly, too many modern Americans (and too many parents of young Americans) do regard nature as a spectator sport.
To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.
Photo caption: My young friend Brandon Hartenstine isn't as young now, and for him nature is certainly not a spectator sport. (Steve Sorensen photo)
“I don’t regard nature as a spectator sport”
The quotation headlining today’s column comes from Ed Zern’s 1985 book, Hunting and Fishing from “A” to Zern. I’ve read hundreds of quotations by well-known and not so well-known outdoor writers in the past few months, and this one made me think.
Every Sunday in America during the fall, National Football League stadiums are filled to capacity. College football teams compete weekly around the nation, some in stadiums with 100,000 seats or more. Every weekend, high school bleachers are crowded with local supporters.
The National Basketball League just completed its championship. Thirty teams played an 82-game schedule and then the playoffs, providing excitement for millions of people sitting on couches. Likewise, the March Madness tournament entertained spectators at arenas and in living rooms after countless regular season games across the nation.
The National Hockey League is growing in popularity, although I suspect most people are like me. Watching a game is a challenge for the best pair of eyes, which need to learn how to follow that one-inch by three-inch disk of hard rubber skidding across the ice at more than 100 miles per hour amidst hulking men on skates. Yet the sport has a fanatical following.
We’re in the middle of a Major League Baseball season—30 teams each play 162 games, a total of 2,430 games that precede the league’s playoffs. Again, stadiums are filled with spectators. And people are already talking about the next fall football season.
Many of these contests are broadcast on television, where countless couch potatoes (but not only couch potatoes) watch with supreme interest. We take high-level sporting events very seriously in America, but the number of participants is miniscule compared to the number of spectators.
I’m not saying millions and millions of spectators are all rollie pollies resting in recliners. But when it comes to hunting, every person who hunts is a participant. Yes, we have the Outdoor Channel and countless YouTube sites and podcasts where viewers tune in to see leading hunters and fishermen in the outdoor sporting world, but virtually every viewer participates in what they’re viewing. They’re learning how to get the most from their in-person, in-the-field experience. Beyond that, they read articles and books that help them improve their outdoor skills.
Reading and watching are sedentary experiences, but they’re not necessarily done by inactive people. You can debate athletic sports such as football, basketball, and baseball all you want, you can talk about and “compete” in fantasy leagues, you can predict odds of a player’s or a team’s success, but few fans are playing those sports.
When it comes to nature, almost everyone discussing it is a participant—especially if you’re a hunter. Hunting is not a spectator sport. In fact, a 1979 article in Sports Illustrated said that the opening day of the Pennsylvania firearms season for deer was (at the time) the biggest participatory sporting event in the world. That’s pretty impressive.
No hunter regards nature as something merely to watch. No hunter regards nature as digital data delivered to his screen by National Geographic or Public Television. Every hunter follows the famous Nike advertising maxim, “Just Do It!” And many hunters participate even into old age.
Not only that, every hunter commits to the financial support of nature. Every fisherman too. With every license we buy we add significant funds to state wildlife agencies that manage every species—not just game species—including tiny, feathered twitterers. (Birdwatchers are participants too, and that’s good, but birdwatchers don’t buy licenses.)
Not so long ago, most kids grew up participating in nature. I know a guy who grew up in a housing project and watched squirrels as a kid in a woodlot near his apartment building. Today, everything has changed. Even kids in the country seldom play in a local stream, shoot a bow in the back yard, camp out, look under rocks for fishing bait, or collect bugs and butterflies. I’m not saying kids of my generation are better than today’s kids. I’m only saying we’ve lost something valuable, and it won’t be easy to get back.
We need to encourage people old and young to get off our collective gluteous maximi and participate in nature. Engaging in nature is more important to a kid than hoping to be one of the few professional athletes that entertain the masses. If the eco-folks and the political class really want to make a difference as environmentalists, they should be pushing for simple, practical ways to make nature a participatory sport. Hunting and fishing are two great ways.
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.