Category Archives: reflections

Fear, Self-Loathing, and Internet Trolls

This week I decided to do something miles away from my comfort zone.

Explaining something…

Since 2011, this little webpage has acted as an insulating buffer between myself and the reader.  My ‘voice’ was expressed through typeface and I had the benefit of time, editing, and occasional proofreading to refine my ethic and message dozens of times before I put it out there. I’ve had all the control so that on the (rare) occasions that hateful or crude comments show up that revile me for being a hunter, or poke holes in my logic, or (to directly quote one aggrieved reader) deride me as just some “city boy pretending to hunt”, I simply delete the offending statements and move on my merry way. Unsolicited hate mail gone forever, just like that.

But this week, I lacked that luxury.  This week I did a television shoot, and went from ‘single voice among thousands of outdoors websites’ to ‘single voice talking straight into a television camera’. Those experiences are fundamentally different, and the public perception of those things are equally divergent.

For context, I was approached by Sang Kim, who is an author, chef, and television personality to talk about hunting and guns, as well as to cook my favourite wild game dish, which in this case was a wild turkey leg confit. I of course jumped at the opportunity because those are things I love talking about and things I love to do. But it did lead me to an existential crisis, and when I’m in an existential crisis, I write about it so here we are.

You see, there’s a chance I might be cast in the all-too-bright light of “expertise” which has always made me uneasy and self-conscious.  For whatever reason, even though televised media (even internet-based televised media) is ubiquitous, there still exists a sense that those with a mass-media platform have expertise. So, by way of full disclosure, here’s what I’m expert at.

  • I’m an expert at sharing my opinions.
  • I’m an expert at shoving delicious wild game into my face.
  • I’m an expert at trying new things with little forethought for how the external reaction is going to be.

And that’s where my head was during the shoot.  I offered opinions and statements on what I thought to be pertinent or what I believed to be valid on a variety of topics, some of which I was prepared for and some that I was not.  But nothing is off limits to me, so I gave it the old college try.  The demographic is non-conventional from a hunting perspective, the platform is non-conventional to typical media, and if anything, I’m not the typical ‘hunter’ stereotype (I think).

Some of what I said and believe will be unpopular with non-hunters and non-gun owners.  Some of it will be unpopular with hunters and gun owners. But all of it sits well with me which is what matters I guess.

Also, there’s that lingering and perverse fear that I have where people are going to ridicule and hate and mock me in a very public forum.  All the tough guy attitude, spunk, and bravado available to me still aren’t going to stop trolls and keyboard-social justice warriors, and other “better” hunters who might feel more representative of the tradition from trying to make me their whipping boy on YouTube.  But I guess that’s their prerogative and not mine.

Of course I’m not looking to be a martyr for the cause (although I would be if I had to I suppose) or for personal sympathy, or kudos, or bland affirmations.  Nor is this a pre-emptive disclaimer begging for kindness, forgiveness, or understanding because I waived rights to those things when I opted into this opportunity.  I’m mostly just going through prose therapy or literary diarrhea or whatever this actually is.  But at the heart of the matter, I’m writing this to clarify my hopes.

I’m hoping that I wasn’t too far off the mark in my opinions, hoping that I was representative of my personal ethics, and hopeful that my turkey calling was at least passable; the birds seem to like it anyhow.  I’ve yet to see the finished, edited product yet but the hope (there’s that word again) is that the passion and the simple message I have does not get lost in translation or flogged to death in a comments section.

Having a chuckle.

In all, the only thing I want is to represent hunting and the outdoors and my passion for both of them respectfully, humbly, and clearly. I also liked that I got to get myself a tidy new branded t-shirt with shiny dome fasteners out of the deal.

There were things that may end up on the cutting room floor.  There were things I desperately wanted to share that just never came up. Thankfully, I can honestly say that I never had a moment in the whole shoot (which was amazing by the way and an experience absolutely worth any stress or backlash that may come out of it) where my internal monologue went “Uh-oh, don’t answer that” or “This sounds dumb” or “This whole premise is ridiculous and going to negatively represent hunting and hunters”.

Still, it’s over now and nothing can be done about it anyhow, even if I had contributed something incredibly stupid to the record.  I knew the ‘risks’ about taking it on and did it gladly, because declining this would have led to regret and I like to live with a “what-the-hell” mentality. At best I like to think my opinions and contributions are benign and conciliatory.

Confit Wild Turkey Leg with Morels and Grilled Scallions

For Lucas Hunter, Chef Sang Kim, my family, TagTV and all those that supported this, I quite literally cannot thank you enough.  This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I’m truly glad I did it.  For those that want to actually see it, we’ll post the details once they come available.

Some Thoughts on Competition

Photo from SignsoftheMountains.com

Competition is generally a good thing.  It builds character, it drives improvement, and it fosters a strong work ethic.

This is, of course, the conventional definition of competition, which is not what I’m going to be talking about here.

Reports are starting to trickle in from friends and family, and overall it is looking like being another solid season of waterfowling for 2017. Things have been slow to ramp up, but that pattern has appeared in previous seasons with the action heating up as more crops are cut and cooler weather brings fresh migrators through.

But this year, unlike previous seasons, the reports from the field indicate that competition for access is going to be high, and I’ll expand on that topic in a few paragraphs.

I think back to my formative years when there was virtually no conflict at all when it came to access.  Provided you had a decent relationship with the local landowner and you left the place better than you found it, there was simply no problem at all in getting into a good spot for a shoot.  Almost every landowner we used to have access with asked little more of a hunter than simply closing a gate or parking in a certain spot on the property, and although some would gladly accept some wild game or labour in exchange for hunting permission, most did not even care for that.

Most were just happy to have someone shooting the geese off of their fields.  But something has  changed.  Goose hunting is business for some now, and a few select outfitters have taken to leasing access from landowners (sometimes at premium rates) directly aimed at the exclusion of local, recreational waterfowlers from fields and areas they have traditionally accessed simply on goodwill.

It is tradition versus business, and tradition looks to be losing.

Five points are problematic here and I’ll briefly summarize them now.  Hopefully these serve as some idea of what myself and other waterfowlers (call us amateur, recreational, local, legacy, or whatever else you want to label us with) are dealing with in relation to professional groups barring access through rental payments to landowners.

  1. Reduced Access

Since many do not have the means (through a prepaid client base) to pay up front for access, or to even pay for access at all, for non-professionals, there will be a direct loss of hunting opportunity. That such a situation is problematic when organizations like Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited are bemoaning low hunter recruitment and a loss of support for waterfowling is obvious.

  1. A Dangerous Precedent

Related to point one, this could conceivably set a ‘pay to play’ precedent with local landowners, putting a once democratic pastime in the hands of a moneyed few, or in targeted business interests. In many areas of Canada, there is little ‘lease’ type of access in contrast to what is seen south of the border.  Hunting leases have been targeted as one of many reasons for dwindling hunter participation in America, and it also creates competitive crowding on public lands.

  1. Hunter Conflict

It is not difficult to see how the practice of paying for access at the prohibition of local hunters from their traditional fields and marshes could create conflict.  Waterfowlers in particular seem more attached to the places they’ve hunted and the relationships they have cultivated with landowners.  To reduce those traditions and relationships to merely commercial relationships will most certainly lead to a broader divide in the hunting community.  Is an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ between outfitters and their paying clientele on one side, and what I’ll call non-professional hunters on the other really what we need in a time when the tradition is believed to be under attack from outside forces?

  1. Hunter Apathy

This is the scary part.  Generations of waterfowlers, suddenly finding themselves on the ‘outside’ may lead some to give up altogether.  Think I’m being alarmist?  I’ve seen several examples both in the area I hunt and on countless forums, magazines, and in public interaction that lead me to believe many hunters will just say “To hell with it, then” and just stop chasing ducks and geese out of stubborn resentment.  If this happens, and I really do believe it is underway in some places, who will buy the waterfowl stamps necessary for conservation, who will support DU and Delta, who will champion waterfowling to a non-hunting public, and most importantly, who will pass this timeless and incredible tradition to the next generation?  I do not believe this is me using hyperbole.

  1. Hunter/Landowner Relations

For a long time, hunters and landowners worked cooperatively, in a non-commercial sense.  Hunters would offer their labour in exchange for access.  They would offer part of the harvest to any landowners interested in fresh goose meat or a plump mallard. They checked on the fields and popped into the marshes just to make sure things were on the up and up.  In some places I’ve heard stories where hunter access has discouraged trespassing.  In short, there was a sense of community between landowner and hunter.  But with land ownership being centralized and held outside of the local communities, and with guide services exploiting their superior financial position relative to local hunters, how could good relations between landowners and local hunters as stewards of the land continue?  If a guide service has the means to pay, and a landowner wants the money, far be it from me to think I could intervene in a meaningful way.  But an outfitter visits a spot in season a few times, with paying clients from outside the area.  They are there short-term and they are usually gone.  A local that gives a damn about the land drives by it every day.  But I imagine absentee landowners and outfitters care little for these long-term relationships.  To say nothing of the anecdotal stories heard occasionally about guided hunting parties leaving gates open, litter behind, and the like; what kind of landowner relationships spring from that?

Now this could all be construed as just so much ‘bitching’, or a reluctance to ‘adapt’ and perhaps it is those things in a way.  Local hunter in our jurisdiction, and it is possible that in other areas as well, do not have ready means to ‘rent’ access, and we cannot really control the price paid by outfitters and guide services to lock us out.  But with access at a premium, and long-standing tradition of ‘amateur’ hunting in the area, the grievance is legitimate.

It also calls into question, ultimately, what the guide services and outfitters are truly interested in progressing.  Is there a real concern about the long-term viability and participation in the tradition from the grassroots level, or is self-interest in business the lone driver in this push to exclude local participation from waterfowling?  As I see it, paid access is a threat to the viability of the sport long-term, especially in areas where there is not a history of leased access.

I suppose the motivations of those doing the paying and those taking the money are ultimately unknowable answers, but I know where my best guess aligns.

HuntFit or HuntFat?

In the preceding few years, I have noticed a trend creeping into every aspect of the hunting community, and that is an increased focus on the health benefits of hunting, which is a noble thing to be focusing on.  Time spent outdoors is undoubtedly beneficial, a tidy hike through the woods being far preferable to dozens of other sedentary pastimes, and the numerous health benefits of consuming wild game has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

That said, there also seem to be an effort afoot to glorify an ultra-fit outdoors lifestyle as somehow ‘better’ or in some way more rewarding method of pursuing game.  Under Armour or Sitka Gear do not have hunting pro-staff members.  They have “Athletes”, which in a hunting context sounds patently ridiculous.  This whole thing has been on my mind and has been thought-provoking to say the least.

Is this purely self-aggrandizing machismo?  Marketing? A way to sub-divide the hunting community into classes?  Is there merit in the dichotomy between the HuntFit movement and what I lovingly call the HuntFat movement, and does this dichotomy denigrate anyone who isn’t fit enough to pack out whole elk quarters or climb mountains in search of bighorn sheep? Does this devalue the hunting experience at large of those who are not in peak physical condition? What are the metrics?

This fellow did not take care of himself very well. Photo Credit: Rory Eckenswiller

I can remember the first time my own lack of fitness impacted my hunting experience.  A one-time collegiate athlete, I had let an inactive lifestyle take over, and between nine hours at a desk every day, a long commute in the car, and a generally poor diet, I had gotten more than soft…I had gotten fat.  My cousin Luke and I were hiking out to a couple of deer stands in the Parry Sound district are we hunt in, and I was rapidly getting sweaty, winded, and leg-weary.  More than once I stumbled slightly over fallen tree limbs that my legs were just too sore to step over.  I was breathing hard and loud, and I was so damp from sweat that I almost immediately caught a chill when I finally reached my stand. Luke, never one to exercise an internal monologue, basically asked if I was going to keel over from a heart attack on the way back out.

Now there are certainly areas of the hunting experience that don’t simply benefit from being ultra-fit, but that essentially mandate it.  I would be courting danger to head on a high-country goat hunt in miserable physical shape.  I would be doing the animal a disservice if I were pack-hunting and managed to shoot an elk or moose in a spot where the butchery had to happen at the kill site.  It takes physical strength and stamina to pack out meat, horns, and hides. I can see why they say that safari hunting on the ground in Africa requires physical and mental stamina, especially when hunting dangerous game.  All valid points in favour incorporating high levels of physical fitness into the hunting tradition.

But what about the ‘rest of us’?  Last year, my doctor told me it was time for a change, or I was staring down the barrel of obesity, diabetes, and cardiac problems, and I wasn’t even 40 years old. I was a hunter that indulged in rich food, both at deer camp and day-to-day.  I did hardly any physical fitness and had not been into a gym for years. I rode the ATV if the country got rough, and I got winded dragging deer or carrying a backload of decoys. I was fat, and it was a source of good-natured ribbing from the camp boys. Maybe I was not ‘okay’ with it, but I was comfortable with it.

So for myself and my family, not for hunting, I committed a whole lot of time, effort, and money to getting in shape.  I’m there now.  Down 50lbs, way down from almost 32% body fat, and up lean muscle.  I feel great, and some say I look great.  All good things, but none of which much to do with hunting.  I’m sure it can’t help but be beneficial, but I don’t think it makes me a better hunter (because I have no idea how to quantify ‘better’ in a hunting capacity) and it certainly doesn’t make me think less of anyone who wants to live differently.

This fellow does take better care of himself, but it hasn’t made him any better at deer hunting.

For a long time I’ve personally resented the HuntFit movement, because I took it (and still do to some degree) as an attack on the majority of hunters who simply enjoy the outdoors recreationally and may, in the course of their day-to-day lives, be out of shape, or slightly obese, or otherwise physically inferior to those who subscribed to this model of physical fitness uber alles.

I consider it in many ways to be exclusionary, and there are certain individuals out there that privately and publicly act in a definitively exclusionary way.  The outdoors just seems to be an extension of the gym to them, some personal best just waiting to be conquered.  I find it offensive at worst, ridiculously myopic at best. It takes away the democratic feel of the North American hunting tradition, and boils it down to ‘fit’ versus ‘unfit’.

I can also safely I’ve never shared a hunting camp with a hunter of the ‘physically fit’ variety.  That’s not to say I have not hunted with very athletic and in-shape people…because I have.  But more accurately, my hunting per group is just a group of average guys, some that could use to drop a few (or more than a few) pounds, some that while slim, couldn’t jog 5 minutes without breaking down, and others who ripple with muscles and live a lifestyle that renders them terrifyingly strong.  But no one in my goose, duck, deer, or turkey camps makes a point of staying in shape as part of their preparation for hunting. And feats of strength rarely factor into what we value in our hunting camps…although arm-wrestling does occasionally break out.

Likewise, in the past I have shared hunting camps with some of the most physically out-of-shape people I’ve ever seen. Fat guys, chain-smokers, heavy drinkers, party animals, loud-snorers, fatty-food loving guys, and more.  And you know what?  Every one of them all loved hunting, and I never saw their experience diminished by their bad habits.  Are their personal (and by extension, deer-camp) lifestyles beneficial and worth emulating?  Probably not, but that’s not for me to decide.

I’m reasonably fit and healthy now, and I still have the same obsession for chasing waterfowl and turkeys that I did when I had sleep apnea.  Losing weight and getting stronger did not ignite some hidden love of deer hunting that I did not know existed.  I still like it just the same as I did when I was creeping up to 270lbs.  Can I get to a deer stand without getting winded? Sure. That’s a nice fringe benefit, but is my deer hunting experience quantifiably better? No sir, it isn’t.

I’ve tried to think of all the arguments that are coming my way.  People will say I didn’t love hunting enough to give it my full physical effort.  That I don’t have ‘appreciation’ for what it takes to hunt fit, whatever that means.  That is am just condoning lazy, “slob” hunting habits. And so on, and so on.  There is an absolute truth here, and that is if you are in the minority of ultra-fit hunters and you treat that as some means to demean and devalue the vast, vast, vast majority of everyday hunters…or worse yet, try to use this HuntFit trend to make a tidy living off exploiting this majority of everyday hunters, then you are one of the things wrong with the modern hunting culture.  Not a popular stance, but I stand by it.

Anyhow.

I decided to change for my kids and my wife.  If there’s a hunting benefit at all, it might be that I’ll get to enjoy hunting experiences with my boys for a longer time if I’m healthier.  That’s still a ‘might be’ only because I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and all the burpees, crunches, and wind-sprints won’t help me then.

So, just go out and enjoy your hunting however you like it. If it means indulging in rich food and whiskey at dinner, riding the ATV because you can’t climb hills, and hunkering into a weather-proof blind in a comfy chair, so be it.  If you want to do chin-ups and push-ups before you head out to scale craggy peaks in search of game in some test of man against nature, or you against yourself, then go ahead and do that too, even though I just don’t understand it.

In either case, just be safe, have fun, and pass on the tradition. Because the future, and history of hunting is bigger than you, despite whether you choose to HuntFit or HuntFat.

When You F@%! Things Up

We’ve all done it.  We’ve made mistakes, and I’m not talking about the minor, piffling mistakes of a day-to-day life.  I mean big mistakes; errors that cost you a deer, screw-ups that sent that whole flock of turkeys sprinting into the next county, or boneheaded blunders that flare ducks and geese at the last minute.

There are, in my mind, fundamentally two types of ways that hunters screw up.  They either forget to do things that would lead to success, or they do things that prevent their success.  In both psychology and philosophy there is a whole genre of debate about the same thing, called ‘errors of omission’ and ‘errors of commission’.  I am neither psychologist nor philosopher, so I’ll leave the dialectics aside here and just fess up to things I’ve done on both sides of that particular ledger.

This always cathartic.

The constant hope is that you are alone when you commit these boners, so that you can just quietly berate and loathe yourself in solitude.  Not always the case, though.

Two years ago, with my then six-year old son in the ditch next to me and four or five good friends in close proximity watching, I missed three layups on geese inside 15 yards.  We had been having just a stunner of a morning.  We had found a fresh-cut field and piles of willing geese; birds pitched in on almost every pass and we were beginning to make some solid stacks.  A group of three spun hard at our calling and flagging, and as they bee-lined for the fakes, they slid ever so slightly to my left.  It was obvious that those birds were going to all die together at the business end of my shotgun.  I have always fantasized of making a true triple on a trio of decoying geese, and I like to think that my anticipation was the reason I balked hard on the birds.  When I rose to shoot the birds still hadn’t made me and I whizzed my first volley over the head of the leading bird…a bird that should have been flaring and climbing.  In panic I threw a wasted string of steel somewhere near the same bird, which was now obliging me by flaring hard and climbing rapidly, accompanied by the derisive laughter of my compatriots.  The third blast was a true parting shot as the birds were making hasty exits and I ushered them along with a wayward hail of steel BBs.  The lads down the ditch were roasting me loudly and thoroughly and I muttered a not so silent curse at myself.  My son innocently asked why I missed and I tried to explain myself with a rueful grin on my face.  Not my finest moment in the blind, although that evening and the next morning brought some redemption at least.

Sometimes you are alone, but people just have too many questions.

While walking into a tree stand a few years back in deer season I was obviously daydreaming or something and as I approached my ladder I was paying no real attention to my surroundings at all.  I crested a small rise and heard a deer snort.  Closely.  Think inside thirty steps.  I snapped my head up and saw a small buck standing broadside against a line of cedars.  As I fumbled to throw my rifle to my shoulder he coiled and bounded for the safety of the thicket, while I blasted two cartridges at what I was certain was his front shoulder.  After thirty minutes of searching, I found no blood, no hair, no dead deer.  The radios we use when out party hunting were crackling with questions, and I passed it off as shots at a wayward coyote.  Which way did the coyote come from, they asked.  Which way did he go, they asked? Was he a big coyote?  A dark one? Was he running fast or just loping along?  Was it more than one coyote?  How far were your shots? My tapestry of lies became untenable over time and I secretly confided in my cousin.  He promptly told everyone, to my chagrin.  Now it would seem that I cannot be trusted.

Sometimes you just screw up and just have to own it.

In two consecutive years I’ve missed two spring gobblers, and both times operator error lead to my hubris.  I killed an absolute trophy piece of limestone ridge one year, instead of the handsome strutter giving me a full periscope of his head and neck behind it.  Last year I blazed a pair of shots at a bird that I was convinced was a mere thirty steps away. On closer inspection he was much nearer to forty-five steps than thirty and I had cocked up an absolutely picture perfect opportunity for my cousin Luke and I to double up on a pair of Bruce Peninsula longbeards.  I took that one out on myself particularly hard, almost renouncing my membership in the Tenth Legion on the spot…except we all know that would be an error as well.

I, of course, am not the only hunter who experiences flailing ineptitude.  One of my favourite nights in deer camp, once the guns are away and the wine and whiskey flows freely, is hearing the camp elders, truly my heroes of deer hunting and men with countless deer under the belts, regale us all with the tales of their own hilarious failings, of their incomprehensible misses and gaffes, and for a while I don’t feel so crushingly inadequate…although that may have more to do with rye than with my reality.

Nevertheless, to err is truly human, and to miss is the mark of an experienced hunter, or so I’m told by people who really want to spare my fragile ego.

If you’ve got a favourite ‘missing’ story, especially if it doesn’t involve me, add it below in the comments, tweet it to @getoutandgohunt or post it here on our Facebook page.