“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.

Snagged

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Fishing was never easy for me. I found it boring and stressful, as a child. The idea of touching worms and fish grossed me out. In fact, one of my earliest childhood photographs depicts my (much younger) father tormenting his bawling son with a freshly caught perch and a devilish smile across his face. Mom offered a comic book bounty for the biggest fish caught just to get me to participate.

Dad loved to fish. It was his release. Taking us fishing – not so much. We snagged more than we fished and the old man spent more time untangling our messes than fishing. When he wasn’t fixing snags, he was griping about fixing snags. No one could gripe like my old man – not even the rookie version. He had an aptitude for it and is a veteran now that he’s in his 60s.

We were terrified of him. He was never violent but could be terrifying nonetheless. We hated coming clean on wrongdoings and there was nothing more egregious than a snagged fishing line on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It was understood amongst us boys that you kept your mouth shut and rod straight should you find yourself in the salad. We would sit there, lines tight, until the wary eye of the seasoned angler happened to glance our way. He always knew. He ignored us sometimes but he knew. Mom was there to point it out whenever that happened. He would’ve ignored her too, had it been possible. She had a way of being heard when she wanted to be.

“Steve?”

Silence.

“Steve?”

Silence.

“Steve!”

“Whaaaaaaaat?!”

“I think your son has a snag.”

“Ahhh for crying out loud! Which one?”

“All of them.”

The results were always the same. You could hear his heart racing and synapses snapping up-and-down the Cheboygan River. He’d throw a fit, reel in his line, and mutter his way down the bank – arms flailing for maximum effect. He would then spend the next 10 minutes trying to free the line. If that didn’t work, he would break off and spend another 15 retying and baiting. Then there was the state of our reels, which was usually abysmal post catastrophe. That would add another 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the nest we’d constructed by not owning up to the mistake. By the time the old man had one of us straightened out, another would get fouled up. It was a never-ending cycle of comedy and despair. To fully grasp my father’s frustration, you’d have to have lived it yourself or attempted to change consecutive flats on a busy highway with temps well into the 90s. He must have been out of his mind to have subjected himself to that level of anxiety. But that is what good parents do – and I had great ones.

These memories have always made me smile. Now a right hand filled with river-kissed cork makes me grateful. I am a fisherman. It took me 20 years to get here, but I am here nonetheless. Dad knew what he was doing. He understood the bond-building elements of outdoor activity and how important planting the seed was.

Now its my turn.

My daughter Aubrey in her first pair of waders.

If you enjoyed this post, please check out our latest Traditional Outdoors episode with Glen Blackwood of the Great Lakes Fly Fishing Company. Glen is a life long trout enthusiast and his passion for the sport is infectious. We also talk about taking kid’s fishing and share a fantastic online resource for doing so.