What a wonderful time to be alive! The air has that little hint of fall, leaves are taking on some color and those of us who hunt and fish are feeling all kinds of urges to get outdoors.
Cooler water temperatures mean fish are becoming more active. After long, hot, summer "dog-days," it’s time to get on the water and see if the bass or crappie will cooperate.
Hunting season has arrived and small-game hunters have taken to the woods and fields. Archery deer hunters are all set for their time in the woods.
For many of us, this time of year brings back cherished memories of outdoor experiences from the past. I remember the first squirrel I shot as if it were yesterday. I was all of 9, and, after years of tagging along with my grandfather, watching and learning, the day finally came when he actually allowed me to kill one myself. The squirrel was hopping from right to left along a big limb on a shagbark hickory in the hollow behind Babe Kennedy’s barn.
The new, single-shot 20-gauge Winchester, a gift for Christmas, was loaded with a Remington high-brass #6 shell. All these years later, I clearly remember the shot, experiencing for the first time in my life the remarkable absence of felt recoil when shooting at game. What a stark contrast to the shoulder-bruising, cheek-slapping practice shots I had been taking at paper targets, coke cans and pinecones!
Old memories such as these are often crystal-clear as if they happened yesterday. Specific details of hunting and fishing experiences are recorded in great detail - as only the mind of a hunter or angler can record them. How do we remember so vividly for so many years the exact details of individual encounters with specific fish or game animals? And why?
Maybe this extraordinary level of recall is a primal part of the human psyche, a vestige of a time when sustenance depended on hunting and fishing success. Some would argue that we’re simply so passionate about our outdoor pursuits we choose to remember all the details.
Whatever the case, if you had asked Billy Stimpson on his 91st birthday to give you the particulars of his first successful turkey hunt when he was only 9, he would have recalled them in great detail some 82 years later. Daresay, there are few things Billy or anybody else could remember that way for 82 years.
Of course, we all tend to forget (maybe even repress) the unsuccessful, boring, uneventful days spent afield. This is why some people, bless their hearts, moan and carry on so about the way things used to be. Perpetuating the myth of the good old days, they are quick to tell all who will listen, "We don’t have near as many (fill in the blank) as there were back then."
In fact, game populations are in much better shape now than when Billy killed that big gobbler 82 years ago. With the exception of quail – which have declined due to changing land use practices – every hunted species is far more abundant now due to science-based management practices and effective law enforcement protection.
For 75 years, hunters have paid for this management and protection through their hunting license purchases and federal excise taxes collected at the manufacturers’ level on hunting arms and ammunition. The passage of the Wildlife Restoration Act in 1937 set in motion this highly-successful user-pay funding mechanism that has substantially benefited all of society through ensuring there are abundant and healthy wildlife populations.
As Tom Kelly puts it, "The good old days are right this very minute."
So get out there and enjoy the remarkable opportunities we have in today’s outdoors. Please be sure to share our outdoor heritage with a young person. Like Billy, they’ll remember the experience vividly for a lifetime.
Corky Pugh is the executive director of the Hunting Heritage Foundation.