Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are we losing the "Fun" in "Fund Raiser" Events?

This is a Blog post that I wrote weeks ago.  I’ve been up to my neck in projects, and a couple of issues, that I simply have not had time to sit and Blog.  I’m hoping to do better and post more often because it is something I enjoy.  glg

 I won a gun. Actually I won a rifle, a Savage .17 HMR to be specific. Now, to say that I won it implies that I got it for free or for the price of a raffle ticket--the latter is true--I got it for a raffle ticket.  The raffle was part of the Finley Wildlife and Gun Club’s biennial fund raising effort and I figure that over the past decade I’ve bought enough gun raffle tickets that I could have bought two, maybe even three rifles of similar price.  That’s also the sentiment that I hear from many of the hunters who attend the biennial fund raiser, but they complain with a laugh and admit they attend the auction and dinner for camaraderie (aka, drinking) and because the Finley Wildlife Club is an active member of the community and the money raised does go to good use, including scholarships, the local school and so on. There is a group of people (men and women), however, that use banquet/auction/raffle fund raisers as a source of products for resale. These individuals rarely care about the end use of whatever money is raised and are seldom members of the organization holding the event unless their ticket price includes membership. They are attending the event for the singular purpose of scoring bargain prices on selected auction goods, and by buying large numbers of raffle tickets, while keeping the amount spent on tickets at an acceptable loss/risk level, their odds of taking home raffle items is increased substantially, all of which will later turn a profit. At an event I attended earlier this year I was surprised when one person won a quarter of the firearms raffled and another substantial prize, plus won the bidding on a number of the more expensive auction items. When I said he “is one lucky S-O-B” I was told it isn’t luck--“he’s a professional, all of those guns will be sold at gun shows and the other stuff on eBay or his web site.”

The comment that struck me hardest came from another hunter who said: “Guys like him don’t leave much for the rest of us, if it wasn’t for where the money raised goes, I wouldn’t be here. If there is a benefit auction or raffle around here you can count on him (pointing to the person under discussion) being there and walking out with an armload of stuff--it isn’t luck. They’re taking the fun out of these things.”

His comments were echoed by several other attendees.

Until Michelle and I moved to North Dakota I was unaware of there being a large group of people who specialize in going from fund raiser to fund raiser and also purchase large numbers of raffle tickets to significantly improve their chances of winning and then selling the prize for a profit. I also learned that many of these individuals are also the auction bidders who carefully study items to be auctioned off, make notes of items’ value, then bid the more expensive items past the bargain price others had hoped would win the bidding yet keeping it low enough to realize a profit later. I have also been told that these bidders will often work in teams to squeeze out other bidders yet keep the final bid at or below a specified price, all of which is frustrating many “average Joes and Janes.” (Readers: FYI: I have helped organize nearly two dozen fund raisers with raffles and auctions and only recently seen this phenomenon emerge so consistently although one retired auctioneer told me it was a common practice throughout his career. At the Finley Wildlife Club’s event this has not been an issue but at other events in nearby cities it has been.)

At first, one is tempted to point out that because the money is going to a good cause there shouldn’t be any problem with having these people attend and pour their money into the cause. I agree--up to a point--that being that when the Joes and Janes of the outdoors begin to lose interest in attending our fund raising events because it is becoming increasingly hard for them to win the bidding at an auction and the odds of winning in a raffle are reduced to a level where winning would be “stacked against the odds” because so many tickets are sold to an individual, then we have a problem. What needs to be recognized by the organizers of the various fund raising events that are held around the country (and that does include me)  is that when the Joes and Janes begin to drop out of these events it brings them a few steps closer to dropping out of the outdoor sports. The demands on their free time are such that they can quickly justify not going hunting, fishing or out to the range because any of the myriad other activities that are pulling at them can replace the outdoors and shooting sports. Yet, even with this problem firmly understood there still exist the fact that if a person has bought their ticket(s) that person is entitled to win whatever they are drawn for or win at auction. Trying to ban them would be a mistake and probably open some legal questions. 

All of that said, I would like to see the organizations that rely on dinner/auction/raffle events to raise money for their cause to post a sign and print on the dinner tickets something like this:
The auction and raffle prizes are intended to be used by the winners to enhance their outdoor (or shooting) experience and not as items to be professionally resold on web sites or other outlets. 
Maybe it is too much to ask because in modern America, profit, whether it is profit to fund Nonprofits, or profit for the individual, has replaced what had been the desire to do good things. Maybe, just maybe, if the Joes and Janes saw such a sign or read a similar statement on the back of their banquet ticket they would feel a little better if they didn’t win that prize they were hoping for.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Summer Project

Project for the summer--find out how true the regulation is on my new Cabela's muzzle loader double rifle.  Once I know their regulation then I can start shoot for best load.  It is a .50 caliber and if any of you have some advice on loads I wouldn't mind hearing them. glg

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Surprise, Surprise and What's Wrong With Us?

Surprise, surprise, I am still around but I haven’t posted anything in weeks because--well--I didn’t want to write!  That, in itself, is a surprise because for 40+ years I have always had something that I wanted to write about, but for weeks now I haven’t wanted to write about several outdoor related events that made the national news. I know my reluctance is not writer’s block because when I have found myself on a deadline I was able to get the assignment written, but I couldn’t pen a decent blog post. What makes that reluctance to write surprising is that the issues I have been thinking about, often in great detail and even digging into the issues with additional research, are timely, relevant, and important to all of us who enjoy fishing, hunting and shooting. However, every time I tried to write a draft of a post I became so discouraged that I would put down my pen and turn to working in my yard and garden.

Some might argue that I have been in a slump brought on by the spring weather, or some malady.  I think my reluctance to write has been a response to the sheer idiocy that has been exhibited by so many of the outdoor media’s celebrities, and outdoor professionals (guides and outfitters).   Let’s be honest, a significant number of these people have behaved in ways that are appalling at the very least. If you go online and begin counting up the game violations by these people you quickly realize we’ve got a problem and it is best expressed in the immortalized words of Strather Martin and Paul Newman: “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”  The failure is that too many outdoor celebs and professionals are starting to believe their own press releases and from that they are expecting a “bye” when their actions violate the law.  What is troubling beyond the actual “criminal act” they are charged with is that they have violated the trust between themselves, their fans, and society as a whole. These miscreants have forgotten that the men and women who are the anglers and hunters of our society most often carry out their activity without any other eyes watching over them, and they do so ethically and honestly, exactly the way they expect others to conduct themselves in similar situations. The vast majority of outdoor men and women are aware that society has entrusted them, through the hunting licenses and the premise of a right to hunt, with an honor system that the game laws will be honored. This is the very foundation of the protection of the right to hunt--it is based entirely on the ethical action of the individual. Sometimes there is a collision between what the ethical behavior is and what “needs” to be done, and when that happens we must make a choice that is based on the most favorable outcome. For a person to follow that principle in the field is not a part time choice but one that dictates all of the actions of the individual, but here is the sticking point: the action must be entirely self started and self completed even if others are present to observe the action. If a person will act outside what is ethical or “need,” regardless of the presence or lack of presence of anyone to observe the action, then is it reasonable to assume that person’s actions are not unusual but part of a pattern?  I believe it is, and for evidence of the truth of that belief one needs only to review some of the court documents pertaining to the outdoor celebrity miscreants to see their pattern of game violations.

I am sure that some of you will wonder why I should care so much and my answer to you is that we, all of us who love the outdoors and fishing/hunting, must care because their actions taint all of us in the eyes of nonparticipants.  Then, when the time comes (as it invariably does) for the general public to vote on a hunting related issue, the pro hunting groups must overcome a negative image generated by the miscreants’ actions. When we try to use the argument that more that 95-percent of all anglers and hunters are ethical and do follow the game laws and the principles of good sportsmanship the response is often, “how do we know?”

The fact is that we can only know our own actions and assume the actions of others are equally ethical. We cannot know how often the celeb that makes the news for game violations or other actions violates the law or is unethical. The tragic truth is that the rest of us must bear the burden of “their” guilt and consequently redouble our efforts to maintain our right to hunt. In a time when the politics of hunting is getting more segmented and the anti-hunting/gun elements have an increasingly well funded (although still historically, culturally and ethically inaccurate) argument, we cannot afford to continue supporting the miscreant celebrities of our industry. 

If an outdoor celebrity cannot gather the footage or sound bites they need for their programs within the law and abide by the angling or hunting ethics, but knowingly violate the law to get their bites, then they do not deserve our support, whether it is watching/listening to their broadcasts, or buying their products.  Yet, a sizable portion of the angler and hunter population continues to support them to the point of verbally trouncing anyone who speaks out against the celebrity! Case in point is Ted Nugent. Numerous editors and even the National Rifle Association have all remained silent about Nugent’s behavior and when asked why, we discover it is because Nugent’s fans are ready to rip into anyone who speaks out or writes against Nugent and they are afraid that condemning Nugent’s actions will “rock the boat.” They are unwilling to risk losing readers or members. In short, membership fees and subscribers are more important than the future of the outdoors and Second Amendment!

What is this drive by these fans to give celebrities more room to maneuver, even when those maneuverings are detrimental to all of us? 

I do not have an answer. This much I do know; if we are going to continue giving them “passes” for their misbehavior eventually we’re going to pay a much higher price. These men (and women) may have paid the court imposed prices for their actions, but that price alone does not repair the damage they have done to the nonparticipant’s perception of the outdoor community.

A final thought on this troublesome issue has to do with the notion that a person can pile up good deeds and be forgiven for any of their trespasses. Without burrowing into the philosophy of  “good” and “good actions” let it be sufficient to say that in the real world, regardless of how many times a celebrity reminds us that he or she has taken dying children, or wounded veterans, on hunting or fishing trips, the fact remains that the celebrity has violated the law, the ethics, and the true philosophy of the outdoor sports--a fact that cannot be repaired or erased by the public spectacle of “good deeds” but only by the offender’s public contrition. They need to let their “good deeds” stand alone and not use sick children and wounded veterans as a public bag balm to hide the effects of their actions. glg

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Finding and losing the snow geese

The other day I was walking between my office and the house when I heard the geese.  At first I could hear just a few then suddenly the sky was full of them.  I stood mesmerized by the skeins of birds that stretched across the sky above Finley.  Had I been in the field I would have been in easy range for some pass shooting.  From my backyard, however, all I could do was stand and watch.  I glanced at my watch and the show lasted for just under fifteen minutes without a serious letup in the number of birds passing overhead. 
Later that day I went for a drive to try and figure out which of the large sloughs in the area the birds were using at night.  My intent was to find places where I could get under the birds for pass shooting. The geese were not where I expected and I returned home somewhat frustrated.

Yesterday, however, I did find the geese, or at least several thousand of them.  Snows and blues by the thousand with a scattering of Canada geese (including quite a few Giant Canada geese) covered the fields.  I watched them and decided my best bet would be to mark the fields they flew into and then beat them to the field the next morning.  If I did beat the geese then I could get in a few pass shots as they make their approach. The trick to being successful is to be settled in well before the birds pass overhead and that the hide be in a position where the birds have dropped to tree-top height. But, like all things in hunting, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  It didn’t.  
The geese I’d seen the day before were gone.  Easy come, easy go. The spring season is open until May and there are other flocks of snows in the surrounding area, all I need to do is find them again and plan another hunt. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

Therapy Writing & Spring Goose Hunting Might Help

A NOTE: Sometimes the thing for a writer to do is simply start writing.  Choose a word, any word and from that word begin forming a sentence, than another and another.  That is this post.  This is my own therapeutic exercise.  glg
The early spring goose season opened last month and will continue into early May, and I’ve been thinking that it would be good for me to get out and spend some time hunting geese.  I am sure that by getting out of my office and into the fields my mental outlook would be improved.

Since returning from the SHOT Show I’ve had a sort of ho-hum not interested detachment from the world outside my office.  It hasn’t been the usual brutal weather of North Dakota eating at me, because until a couple of weeks ago we hadn’t had any decidedly brutal weather.  In fact, it has been the opposite, which is good because the mild winter, if it combines with a mild spring, will give the upland birds and deer an opportunity to rebound from the depredations of the past few winters.  Nope, what’s been eating at me is a book project that has vexed me for two years. 
As some of my readers know, 32 years ago, right after the Russians invaded Afghanistan, I went on assignment to Afghanistan for Soldier of Fortune magazine.  Although it took some effort I finally got inside Afghanistan along with an Englishman (Peter Jouvenal) and we were able to successfully complete a really wild assignment that actually had some far reaching impact.  I did write about “most” of the assignment and what we were able to accomplish for Soldier of Fortune and some other publications and newspapers, and in fact a grateful US government actually paid us (SOF, Peter and myself) a hefty reward for Peter and my efforts.  But, not all the story was told and a security lid was clamped down on part of the adventure, but now, after 32 years, the whole story can be told and I’ve been trying to write the book--but the story is not cooperating.  Of everything that I’ve written this is proving to be the most difficult.  I know that I will complete it.  I am confident that I will be able to get a full draft written before the end of spring.  Then, once I am sure the Pines Review work is completed and whatever writing tasks I’ve got to complete are filed with the appropriate editors--I am going to go someplace and work on the manuscript, type all the editing and corrections into it and send it off to my agent.  Hopefully, he’ll find it is in shape for publishers to read and I can retreat to the lakes around here and spend some time seriously fishing. Better yet, I will take some time and go to California and see my son and his family and spend some time fishing with my grandkids. 

It is all dependent on getting this book finished.  Fortunately, I am not working just from memory because I’ve got my journals, newspaper clippings and a lot of photographs, plus the published articles, so I’ve got most of the research material. It’s just a matter of doing it.  There is a twist, which is that whenever I would teach a writing class I would tell the students that what they needed was a bottle of glue to glue their butts to the chair so they could write.  It isn’t the glue in my case, it’s the time sitting and looking at the screen and willing myself to revisit those few weeks.  It’s just a world apart from where I now live.  It is an uncomfortable world that was dominated by lies, deceit, and pushing to the very edge of the rationale for a story.  When all was said and done I switched to outdoor writing, Peter, however, stayed on in that war-torn hell to become an internationally famous cameraman of the first order.  Peter is so revered by many correspondents that it is not uncommon to hear him referred to as the “bravest cameraman in the world.” It’s true that Peter is that, and more, and those few weeks when we shared the risk and won a bit of glory by outwitting the Russians, are times that continue to define me.  At the risk of our lives we accomplished something that no one else in the world had been able to do, and in the end we know we impacted the course of history.  There were many others who followed us, and Peter was often with them, but it was a path Peter blazed and allowed me to join him on.  It was not Charlie Wilson, the CIA, Dan Rather or anyone else who first went into that darkness, but three people, Peter Jouvenal, Edward Girardet and myself.  This book is the most stressful writing I’ve ever worked on, but I will bring it all together and the story will be told. 
My therapy session is now over.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Fixing Things That Don't Need To Be Fixed

My fingers have become numb from typing.  Obviously, I haven’t been writing for my blog but I have been writing.  I’ve been trying to get caught up on some article assignments and I am now 2/3 of the way to being caught up.  Of course, being caught up only means that I will then return to other writing projects that are sitting in the wings, which includes two book projects, “The Pines Review,” and a couple of other projects that are close to my gizzard.
I’ve decided to keep the name of this bog as it is.  Why fiddle with something that works?  Too often we are tempted to do exactly that and when we succumb to the temptation to tinker it is the rare person who can honestly say they’ve improved things. That’s a problem that plagues the entire outdoor industry--too many people want to “fix” something that isn’t broken. Throughout the four days of the SHOT Show I kept hearing complaints about different aspects of the shooting and hunting world needing to be “fixed.”  I was starting to wonder if what some of these people were talking about was castrating NSSF because a complaint that I heard several times was that NSSF should not allow the law enforcement/tactical companies to exhibit at the SHOT Show.

When I asked why, the answer was usually that SHOT stood for Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor, Trade and not cops and robbers.  The funny thing is that I can remember when the big controversy in the press room was the presence of “black guns” in the show.  In fact, one day during a past SHOT show, the chief executive of NSSF rushed through the aisles of the show to a booth where the infamous black guns were being displayed and he ordered the guns removed or the company would be evicted! 
The guns were taken down.  Another year there was a controversy over paintball guns and still another one was over the presence of crossbows. All of these disputes have faded and finally disappeared, but I am not so sure the debate over the law enforcement and tactical exhibitors will be so quickly resolved. The disconnect between these exhibitors and the rest of the shooting and hunting industry is one that is too easily fueled by grumbling malcontents who want to maintain a purist approach to shooting and hunting. I think that is an entirely wrong approach.  There is already too much division between various groups of the outdoor industry and grumbling about the presence of law enforcement and tactical exhibitors at the SHOT Show isn’t helping to heal those divisions.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

I Have Returned--With a Question

I’ve been “checked out” of blog writing for a number of weeks.  Whenever I sat down to write anything I felt pangs of guilt for not having written for my blog.  I felt as though I was cheating those who have been reading my musings.  The problem is that I didn’t want to write anything and the few post that I have made during these weeks of absence were little more than apologies for not posting.
Not good.

But, I was thinking about something that was troubling me.  When I get into one of these “mood” projects I frequently lose myself in my thoughts and write these thoughts down in one of my notebooks.  The whole process is part of a mental movement that begins with a mental “tick.”  Something that I’ve seen, heard, or read, strikes me as odd and I find myself returning to it and thinking about it.  How long it takes me to resolve the issue to my satisfaction, or at least to a point where I want to present it to others, is not predictable.   I’ve got many notebooks, not all of them full, but into which I write my thoughts whether for something I want to write or a problem I am wrestling with.  A couple of notebooks have notes, jottings, drawings and whatever else seemed to be relevant to a problem that I first started writing about several years ago and I still think about and write on.
My blog issue hasn’t been completely resolved but it is something that I want to “bring out.”  My mental twitch is that writing a blog as “The Thinking Hunter” is somehow incomplete.  Besides hunting I am an avid angler and this spring I will be putting my boat back in the water and hopefully spending more time on nearby lakes.  Should I expand my blog from “The Thinking Hunter” to “The Thinking Angler & Hunter”?  Or, as some of my notes suggest, would writing about both angling and hunting in one blog confuse readers?  The pages of my notebook on this topic seem equally divided with thoughts that adding angling would be confusing pages of notes that explore reasons for making the change.

Now, to some readers this may seem like a trivial topic, but I believe it begs the question of whether there truly is a strong link between angling and hunting.  We know that Wayne Pacelle and his crowd, the sworn enemy of all anglers and hunters, has a life mission of ending hunting and fishing.  That alone should create a strong link between angling and hunting.
I am not sure it does.

At the SHOT Show I had the pleasure of having dinner with a small group of bloggers, mostly gun bloggers, and as I listened to them I realized the distance between the hunter and the gun enthusiast is real and often wide.  That gap is created by the number of issues between the two groups; therefore a similar gap, between hunters and anglers, exists and is equally wide. 
What troubles me, and is driving my question is that by these gaps we are allowing ourselves to become segregated by our activities rather than united by them.  By focusing my Internet musings on hunting I tend to believe that I am contributing to the problem.   There is an old truism about who’s ox is being gored and suddenly all of us in the outdoors seem to be thinking more about our personal ox, that is the ox of shooting, the ox of hunting, the ox of bowhunting, ox of shooting, ad infinitum. 

I believe that those of us who have opted to focus our work on the issues that surround our preferred outdoor activities should consider stepping back from that gap we’ve created by the “single issue” approach to the preservation of our outdoor activities and lifestyle.  The divisions between shooting, hunting, and fishing, are providing openings through which our opponents are driving wedges to weaken us.
This is not a new problem but one I’ve been aware of thought about throughout my career, but it is being exacerbated by the explosion of social media and the gaps are becoming wider. 

When I think about what I value in my outdoor activities I cannot separate my hunting from my fishing as favoring one over the other.  Nor can I separate the values I put on shooting, whether casual plinking or shooting at known distance targets, from my hunting.  I believe the outdoors is a lifestyle that runs the entire spectrum of emotions.  Casting a fly to a feeding trout in a beaver pond produces as much excitement and accomplishment as a center bull’s-eye shot from several hundred yards or finally shooting a deer that I’ve hunted for days.  In the outdoors have too much in common, too many shared emotions, too much to lose, to allow those gaps to grow and perhaps become festering wounds between us. 
Do you agree?