Friday, March 21, 2014

Competition-Right or Wrong?

Competition can bring out the best or worst in someone, even those that are not competing.
I was following a kayak bass fishing tournament at Santee Cooper, South Carolina this last weekend. I thought about trying it myself this year but other engagements kept me from making the trip and entering my first bass fishing tournament.  Regardless, I was still interested in the outcome as I have become acquainted with several of the anglers participating.
Drew Haerer, who I have interviewed and used as a source for several stories, was one of those participants. I have never met Drew face to face, but I would say he is a friend simply from our interactions with each other. Drew had a really good first day placing 5th out of nearly 150 other competitors, all fishing from a kayak.
This was the second year for the KBF (Kayak Bass Fishing) Open, and Drew’s second year participating. Last year Drew placed in the top 15 even though it was water he was not familiar with.
After the first day, while browsing Facebook posts from people in the tournament, one post caught my attention. It basically belittled anyone competing. “If I had to compete to fish, I would just quit. I fish for fun.”
I thought it was a little over the top. Personally, I have never competed in sports such as fishing or shooting until recently. I tried out for the television show ‘Top Shot’ on History Channel and made it through several cuts based on my passion for the outdoors and my abilities. One of the things that probably kept me from the last stage was the lack of hardware from testing my skills against others. I was not upset about it; I just took it for what it was. I hunted and my skills were used for hunting, that was all.
Now, especially over the last six months, I have challenged myself to improve skills such as archery. I have learned plenty, and it is all due to competition. It pushes me forward and keeps me focused. I am sure it will help come hunting season even though there are some differences in both equipment and skill sets.
But what about this fishing tournament? Why would someone feel that way as to call out someone for competing? I tried putting myself on that side of the argument. I thought about how I would debate competition destroys the sport or how it can defile an otherwise pristine experience. In high school we would occasionally have to argue a point opposite of the way we felt in order to help us empathize with another’s view. But even with the arguments I could make, they just felt week at best. Merely talking points in order to express a view, they just did not make a strong case.
There are ugly sides to any sport. You can find cheating in tournaments such as this. You can find people who are in it in order to gain sponsors and money only. But these are the exceptions. If someone were to cheat and ‘pre’catch fish saving them for the weigh-in (or in the case of kayak fishing tournaments, measuring boards, as the fish are by the inch rather than by the ounce), does it defile the sport any more than the weekender who tells everyone of the 8 pounder that was really 4 pounds, or the fish caught out of the farm pond that he trespassed to fish on?
The majority of competitions, and competitors, whether kayak angling or target shooting, actually do everything they can for the sports, the promotion of the sports, and the continuance of the sports. They believe the sport in bigger than themselves, and it is. They may where a jersey with several logos emblazoned across them, but they, the majority, do it for companies that have the same beliefs and passion for the sport as well. The competitions are just another way to enjoy something they have always enjoyed. They would be just as happy with a cane pole, a cup of earthworms, and a fighting bream, it is just a lot tougher to get all those people sharing the same pond and enjoy it together.
Honestly, if you look into the depths of the sport, you are really competing against whatever is on the other side of the line whether in a tournament or sitting on the shoreline anyway.
And as of Drew’s fate, he finished third overall after the second day measure.

Friday, March 14, 2014

When a Child Enjoys the Outdoors

My youngest child just turned nine years old. For the last nine years he has still been attached by the umbilical cord to my wife, allowing little to no room for her to so much as breathe. Occasionally he will go with me somewhere without her, but he is mostly a homebody.
Now he does get out, so don’t get me completely wrong. He is a purple belt in tae kwon do and has class twice a week. He has one particular friend named Matthew that he enjoys playing with either at our house or Matthew’s. But for the most part, other than that, he prefers to stay home and near my wife.
Like many his age he enjoys video games. He enjoys playing with Legos and building structures that I am very impressed with. Even his video games involve building as he is a master at Minecraft. For those unfamiliar, Minecraft is the digital equivalent of what we had as a sandbox. You restructure the land to make and build whatever you want. We used wet sand to make caves and road courses for our Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars, he uses a digital pickaxe to make caves in pixelated rocks and construct giant castles.
So in picking out a birthday gift it is very easy. Either some type of game or a new Legos kit would be the first thing to come to mind. However, he fooled me. He wanted a fishing rod; a grown up fishing rod to be more precise. He did not want the closed reel. No, he wanted a spinning reel. To make sure I picked out the right one we went to the store over the weekend and looked at various ones. We shopped, just me and the little man, trying to find one that was just right.
“Do you like this one?” I would ask.
“What do you think Daddy?” he would answer.
I would then go over some of the features and it would get lost in his head somewhere. But he was curious. Then we spotted one that had a small tackle box attached with different types of baits commonly used for panfish. And then he saw my favorite bait. The beetle spin was all the assurance he needed to know that this rod, reel, and tackle box is exactly what he wanted.
We discussed as we walked out of the store where we could go fishing together and of course when we could go together. We talked about the youth bow I still had at the house that his brother and sister learned how to shoot with. He asked if I thought he was big enough to shoot it now that he was turning nine. I told him we could certainly try it out, and if he could pull it back we could go bowfishing soon too.
For the last week he comes up to me after his homework (and sometimes during) and pulls back the bow. His form isn’t perfect and we do not have it set up yet, but he pulls it back every night regardless. There is an excitement hidden behind his young eyes much like the time I carried him fishing for the first time several years ago. It is part experiencing something new, and part making daddy proud.
I am hoping my wife is enjoying this brief reprieve of Cooper being latched to her. I know I am enjoying this moment of Daddy-itis he is displaying. I am enjoying the experience of something new and he is certainly making me proud.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Satisfied with your results?

I was shooting in an archery tournament near Phenix City, Alabama this weekend in which thousands competed in various classifications in order to test their skills against one another. After the first day I met one person who was shooting his first national tournament and we talked about his experience. He commented he was satisfied with the results and was anxious for the second day of competition. His score placed him in the top 25 on the day.
While talking with a few other competitors, we began discussing various hunting trips we have been on. One guy had a picture of a monster whitetail taken in southern Ohio. He spoke of how he had paid good money for the hunt, but he was satisfied considering the size of the deer and the overall experience. It easily outdid anything he could have hunted in his home state of Mississippi.
Another spoke of the fearsome hog he had taken in Georgia. He had patterned a good size buck and knew it would trail in behind a couple of does and a fawn. For some reason, the does never came in that one particular evening. The trail camera doesn’t lie, and they had been consistent, so he figured something was amiss. Then, what he first thought was a bear, caught his vision from the stand. As it came closer he realized it was a hog, about 300 pounds. He unleashed an arrow and the hog screamed as it darted away. Another hunter helped him track it down and he gave the hog to the other hunter. He was not happy with the hunt. He wanted the buck and this was one of his few chances to hunt that parcel of land.
I have met several people over the years who were ecstatic with their trophy, right up until the point where the score was not what they expected, or someone else was successful with something a little bigger. Then, all of a sudden they were no longer satisfied with the hunt, the results of the hunt, or the animal hanging on the wall.
I have also met plenty of people over the years who relished the experience of the hunt, or the one moment when man and beast met for the first time. They appreciated the small things whether successful or not. In fact, their definition of success varied from the dissatisfied ones. Their definition was much simpler and yet they seemed to be happier because of it.
One of the guys in my group in the competition led after day one. He shot consistently and accurately all day. Several of us kept close for most of the day, including myself. I had a stretch of four targets that ultimately dropped me from contention. Another went through the same stretch of targets and dropped him from contention also. I rebounded nicely, he struggled even going into day two. The leader, well, you could see the pressure mounting from one target to the next. On day two, he had one bad shot. The next target, he threw another bad shot. A couple of us in the group pulled to the side, and reminded him not to worry. His lead was strong, and he was out there for fun anyway. He relaxed and proceeded to shoot well the rest of the way. Ultimately, he won the Pro/Am in the Hunter class. He was satisfied.
We were all satisfied.

Monday, March 3, 2014


At some point and time in one’s life, he is faced with his own mortality. It can start from a doctor’s diagnosis, a close call of an accident, or a loved one’s departure. It may even come in the form of a simple mid life crisis where the thoughts start entering the mind that the journey of this existence has reached a plateau and the years that follow are less numerous than those that have passed.
The questions begin as to what place in this world do you hold. How will you be remembered? How long will you be remembered?
Usually a couple of generations is the extent of the answer. The third generation and on may know your name and a few stories of your life, but it is only documented as far as the memory and life of the one who held on to the story.
There are a few stories of truly remarkable feats that carried on through time. Even in our country’s own folklore there are stories Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, Teddy Roosevelt and George Washington that are remembered as much for the story as told by mouth as it is by written word. Seldom though, are those same type stories remembered for individual family members.
While I can recite several stories regarding my grandfathers, I know very little about the generation before them. I can look in a history book and see what the times were like during that period, but the stories that made them human are vacant.
When pondering these thoughts, it dawned on me that I can assume certain characteristics though. My grandfather loved hunting and fishing. He knew how to work with his hands and tend the land. He was a doer. My father followed those same principles. He still does. He doesn’t get out as often in the field or water, but when he does he is at home then as he was when he was in his twenties.
Their love of the outdoors carried on through generations, and they likely learned what they knew from the generations before them.
My kids know stories of my grandfather, because I have repeatedly told them. They know how great of a shot my father is because again, I have repeatedly shared personal experiences when we were in the field together. But in all likelihood, my grandkids and their children will not know the stories of my grandfather and a charging rhinoceros in Africa or a grizzly attacking on a cliff 500 feet high on a mountainside in Alaska. They will not know of a 12 foot hammerhead shark being pulled in on the surf in Ocracoke that spanned many hours.
But my children will be able to share their personal experiences of their times in the field and on the water with their kids and grandchildren. They will be able to experience those things together and in essence carry on a bit of who I am, of who my father is, and who my grandfather was. They may never realize where all of this started, just as I do not. But the key is it did start. That appreciation for the things that many take for granted carries on.
One may never appreciate the beauty of a pumpkinseed sunfish until it is held in hand; the delicate colors mingling in stark contrast to one another tantalizing a vision that is not seen while sitting on the couch. One may not stand awestruck by the iridescent feathers of a wood duck without letting the light of the newly risen sun reflect off the wet body.
That is unless one generation left something for the next to encounter and remember.