Snow cover makes for an easy portage when hauling a guideboat into the ponds, early in the season.
As has been my custom in recent years, I spent the third Saturday of March at the Adirondack Sportsmans Dinner in Schroon Lake. The annual gathering, which is hosted annually by a group of local ministries, continues to draw a diverse group of sportsmen and women, and similar outdoor travelers from all walks of life.
Despite an initial impression that I had stumbled upon a redneck reunion, I soon realized the attendees spanned the spectrum of North Country folks ranging from loggers and carpenters to school teachers and physicians. A similarly eclectic mix could likely be found sharing similar stories in any local bar room, ball field, firehouse or at the local church following a Sunday service.
As the guests began to pile out of their old, rusted pickup trucks and similarly battered, 4WD vehicles, it was obvious that camo caps were the most common fashion accessory, while blue jeans with the faded circle of a ‘chew can’ on the back pocket ran a close second.
Their vehicles soon filled the parking lots, and it was obvious they all shared a common thread. I began reading bumper stickers, and it was apparent a sea of Red had flooded into a Blue state. God, guns and strong beliefs about both the NRA and the APA, were the most common theme.
They were friends and neighbors from across the North Country, and even though most of them had never met before, they shared backgrounds and participated in similar pursuits. They followed the same traditions; whether man, woman or child, and they were united by the shared commonality of enjoying an outdoor life. By the day’s end, many memories were made and friendships renewed. I’m glad I was invited, it sure was a nice segue to spring.
After sharing the day with a group of old friends that I hadn’t even met yet, I traveled further down the Northway to attend the annual rendezvous of the NYS Outdoor Guides Association.
The rendezvous provides an opportunity for prospective guides to take the NYSDEC guides license exam, and it also provides further opportunities for training and certification for member guides.
Like the old trapper’s Rendezvous of the Rockies, the current day gatherings provide member guides with the opportunity to share the company of like-minded professionals, and to compare notes, tips and tall tales. As usual, there were more tall tales than truths, and plenty of laughs.
However, I was also involved in a more serious discussion concerning a response I had sent to a request the association had received for a guide. Earlier in the year, a gentleman had sent a request to members of the association seeking the services of a licensed guide to assist him in achieving the goal of becoming an Adirondack ’46er.
Although he had already climbed several of the high peaks, he wanted to hire a guide to help him tackle some of the more remote peaks which require a base camp. His request described a desire to find a competent, experienced guide to help him achieve his goal. I had considered responding to his request, until I discovered the caveat he had included, which read simply, “and please, no hunters.”
I reread his request, which was pretty simply and straight forward. Hunters need not reply. He wanted a competent woodsman, or woman to accompany him up and down the High Peaks. But, if the competent guide also happened to be a hunter, then he was for some reason, no longer safe or competent company.
It was the first time I had experienced discrimination based exclusively on my choice of recreational activities. It didn’t sting, but it was an insult to all fellow hunters. It wasn’t a matter of race, or creed, or religion, or any other persuasion. I was unqualified simply because I hunted. Needless to say, I responded to the request in rather firm terms, and I asked fellow members to consider the obvious discrimination.
I also questioned the board if the association would be willing to accept an equally discriminatory request for a guide who was not gay, disabled, Irish, blind or blond. They had to consider the situation from a different frame of mind. Should a potential customer be allowed to dictate the particular lifestyle pursuits of a potential guide, which are irrelevant to the individual‘s skills in the woods?
To the gentleman’s credit, he realized the serious issues that were raised due to the nature of his request. In addition, he had the intestinal fortitude to contact me directly to discuss the matter, which proved to be an eye opening experience for both of us.
National survey of hunters and anglers
My limited experience with discrimination, prompted me to consider whether anglers and hunters should be considered ‘minorities.
According to a recent National Survey, outdoorsmen and women tend to be Republican and conservative voters, who view conservation as important as gun rights. They express support and concern about a number of conservation issues including access to public lands, global warming solutions, clean water protections and protecting our children’s future.
Although more than 75 percent of the nation’s population supports hunting, less than 7 percent of the population actually gets out in the field. The hunting population is heavily male (89 percent), white (only 6 percent of hunters declared themselves nonwhite) and educated, with 53 percent having attended college.
A recent US Fish and Wildlife Service survey, which is conducted every five years indicates the number of hunters and anglers age 16 and older rose from 33.9 million in 2006 to 37.4 million in 2011. Nationally, 33.1 million people fished while 13.7 million hunted. The national survey reaffirms that hunters and anglers are still a small portion of the overall population, about 6 percent nationally, about 38 million Americans hunt and fish annually.
According to the most recent survey, hunting is most popular among those aged 45 to 54 (3.1 million), closely followed by the next age group, 55-64 (2.8 million). Together, those two groups make up 43 percent of the U.S. hunting population. The heavy representation of older men does not bode well for hunting’s future. Hunters and anglers favor restoring Clean Water Act protections to wetlands and waterways in order to protect our health and important fish and wildlife habitat.
They also agree that children are not spending enough time outdoors. Which creates a problem and a threat to wildlife conservation in America. Unfortunately, more than two out of three sportsmen now live in metropolitan areas, where their children grow up less familiar with firearms, or fishing poles, and far removed from daily contact with field and stream. As a result, they are often uncomfortable with the pursuit of game as sport.
According to the survey, 47 percent believe that gun rights are important, but conservation is just as important. Another 37 percent believe that gun rights are the most important issue facing sportsmen, while 13 percent believe that gun rights are not as important as conservation issues.
Hunters and anglers want public lands protected and they want access to public lands that to date have been inaccessible and they want the government to take their needs and desires into account when issuing oil and gas leases. Outdoor recreation in this country contributes $730 billion a year to the U.S. economy.
These hunters and anglers believe global warming is occurring and believe we have a moral responsibility to confront global warming to protect our children’s future. They also believe that global warming is a cause of the recent hot temperatures we have experienced.
From the point of safety, it is important to note firearms are involved in less than 1 percent of all accidental fatalities. More Americans are killed in accidents involving vending machines than guns.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.