Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Friendships Forged by Hunting

            I’ve been lazy.  Okay, so I haven’t been “really” lazy, but I’ve been doing things that have a higher priority than my writing projects.  First, and most importantly, my friend Chas (The Southern Rockies Nature Blog, http://natureblog.com/) arrived on October 2 for four days of duck and grouse hunting.  We would have hunted the four days but I had to go to the VA hospital for my post cardiac therapy on one day and Chas graciously went along.  By the time I was through and we were back in Finley the day was shot.  Other than that one trip to Fargo we were able to hunt every day. 
            The great thing is that this year Chas got to take home a few ducks.  Not enough to fill a freezer but enough so he could know that he shot at, and hit some ducks.
            Chas and I first hunted together in the autumn of 1979 and it was a dove hunt that morphed into an elaborate dinner that has become a part of the lore of my personal history with Soldier of Fortune Magazine.  How that happened isn’t the point of this post, what is the point is that from that first dove hunt on to last week’s hunting Chas and I have hunted together at least one long weekend nearly every autumn, and will continue to do so as long as we can.  Of course, there have been a few hiccups along the way and several seasons were lost to work, but there have been more wonderful memories than disappointments, and a few of those memories are the fodder for some of the stories in my next collection of short stories--with names changed--of course.
            Whenever Chas and I have hunted together there has never been a competition between us.  We’ve never compared the number of birds in our game bags or tried to measure tail feathers.  We don’t even compare the number of shots each one of us takes for each bird killed!  Those details are not important to us. 
            I also derive a secondary benefit from our hunts--I bounce ideas off Chas.  I’ve always been pleased that someone of his intellect is open to exploring my zany off-the-wall ideas.  He is never derogatory or dismissive of what I propose and often the nudge he provides is enough to push my idea onto firmer ground where I can develop it more fully.  That’s the power of a true friendship, but more importantly, in this case, it is indicative of the sort of bonds that are often formed between people who fish and hunt together.  Over the decades since Chas and I first hunted doves in Colorado I’ve developed many, many other friendships, but I can honestly say that only one other friendship has the same strength as the one I have with Chas, that is with Robert K. Brown, whom I met just a few weeks before meeting Chas.  Like Chas, Brown and I met outside the realm of the hunt but the strong bonds of friendship were sealed while we were hunting. 
            Most of my other strong friendships (though none to the level of Chas and Brown); were developed because of fishing or hunting.  I believe that it is because fishing and hunting are two basic human activities that were once essential to survival that we form such strong and long lasting friendships with other anglers and hunters.  Every experience in the outdoors, shared with a friend, weaves fibers of trust that are not unlike the long fibers of steel that become the massive cables holding up bridges.  But what happens when competition is added to the experience?  Does competition become a corrosive that erodes the fibers, ultimately weakening them until they pull apart and the structure collapses under its own weight?  Even Hemingway, who thrived on competition, recognized its dangers and it became one of the foundational elements of Green Hills of Africa, his hunting masterpiece.
            Today, competitive fishing and hunting dominates much of outdoor television’s programming.  No matter how much “we” moan and complain about the programming, millions of Americans watch the programs, some of them as religiously as Americans once tuned in to Ozzie and Harriet or Leave It To Beaver.   I am curious as to how many viewers leave their favorite fishing or hunting program determined to catch as many fish (or one as big) as the host, or have convinced themselves they can kill a whitetail buck or other big game animal that will surpass the trophy their much admired host kills every Saturday morning, and are then discouraged to learn it isn’t as easy as they thought?  Does this discouragement turn the neophyte trying to glean helpful knowledge into a non-participant?  
The most recent entry into the competitive world is “Fantasy Hunting,” an online game in which participants select a team of hunters to score points on the game killed and win prizes.  If one were to ask “What’s next?” my answer is simple: “I have no idea.”  Somehow we’ve now gone from the sublime to the ridiculous. (Field and Stream, Fantasy Hunting)
Without the warm campfires, muddy bogs, the smell of wet dogs and the coppery smell of the cooling blood as we dress our game, to remind us how precious each life was that we took on the hunt or from the water, there cannot be truth in hunting or fishing.  Without truth there is no fishing or hunting--only consumption. 

Think about it. glg


Holly Heyser said...

If I had to guess, I'd say most hunters would tell you that those programs don't influence how they hunt, but if you examined how they hunted closely, you'd see evidence to the contrary. Not that they'd be lying; just that the wouldn't realize how much they'd been influenced. (This is precisely how political advertising works - I have seen it with my own eyes.)

I worry particularly about the kids out there - they can absorb so much from TV, and there's so much on TV I don't want them to absorb: not just the contest killing, but the imagery of violence and tone of military conquest that permeates both shows and ads.

As for friendships, I'm grateful for every new friendship I've cemented over a hunt, and I hope I can get back to hunt with you and Chas sometime soon.

Greatoutdoorsman said...

It doesn't matter how the hunting is it is always great to be out in the duck cabin and be with your friends and family.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen a huge amount of these shows and ads, but I have seen enough to get the gist. The online promos for guide services are maybe even worse. I truly don't get how the pastime that for me (and most people I know) seems so connected to serenity and awareness becomes some heavy metal guitar-riff-laden gladiator sport on film. Not saying that there aren't truly electric moments in hunting, but they're pretty different from "yell at the quarterback", dramatic slo-mo replay, style excitement. Of course, if true to life a deer hunting video game would involve sitting quietly staring at the screen for 2 hours until a deer suddenly steps quietly into view.

As far as relationships, I've spent more time with my uncle, cousins and dad in the last three years of deer hunting than any time since when I was a kid. My hunting friendships are pretty new, but it's a good friend that you can call at dusk and have him drive over from half an hour away and help you drag a big sow up a really, really steep hill for 2 hours.