Let’s do better.

The introduction of Facebook happened late in my college career. My alma mater actually encouraged it as a way to connect with other students. By the third week of use it was apparent this wasn’t just another online messaging system like AIM or ICQ. It was a social revolution in the form of a powerful and convenient platform with incredible potential.

The ability to connect with people without geographic limitations wasn’t a new concept. I was already using message boards with direct message capability. That was all the online networking I needed. If I was interested in something, I would seek out the top message board and sign up. I did that a lot and probably have a plethora of old accounts on boards relating to anything from paintball to blues guitar.

Whether or not this period of time was a bright or dark spot in our digital communication history is debatable. For me, the connection was great. I’ve always been a passionate hobbyist. I would seek out and surround myself with content pertaining to whatever it was that held my attention at the time. Message boards were the perfect way to do that. They were an endless source of helpful tidbits, experience sharing, and fresh conversation.

Plus, they had the appeal of anonymity. You were whatever you said you were. Perception was reality. Making a connection with someone required trust. The deepness of the connection depending on the level of trust invested. And even if you invested very little trust, it didn’t matter, you probably weren’t meeting that person in real life anyway. And that was okay. It was a relationship built on fantasy to begin with. As long as both parties were getting what they wanted out of the relationship, it was all good.

The problem with all of this is that fantasy seldom leads to satisfaction. People want other people to be real. They want their connections with other people to be real. No one wants to hear what they feel for someone is fake. Fake seldom ever has a positive connotation. This is the danger of anonymity and it didn’t start with message boards.

I used to chat in chat rooms. This may make some of you laugh but modern day social platforms like Discord and Slack aren’t any different. You can be more selective with these engines but the concept is still the same. You find and join or are invited to a server, you start sharing opinions and experiences, and you eventually connect with people who seem to be like you. You build trust in time and will eventually want to meet that person.

Enter the identity age. Avatars and handles have now been relegated to gaming, where anonymity is still favored (unless you are a content creator and stream). Our lives are out there otherwise. We still show the self we wish to show but not to the degree we would have in the age of anonymity. One would assume this blending of real self and online self would be a good thing, and it is to some extent, but it’s had unforeseen consequences in online social communities. The most dangerous — a lack of consequence.

People soon realized they could be themselves and treat other people like garbage as long as they operated within the rules of the social platform they are on and whatever social group they are in. This particular type of person can act however they want with little consequence, operating under the assumption the people they prey on know little about them and will probably never meet them in real life. And since most people clear their social feeds of anyone that thinks differently than they do, they are supported in their opinions. Their behavior is rewarded, they are filled with a false sense of purpose, and it leaks into their daily lives.

In other words, a toxic person online is now a toxic person in reality, emboldened by an inflated ego and a few Likes. And if they are called out or confronted for treating people poorly, they error on the side of “well I didn’t mean it that way” or “you misunderstood my tone”. If this is you, you’re doing it wrong.

Online hunting and fishing communities are filled with these people, which is ironic to me because these communities are comprised of smaller, regional, or even local communities where the odds of physically meeting someone you’ve attacked or irritated online is quite high. It is inevitable in the traditional communities unless you never leave your house. And some clearly don’t.

We haven’t handled the online mashup well as a species. We have the ability to connect with other people anywhere in the world at any time and we spend it spewing opinions into the aether in search of virtual justification and a temporary dopamine high.

It’s time to be better. It’s time to practice what we preach. It’s time to be the person we say we are. It’s time to take the Golden Rule out of its box, polish it, and put it back on the desk where we can’t ignore it. It’s time to take ourselves less seriously and laugh more often. It’s time to reconnect with what’s important — each other.

Let’s make 2022 less embarrassing than 2021.

“Hunt the Experience”

“The beginning is often a poor place to start the story of a duck hunt. The true devotee of the wind-swept autumn waters hunts many other things besides ducks. He hunts the unfolding secrets of the dawn and the message of the wind. He hunts the curling waves and the tossing tops of suppliant trees. He hunts the poignant loneliness of a tender, departing season and the boisterous advent of one more rigorous. All these he hunts and, old or young, he finds them as they were before—primordial, healing, and soothing to mankind in his whirling world of complexities.”

-Gordon MacQuarrie, “A Pot-Hole Rendezvous”

I hunt experiences. I’ve been very honest when asked. I hunt and fish to write and would’ve starved long ago if my life depended on it. I would do everything quite differently if forced to do so for sustenance.

A foolhardy squirrel hunting adventure recently added weight to these words. It involved a church charity contest pitting at least twenty firearm-wielding, small-game hunters with beagles against four idiots and their longbows. It didn’t end well for the idiots. It never has. We’ve yet to make a single harvest in several years of participation. We get up early, we fling arrows into the trees until we get hungry, then head back to the church for coffee and desserts while everyone else is weighing in. It’s been a riot. We wouldn’t change the laughs for all the squirrel cacciatore in the world.

It was during this hunt that my friend Cary, one of the aforementioned idiots, muttered something that really spun my wheels. We’d just whistled several shafts across the tail of a terrified black squirrel, when he muttered something about a gun. “Sometimes I do it for the feeling. Sometimes I do it for the groceries. When I’m doing it for the groceries, look out, it gets ugly.” I understood what he meant. I’d felt the same chasing turkeys on several occasions. There is nothing wrong with ugly. There is a time and place for ugly and there is a time and place for elegant. Both of them get the job done but the tools, processes, and frame of mind vary greatly.

Whichever you strive for depends on your goal — a successful harvest notwithstanding. That part is obvious. No one is fishing with empty lines or hunting with empty bowstrings. MacQuarrie wasn’t pumping an empty 12-gauge. His gun was loaded and ducks were shot, but that was only part of his experience — a small one at that. This was the running theme of his entire catalog of works and why I hold them close to my chest. In fact, I’ll be very sad if the friend from whom I borrowed them realizes they are missing.

I prefer classic outdoor literature to anything written today. The world was slower and it was a more romantic time. The pursuit was paramount — no matter the weapon or animal — and the results were always secondary. Hemingway took plenty of game in Green Hills of Africa but the results pale in comparison to detailed passages like this:

“To go down and up two hands-and-knee climbing ravines and then out into the moonlight and the long, too-steep shoulder of mountain that you climbed one foot up to the other, one foot after the other, one stride at a time, leaning forward against the grade and the altitude, dead tired and gun weary, single file in the moonlight across the slope, on up and to the top where it was easy, the country spread in the moonlight, then up and down and on, through the small hills, tired but now in sight of the fires…”

-Ernest Hemingway, “Green Hills of Africa”

He didn’t have the storytelling tools we have at our disposal today. He had to invest time and words to set the mood and make the mundane elements interesting. That is where the real art was made. Writers like Hemingway and MacQuarrie excelled at keeping the romance alive when sharing their experiences. They understood that every outdoor adventure had a predictable beginning and end, and focused on the poetry in the middle. Their audience was less distracted, in addition, and had more time to read and appreciate what they were reading. That isn’t the case, today. The world is too noisy.

Storytelling is different now. The audience is different now. People live post-to-post, sharing the bulk of their lives with the masses. Hunters can shoot a deer, post a photo or video, and summarize the story in very few words. Most have nothing to show if there isn’t an animal on the ground or a fish in their hands. The average sportsmen doesn’t want to read a paragraph about returning to camp or watch a fishing video without a monster trout on the line. There is too much content available to appreciate what is being seen. We are over-saturated.

Think about the last time you had a lackluster day afield and thought “well…nothing worth posting about happened this trip”. I have. And I can guarantee many of you have as well.

Chew on that a moment, think about how insane it is, then remember these words:

“It may not have been post-worthy but it was absolutely worthwhile.”

My friend and podcasting partner Steve (Angell) called me to chat awhile back. He told me he wanted to start using the phrase “hunt the experience” for Traditional Outdoors. I loved it. I thought it fit the show and was a fantastic message to send. We started using it the next day and its been our creed ever since. Steve even made a video about it. He’s proud of it and I am proud of him for making it.

Check it out. I think you’ll enjoy it. It says everything it needs to say without saying anything at all.

You can watch the Hunt the Experience video here. If you haven’t, please check out our podcast and consider subscribing. We would love to have you at our campfire. If you are interested in Gordon MacQuarrie, I highly recommend you start here. It is a fantastic read. Follow it up with the Ol’ Duck Hunter trilogy if you enjoy it. It changed my life. Feel free to reach out to me on Facebook if you want to talk outdoor literature and have recommendations. I can’t get enough of it and can give your recommendations, as well.