I truly love the holiday season, and my inner child still gets very enthused about exchanging gifts Christmas morning. I got some wonderful presents this week from friends and family, by the way: Some hunting gear, fishing equipment and several surprises too. Although a casual observer might assume I have an abundant supply of outdoor paraphernalia, those close to me always find something new, improved, or missing from my inventory, and I truly appreciate each gift.
You see, age actually does bring some modicum of wisdom, and over the last dozen or so Christmases it’s that special holiday spirit that truly warms my heart. As much as I appreciate presents, it’s the thought, effort, time, care, and affection each acquaintance willingly and happily bestows while selecting, wrapping and giving the gift that really touches me. On Thanksgiving day and again two days ago, while spending time with relatives and dear friends it occurred to me that many presents, often the most important and memorable, can’t be wrapped and placed under the tree. They are given freely from someone’s heart, mind, and soul and unlike tangi-ble items, these gifts last a lifetime. Best of all, these presents are not just for Christmas and most can be given over and over again and be just as rewarding each time for both individuals. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the most significant and caring gift anyone can offer is themselves. My Dad gave me my first shotgun and my first fly rod, and as great as these were, the outings we shared to hunt partridge and cast for brook trout mean even more to me. Year after year there was a small flat box under the decorated fir bows from my Mom. It contained a new combination hunting and fishing license, my ticket to another year in the great outdoors with her full approval. I knew she worried about me being off alone when Dad had to work, but time and again when I was in my early teens she would drop me off at a lake or stream and return a couple hours later to pick me up — wet jeans, muddy sneakers, smelly trout and all — in her clean car. She understood and always supported my outdoor ramblings.
The most precious gift one person can give another is their time. It is irreplaceable, invaluable and none of us seem to ever have enough. Nonetheless, when a sportsman shares some of those valuable hours with a son or daughter, niece, nephew or a neighborhood youngster who has no outdoor mentor, every minute becomes a golden memory. Fifty years ago hunting and fishing were just a normal part of Maine heritage and it was simple tradition to indoctrinate youngsters into these great pastimes and hobbies. With the 21st century came longer work weeks, extended commute times and more single parent families, all leading to decreased time for shar-ing woods and waters and rod and gun experiences. It’s time to prioritize, and we each have to step up and find a way to make better use of the limited time we do have.
It doesn’t have to be just kids either, and outings needn’t be about cast and blast sports. Perhaps an elderly neighbor might like to go for a backwoods ride to see fall foliage and watch for wildlife. An aged sportsman ravaged by arthritis or whose mobility is curtailed by some other affliction might like one more canoe or boat ride to enjoy woodland smells and sounds while you paddle or run the motor and they relax and remember. How about spending an hour with a friend of your father or grandfather, a favorite teacher from the past who is now in the golden years, or an acquaintance confined to assisted living or a nursing home. Share a story, let them reminisce, listen and laugh. Companionship may be the best holiday gift they receive.
Patience and attention
Part of spending time with a rookie sportsman, as well as elderly or younger outdoor companions, is your gift of vast patience and showering them with your full attention. Youngsters will need plenty of guidance and hands-on help, whether it’s baiting a hook, casting, or even selecting and getting into the right clothes for the particular venture. With older, woods-wise veterans it’s of prime importance to allow them extra time; they can still rig their own rods or stand and shoulder their scattergun for that difficult passing shot in front of the duck blind. It’s all just a bit slower than it used to be.
Kids will ask questions continuously, old sports will tend to repeat themselves and retell old tales. Be Patient, you too were once a young chatterbox, and Lord willing you’ll live long enough to repeat some of your best remembered hunting and fishing events. Remember, these special outdoor ventures aren’t about us, no matter how many fish are rising, or how well the geese are decoying. Give full attention to your sidekick’s needs and make sure they enjoy some action, then revel in their excitement, and be the best, most attentive guide you can be. Young nimrods need to have fun and experience some success or they might lose interest and give up rod and gun sports for video games. Older sports bask in the companionship and the experience, but a modicum of success never hurts, they have a lot more adventures behind them than in their future.
When outdoor opportunities are limited due to time constraints and life’s activities pulling you in every direction, it’s very difficult to give up a personal outing and award it to another. It’s even more demanding to put their needs and desires in the forefront when you love to cast and shoot so much yourself. If there’s any hope for the youngsters to develop the same, rewarding love of the outdoors you feel or for the older sportsmen to revive some of their fading feelings, your patience and attention must be given fully and freely.
Another precious present that can’t be wrapped in pretty paper is a special skill taught to a willing pupil. Maine’s weather being what it is, many activities adjunct to outdoor adventures actually can be enjoyed inside, and often prevent us from getting cabin fever. Teaching someone to tie flies, reload shells, build rods; or con-struct a canoe, snowshoes or trout nets; or carve decoys all are talents that can be passed along to other sportsmen from 5 to 95 years of age. Even when a particular fishing or hunting season is closed or weather conditions prevent direct participation, indirect enjoyment can be had with an associated hobby.
Some generous mentors even go so far as to teach groups rather than just an individual. A lot of these outdoor-oriented pastimes draw great interest and multiple participants when taught as evening classes at high schools, at town recreation centers, rod and gun clubs or local sporting goods stores. No matter if it’s two hours or two weeks of lessons, it allows sportsmen of all ages to check a hobby out firsthand and determine if it’s a pastime they want to continue learning and practicing. Most of these hobbies are very rewarding since there’s nothing like catching fish on your own fly pattern, fooling ducks into range over decoys you carved by hand or canoeing a stream with a canoe and paddle crafted with skills learned from an acquaintance or family member.
Other abilities such as teaching a lad to flycast or a lass to skeet shoot are warm weather outdoor activities, but just as important skills to share. I can pole a canoe upriver or downstream while standing thanks to the patience and instructional perseverance of my Dad’s old fishing buddy Gerald Jones. There were some harrowing moments during the learning process, but now I possess a unique skill seldom used nowadays, and I’m able to share it with others. I don’t care if your hobby is archery, wildlife painting, building duck and goose calls, cooking wild game or outdoor photography, share it with others. They in turn can do the same, ensuring certain outdoor skills and traditions are never forgotten. Knowledge is a terrible thing to waste.
When it’s time to take a novice under your wing and introduce them to a new pastime, chances are pretty good they will be lacking necessary equipment. While it’s unlikely your favorite and very expensive fishing outfit or high grade shotgun will be offered as teaching tools, if you’re an old packrat like me I’ll bet there’s a whole batch of used gear to lend. On several occasions I’ve ended up giving away one of my older fly rods or spinning rig, lines, reels and dozens of fly lures to kids who really showed an interest after just a few introductory trips. In most cases they’re as excited as if Santa showed up in person and gave them a brand new bike.
Even adults who are trying out a new sport under your tutelage will appreciate castoffs and holdover equipment such as waders, decoys, flies, ice fishing tip-ups, and every shape, size and color of clothing. I still have and use various pieces of gear from now-departed family members who shared so much of themselves with me, and when I use those items, memories and lessons learned flood back and make any outing more meaningful.
Youngsters also appreciate pre-owned equipment: An old single- shot .410 in their eyes is like a new top-of-the-line, over-and-under shotgun to an experienced bird hunter. It’s also been my experience that during initial fishing and hunting trips, youthful exuberance occasionally overpowers care and caution. Rod tips get bro-ken, reels are dropped and gun barrels and stocks get dinged. Good, used gear serves the purpose well until the rookie proves they not only deserve, but can care for newer, better cast and blast equipment. Dig around the attic, cellar or garage to see what tackle and gunning gear is stored away, often an old outdoorsman’s trash is a tenderfoot’s treasure.
Emotions and devotions
One of the most important gifts experienced outdoorsman can give to neophyte sportsmen, and sometimes the most difficult to share, is their true, innermost feelings regarding favorite pastimes. It’s crucial that burgeoning fish and game and field and stream enthusiasts establish a personal code of ethics, to this end, veteran an-glers and hunters can share their own values, ideals and convictions as well as beliefs and observations learned from experiences over years of personal outings. Don’t lecture. Simply share personal thoughts and ideas for the upcoming generations to consider and perhaps adapt for their own guidelines.
Explain that a successful trip isn’t always gauged by the amount of game caught or shot, and help them understand how important camaraderie and companionship are to total enjoyment of any wilderness or water venture. Try to explain the unique, mixed feelings of success and sadness when a sport finally outsmarts fish, fowl or big game, and expound on how great a privilege every hunter and fisher is awarded with the simple purchase of a license. Promote fair chase, safety, sportsmanship, respect for the land and animals, and try to instill an awe for nature and all things wild and wonderful in the Pine Tree State.
Some of the best and most beneficial gifts can’t be wrapped in holiday paper and ribbon and placed beneath the tree. Nor can these special presents be purchased at any price. They are special, very personal and a vital link between outdoorsmen from one generation to the next. Give of yourself and the reward will become a ripple effect from year to year, person to person and place to place throughout the outdoor community. Wishing you a happy, healthy, helping New Year.