Who knows what sparks interest in outdoor activities

Alan Charles
Friday, September 27, 2019
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I woke this morning to a chorus of coyotes serenading the stars about an hour before sunrise. The crescent moon cast enough light for me to see a mule deer doe and her two fawns feeding in the meadow below me. Behind me, an owl hooted from its perch in a pine tree, and turkeys yelped and clucked softly on their roost down the draw.

As I lay there absorbing the sensations of another dawn on the eastern Montana prairie, I thought about many of the people I know who are passionately engaged in the outdoors. Some of them are youngsters just getting started, while others have many seasons under their belt, and some are nearing the end of their times afield.

What is it, I wondered, that gets a person hooked on these outdoor activities? Of course, there is no simple answer, no formula for what is often referred to as “recruitment and retention” of hunters, anglers, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

Certainly, it is important for people to have a chance to try things, so we see a variety of efforts to promote more opportunity by reducing barriers like license cost and age restrictions, holding special seasons for different groups of users, and really advertising and promoting these activities through social and standard media.

Yet, there really is no “silver bullet,” no magic way to ignite the flame of passion that burns in those people whose lives revolve around their days afield, who survive the day-to-day routines of work and life by dreaming of the too-fewmoments they might get to spend in a high country elk camp, or cast flies for trout on a bustling little mountain stream, or sit in the duck blind with their retriever waiting for mallards to decoy.

I don’t know the answer, even for myself, as to why I found the outdoors world so interesting and fulfilling. While my father took me hunting and fishing when I was a little boy, by the time I was old enough to carry a gun, our family was broken and my father gone. I had no uncles, grandparents, or adult mentors to help me.

I simply went to the fields, every chance I got, sometimes carrying a fishing rod or a gun, sometimes just carrying binoculars and my old Kodak box camera. I read outdoor books, and tried to learn all I could from anyone I encountered. As I developed different skills, I discovered that there is always more to learn and more to discover. Indeed, at least for me, the outdoors became a neverending world of discovery that still fascinates me to this day.

For every person, the journey is different. While there may be more opportunities now than ever before for people to experience some type of outdoor activity, there is also, seemingly, less time for many to “get away” from the daily grind of school, extra-curricular activities, responsibilities of family and work, and all the other realities and pressures of life.

So, it is, that we each take whatever time afield we can get. In some cases, we share those times vicariously, as when my friend, Monty, told me about how the elk came down around the camp on the lakeshore under the full moon last week, and how it was difficult to sleep with all that splashing going on. We look at the pictures, like the one of the big ram a friend just took to the taxidermist. Maybe we grab a morning to hike with the dog for grouse, or float the river one more time before the snow flies.

Perhaps we invite someone else to tag along, and maybe, just maybe, something happens that sparks that person’s interest in learning more about this wonderful world of the outdoors.

( Alan Charles is an outdoor columnist who lives in Pine Hills.)

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