The Importance of Spending Time with the Right People in the Outdoors

At the beginning of the year, I had the worst hiking partner I’ve ever had. We only went on three hikes together and he ended up disliking me as much as I disliked him.  We had a ton of things in common such as our faith, marriage, we were both recent transplants to Colorado, roots in the South (albeit different parts, but he lived in the area my family is from which is how I knew him) and our love for hiking.  However, his topics of conversation focused strictly on our differences and he brought a lot of negativity, anger and hatred to the trail.  He also sought out different things from our experiences.

Different strokes for different folks are fine, but I’m not the kind of guy who wants to hike up a mountain just to get a good look at the city.  I also like to use the wilderness as a way to heal my heart from the frustrations and conflict of daily life.  I think wilderness has the power to bring us together, but this dude just wanted to fight all the time.  Like a lot of people today, he didn’t want to hear an alternative opinion, he wanted to hear his opinion communicated back to him.  

If you ask hunters, most will tell you that spending time with family or friends is one of the best things about hunting.  I imagine hikers, climbers and others would say the same thing. Taking on an adventure with someone is a wonderful experience, not just in the time together, but also in needing to work as a team to accomplish your goals.  It could be as simple as one person carrying the tent and the other person carrying the food on a backpacking trip, or it could be roping up and helping each other cross a river or fast-moving creek.  No matter how easy or difficult the task, working together for a common cause creates a solid bond between people.  

It’s a fine line to walk between inviting new people into the woods with you and also hedging your bets so that you get the experience you want to have.  A lot of folks will not take a new person hunting for risk of having a bad experience.  One person can ruin an entire trip through any number of different methods.  I definitely understand why someone would not take a stranger on a long hunt, but you can always try people out on small game hunts or bird hunts.  I invite pretty much everyone I know to hunt small game with me.  The more the merrier I say, but I admit, when it comes to a long, big game hunt, I only want to be around people I already have a relationship with, who I believe I can get along with for an extended period of time and know that I can trust them with my life.

The R3 community is focused on growing hunting and two of the three R’s involve inviting new people outdoors (Recruitment, Retention, Reactivation) so it’s of utmost importance we invite new people to go hunting or fishing with us.  I feel the same way about doing this as I do launching any other collective project – it’s important to set expectations and prepare the people ahead of time.  An easy way to do this is simply to let people tag along the first time.  On a small game or bird hunt it’s simple because you’re most likely going home every night.  They’re simply walking through the woods with you or hanging out in a blind. Also, many states have programs where you can go hunting one time before you have to take Hunters Education.  It’s a way to “try before you buy”.  If you live out east, you can also take someone out for the day deer hunting as many folks go home every night there too.

After a day or two in the woods together, both you and the new person will have an idea of whether or not this is going to work for the two of you.  If you have a great time, try something bigger, but if you don’t?  It’s okay. You tried.  Maybe that person just doesn’t want to hunt or maybe the chemistry just isn’t there for the two of you, but hopefully they’ll have a better understanding of hunting and will be pro-hunting in the future.

Keep your traditions and continue to hunt and fish with your loved ones, but don’t be afraid to add some fresh blood.  Just make sure you set expectations before you do and everyone should have a good time.  And who knows?  Maybe you’ll be responsible for someone new starting their own traditions with their friends and family.

Fathers in the Field

Somewhere around my mid-twenties, I started thinking about volunteering with Big Brothers and Big Sisters (BBBS).  I am not sure why I didn’t do it then, perhaps I was afraid, perhaps it was because we were still fairly nomadic or perhaps it was because I knew I wasn’t ready yet.  No matter the reason, by the time I hit my mid-thirties, I wanted to do it.  I went through the lengthy process to become a “Big” and the good folks at Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Los Angeles matched me up with A.J. and we’ve been friends ever since.  The two years we had together were one of the best things I’ve ever done and even though I moved away, we’re still in touch and I will always be a friend to him.

As great as I think BBBS is, I found it limiting in some ways and also, there wasn’t great support.  I had some really great Match Support Specialists in our two years, but I had a couple crappy ones as well, fortunately A.J. and I connected and his mom was awesome in that she was supportive, helped when I needed it but otherwise left us to our own devices.  I also wasn’t sure I wanted to mentor another kid because I still wanted to be in A.J.’s life, even if one thousand miles away.

All that having been said, I will never stop believing that fathers are important and I will never stop fighting against this cultural attack on men and fatherhood.  As a society, we are focused on raising strong girls, which I not only support but am doing every single day (even if our more traditional values are at odds with society’s), but boys are getting left behind by being told they aren’t important, or that they’re “toxic” and that they don’t need a dad nor do they need to be one.  So, several months ago, I signed up with a wonderful program administered through our church called, Fathers in the Field.

Fathers in the Field is a faith-based mentoring program for fatherless boys and is much more intense than BBBS.  This is intentional.  BBBS required two contacts a month for a few hours at a time.  Fathers in the Field requires weekly contacts and requires two of those contacts be trips to church and one being a service project, preferably for an elderly woman (it has to be helping people, it can’t be highway cleanup). Unlike BBBS, these boys are not allowed in the program if they have a man in their life, meaning if their mom has a live-in boyfriend, they’re not allowed in the program.  While not all of these men are going to mentor the boy, the idea is that they should and the program doesn’t want to stand in the way of that.  

I’ve written about nature as a healer and I’ve written about the fact that while the outdoors is not a “male” space, it can be a great avenue for male bonding nonetheless.  There’s a lot of real-life knowledge that be gained from the outdoors, for both boys and girls, but the outdoors also provides opportunities for certain life lessons that boys need to receive from other men.  Fatherless boys are also in need of healing and sometimes being able to get away from other people and all the trappings of civilization allows those things to be brought to the surface so that they can let God into their hearts to heal them.  

This morning, after church, I’m going to meet my Field Buddy.  While this is a meet and greet and both he and I (and his mom) have the right to veto the pairing at this point, this is usually nothing more than a formality.  All I know is his name is Robert and he is 14.  I’m nervous, I don’t know anything about what this kid has been through, but I’m excited because I’m looking forward to being able to take this kid to the gun range, on hikes, fishing, small game hunting and eventually, big game hunting. I also know, for all my faults, I have a lot to give to a kid who doesn’t have anyone else to receive it from.

Wish me luck, and if you’re so inclined, say a prayer for us.  

 

Fathers in the Field is a nationwide program, if you’re interested in getting involved, please contact your church and/or the national Fathers in the Field office at www.fathersinthefield.com

Trailhead Diplomacy in the Age of Divisiveness

I’m not sure who came up with it first, but I first heard of “Trailhead Diplomacy” on a MeatEater podcast.  The idea is that hunters should engage in a kind and civil conversation with other folks we see out in the woods, be it hikers, photographers or any other non-consumptive user.  Anyone, in my opinion, of sane mind should support this idea but it brings up two questions for me.  First of all, in the best-case scenario, what does this look like?  And two, in 2018, is it even possible?

I think it’s possible.  Maybe. If we’re willing to do the work.  

If you’re thinking about online, then no, it’s absolutely not possible. Any post by the Department of the Interior or other government agency regarding the outdoors, even if it’s announcing something good, is met with vitriol and hate for Sec. Zinke and President Trump.  Even if it’s something as mundane as celebrating Public Lands Day, which neither of those men have anything directly to do with (this example I saw but a few minutes ago).  People hole up in their echo chambers online and talk much tougher than they would in real life.  I’m not saying don’t keep fighting the good fight online, but you’re gonna have to get off your ass and do it face to face because, in person, I know it’s possible. 

If it’s possible to go from vegan to hunter, then anything is possible. From Field to Plate recently posted they took a vegan hunting and Tovar Cerulli is another great example of a vegan turned hunter.  I have to admit that these cases are outliers and trying to go about converting vegans is probably not the best use of our time or sanity.  

So, this begs the first question, what does this look like?  In 2018, we often don’t engage any strangers, let alone when we’re carrying firearms in the woods.  A lot of us, myself included, like to talk to as few people as possible when we get out into the mountains.  Are we actually going to do this at the trailhead?  

I think we have to do this whenever the opportunity presents itself, whether it’s at the trailhead, the bar, church or your local PTA meeting. Any chance you have to engage someone in speaking about the outdoors, do it.  Most non-consumptive users are still omnivores and can still be won over but it might take a little time and effort.  We just have to reach them on a common level and this is probably the biggest struggle hunters have had historically in communicating our passion. As Brad Luttrell of the Restless Native podcast is fond of saying, these people don’t understand legacy or heritage, you have to give them something they understand.  

There’s two excellent ways to reach these folks: through their hearts and through their bellies.  

Reaching folks through their hearts can be difficult, but it’s what I’m trying to do here at Mountain Climer.  Folks have to have open minds and open hearts in order to be reached. They have to be seeking a spiritual connection to the land and to their ancestors.  They have to be interested not in the American legacy that Brad is talking about, but their human legacy as a hunter.  They have to know that most of the things in our culture don’t fill their God-shaped hole. These people, when reached however, are the ones who have turned around and asked me to take them hunting.  These people will then turn around and be ambassadors themselves.  Once these people connect on this level, there’s no turning back for them.  I know, because I am one of them.

Food, on the other hand, is the much more accessible route.  I see this every day in my work in the restaurant business selling wine.  People want all those buzzwords I talked about before: local, organic, free-range, hormone free, etc.  More than that, people want to know where their food came from and they’re taking great strides to get involved in the process themselves by gardening, learning to butcher and seeking out co-ops where they can buy food directly from local farmers.  These people may or may not decide they want to hunt for themselves, but they will respect hunting and support it because they now understand it and appreciate our connection to the land and our food.  

However you decide to do it, just be yourself and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone new.  If you speak from the heart and share your stories, you will connect with people, even in this age of divisiveness.  

Start 'em Young

Yesterday we took our daughter fishing for the first time.  It was a little bit of a mess but was still very much a success.  A lot of the frustration came from the inaccuracy of the Colorado Parks & Wildlife fishing app – neither of the first two spots I chose worked out.  The first was impossible to find and the second spot didn’t have any fish in the lake.  However, thanks to the kindness of a volunteer in Rocky Mountain National Park, we found someplace to go later in the afternoon.

Before we go any further, I should say again, I did not grow up fishing or hunting.  I’ve spent a lot of time educating myself on hunting, but I haven’t fished since I was twelve, and can probably count on my fingers how many times I’ve fished in my whole life.  I barely know what I am doing.  However, I’ve done a little research on trout and I bought some gear designed for fishing for trout with bait (I do aspire to learn to fly fish) and I got my little one set up on her Paw Patrol rod and reel I got her for Christmas last year.  

Initially I cast for her and taught her to be patient, watch the bobber and keep the line tight.  She, much like me at her age (and for most of my life), wasn’t very patient and kept reeling it in.  I spent some time teaching her to cast, and as expected, she struggled at first. After a little frustration, a few tears and a pep talk, she finally settled in to learn how to do it and within a few minutes, she was throwing the line pretty well, if not consistently. One of the things I told her was frustration is a part of fishing and hunting and they both required patience and perseverance to overcome it.  

So, at this point, she pretty much knows everything I know about fishing. 

The burden is now on me and my wife to learn more about fishing and to take her as often as possible.  I know it’s not rocket science, but it’s also not easy.  Neither of us had a fishing or hunting mentor to teach us how to do these things and now we have to mentor our daughter.  I have a lot of faith in my ability as a small game hunter, I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve had a fair amount of experience in this area in my adult years.  I also have faith in my ability to hunt big game in spite of my lack of experience because of my intellectual pursuit of hunting and my time with my rifle. Again, I’m no expert, but I believe in my ability to figure it out and bring home some meat.  These things I’ll be able to teach her as she gets older and by the time she’s ready for hunter’s education, I’ll have about four years or so behind me chasing elk, pronghorn and bear and I should be able to stay one step ahead of her for a while, but fishing?  She may pass me by before her sixth birthday.

I’m doing what I can not only for myself and my own love of hunting and fishing, but for the next generation.  But for every kid who doesn’t learn to hunt and who has the desire to hunt, like I did, it’s an uphill battle as an adult.  We have to start ‘em young.  We don’t have any other choice.

The Future of the Outdoors on Social Media is Now

I am a lot of things, mainly a father, husband, friend, hunter, conservationist and I’d like to believe, a thinker.  One thing I am not, however, is a media expert.  I know some media experts and I’ve learned a thing or two from them, but I think the thing that matters when it comes to the future of media and social media is human behavior, which I do know a little bit about, and I believe the technical aspects will follow human behavior.  

We used to live in a world where we could hold our beliefs fairly privately, go to the voting booth and not tell people who we voted for.  That same world allowed us to learn from our mistakes without, for the most part, screwing up our entire life or reputation. Unfortunately, those days are gone and they’re not coming back.  

Examples of this are in our newsfeed every single day.  Sometimes, the crime is egregious, such as Michael Richards being recorded saying a word he shouldn’t have used.  I understand why people were upset at that, however, earlier this week, a professional baseball player was questioned about a five-year-old social media post in which he supported the 2nd amendment. He had to give the obligatory, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” but refused to back down from his support of the Constitution.  

Those of us involved in hunting, or most of us anyhow, are always involved in two hot button issues: guns and hunting.  

The world is now such that if you were to go apply for a job, you could be denied because there’s a photo of you teaching your child how to safely shoot a gun on your Facebook page.  All that needs to happen is there to be someone in Human Resources who is anti-gun or a vegan.  It’s not fair and it’s not right, but that’s the world we now live in.  Some of us, we choose to be outspoken about our rights, our passions and we’re not afraid of the consequences.  I honor and respect that choice and it’s a choice I’ve made myself. I applied for a ton of jobs in the time we’ve lived in Colorado and didn’t even get a phone call for about a dozen that I was perfectly suited for.  Is it because of my social media presence?  I can’t say for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in at least a few cases.  

Another recent issue is social media censoring or banning conservative content.  I keep hearing conservatives say, “Why won’t a billionaire conservative step up and create a platform that honors free speech?”.  It’s a good question, it really is.  The good news for outdoors enthusiasts is that some non-billionaires have stepped up to the plate and created a platform for us, it’s called GoWild. 

GoWild is more than just guns, hunting and fishing.  It encourages you to share your gardening, hiking, ATVing and other experiences as well.  They want to see you and your kids outside.  It’s also a place where you can share without worrying about hate mail and threats from those who disagree with you.  If someone is not into hunting, the way the app works, they’ll probably not see your picture unless they’re following you.  If you don’t like a picture you see, you scroll right past it. However, if you see something you don’t agree with, the folks at GoWild encourage its users to talk about it in the comments.  Maybe it’s a new hunter or a young kid and no one told them what they’re doing isn’t ethical. Instead of having them banned or saying nasty things to them, we (the users) encourage them to think about what they’re doing and to make better decisions in the future.  They’re trying to keep some of the old school mentality of using mistakes as an opportunity to grow and be mentored rather than an opportunity to shame the person.  

One of the cooler things about the app is the ability to connect with folks outside your core group.  While most of us hunters prepare for hunting season all year long, the things we do also overlap into other hobbies.  We backpack, canoe, target shoot, train our bodies, and just generally love being outdoors. We also appreciate the responsibility of producing our own food and often have gardens.  These other activities, the way the app is built, allow us find common ground with other folks who might not be hunters.  This is of the utmost importance, because as I and many others have written, we’re about 5% of the population and both hunters and animal rights activists are small minorities fighting for the approval of the vast majority.  

So, the question is, are you going to focus your social media energy on apps owned by California urbanites who are trying to control what you see and hear so that it fits their agenda or are you going to engage with others in the outdoor community in a way that grants you the freedom to share what you choose to share?  I’m not saying you should leave Facebook or Instagram, those are still great places to be connected to people personally and professionally and share parts of your life, I’m simply asking if you want to be a part of the solution to the attacks on our lifestyle and be a part of growing the next generation of conservationists?  

We might be waiting for a long time for a place of political free speech on social media, but for a place where you can share your grip ‘n grins without fear of death threats on your family, the future is now.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am in no way professionally involved in GoWild other than as a user.  I do know a couple folks from the company and they are based in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky so I would be a big supporter of them even if they had a knitting app because I’m always supportive of good people doing good things.  However, my passion for their product and the community it fosters is legitimate and I encourage anyone reading this to go to Apple, Google or wherever you download apps and give it a try and I also recommend checking out their podcast, Restless Native. 

This Is Who We Are

A short message to my fellow hunters…

I got my first anti-meat hate on Instagram the other day.  Ironically, it was from someone I met once when she was brought to my house for Christmas Eve dinner.  At this dinner, she ate fish, so apparently “taking innocent lives” and being “disgusting” only applies to the things she chooses not to eat, not to living creatures of the sea.  When I went to respond to her comments, they disappeared because she had blocked me.  This is fine and I do not plan to respond to every piece of hate I get from animal rights activists.  People who are willing to engage in conversation with those of differing opinions do not open those conversations with hate and threats of violence.  Ninety-seven percent of people eat meat and the hateful folks are (I believe) a minority of that three percent.  There’s absolutely no need to engage with anyone who shows you right off the bat they are not interested in a conversation.

Hunters have a responsibility to know the facts.  “We’ve always hunted” is not a good argument nor is “my licenses pay for conservation”.  We have to know more and we have to do more.  We’ve been the stewards of wildlife for a long time but we cannot rest on our laurels.  We have to continue to be leaders and understand the complex and nuanced ecosystems we live in and hunt in.  

When non-hunters see us, they see hunting as something we do.  They think, “Why can’t you just get your meat at a supermarket like a normal person?”. The reality is, it’s not what we do, hunting is who we are.  We feel a connection to nature that others don’t feel.  Some non-consumptive users will say they’re connected to nature as well, and maybe some are, but most non-consumptive users see themselves as tourists in the wild.  They’re visiting.  Hunters know we are more than that, we are a part of the environment, just like our fellow predators, just like our prey and just like all the other pieces of our ecosystem.  We are not separate, we are not visitors, we are home.

I’m proud to call myself a hunter.  I will never back down from that.  While there are exceptions, hunters are incredibly well versed with land management and wildlife biology issues and we have an excellent understanding of all the legal components of our lifestyle.  We’re as knowledgeable on the things we do as anyone else is on their passions, if not more so.  However, there’s still more work to do.  Volunteer with a conservation group, take someone new hunting and fishing every chance you get, reach out to those who express an interest and let go of the “I don’t want to show anyone my spot” mentality.  In fact, when you take them to your spot, you teach them, “Hey, hunters don’t swipe another hunter’s spot”.  Teach them ethics as well as how to field dress an animal.

We have a great message and I think we do a pretty good job of telling the story but we live in a world where people no longer want to listen.  It’s time we show them who we are.  There will always be those who will hate and who will ignore good science in the name of ideology and false moral supremacy, but there will be a lot of people watching. Let’s show ‘em who we are.  The future of hunting depends on it.