Wednesday, February 27, 2019

What Happened to Outdoor Literature?

As a teen growing up in the Piedmont region of South Carolina, I often found myself wandering over hill and dale in search of adventure. My father did not care for the outdoors unless it involved chasing a white ball around manicured lawns. That meant, that for me, adventure was a solitary activity.

When I was twelve we moved to rural Saluda County, SC. It was really my first time living in the "real country". We were twelve miles from a town of only a few thousand and the closest neighbor with anyone remotely my age was several miles away. It was during this time, I learned to enjoy my own company, and the company of nature.

The middle 1970's was by no means "the good old days" of hunting. Animal populations in our area were dismal. In fact, I distinctly remember discovering my first deer track and having to go to my Outdoor Life Book Club field guide to see what it was.

Which leads me to a point of this story I want to convey as clearly as possible.

As a teenager growing up with a passion for the outdoors and nature, I had no mentor. No one who took me under their wing. My father didn't care for it at all, both grandfathers were deceased and the neighbors were busy farming and rearing their own children. It was then, that I discovered outdoor literature. Specifically outdoor magazines. Sports Afield, Outdoor Life, South Carolina Wildlife and Game and Fish publications were my only source of instruction into the unknown. Reading the stories of adventure from Jack O'Connor, and the simple essays of Gene Hill lit a fire in me to discover. To wander into the unknown and find adventure. It may simply be wandering to the creek for the first time and imagining Native Americans and fur trappers here a century ago.

But they got me out there and looking, it got me out there living. One of the keys was the Outdoor Life Book Club. This book club was a launching pad for me and others into the world of the outdoors. In those days, the advertisement was, "For one dollar, you get these ten books as long as you purchase two books at full price within two years." What a deal! Even in those days. As a 13 year old, I mailed in my one dollar bill (yes I sent cash through the mail) and shortly I received my ten outdoor life books (these tattered books still grace my book shelves today). These books on Small Game Hunting, Big Game Hunting, Tracking and Finding Game, Field Care for your Trophy, The Outdoor Eye, How to Call Wildlife, Deer Hunting, and a few others were the map I needed to get outdoors. And to top it off, I purchased two books that became classics. Jack O'Connor's Shotgun book and Tom McNalley Fly Fishing book. What a deal!

In addition to these books were the simple instructional stories from Pat Robertson, Jim Casada and Terry Madewell who taught me how to read the woods. What a scrape was, how rub lines mark a bucks territory. They taught me how a turkey responds to clucks and yelps. It was these men, with pen in hand who brought the outdoors to me and sparked a fire that is burning still today, some forty five years later.

It saddens me, as an outdoor writer that this type of writing is gone. It saddens me that periodicals are only concerned about reviewing this gun, or that blind. That magazines cut out the adventure story in favor of how-to stories. There is room for both, and there is a need for both.

As someone who was brought into the hunting lifestyle through the writings of Hill and O'Connor, I say with a loud voice, we need more of these writers in today's periodicals. We need more stories of climbing mountains, descending into jungles, and traversing glaciers. We need for hunters to live vicariously through these writings. And, we need the writers to be hunters. Men and women who actually go out and participate in the activities they write about.

Outdoor writing is hard work. For those men and women who know how to do what they write about they can testify, it is difficult work. Yet, sadly, I have shared camps with outdoor writers who couldn't tell the difference between a whitetail and a mule deer. Some who were not sure what a bob white was, and others who couldn't tell you what the difference was between a rimfire and a centerfire rifle.

They may have excellent grammar and outstanding sentence structure. But, in my opinion, if you are not capable of doing this activity without a guide, you shouldn't write about it!

I realize this puts me in a predicament. I have written stories about activities I have not participated in myself (but I could and would if I had the chance). I have interviewed those who have, and gotten their stories and written the article based on their experience. But in doing this, it is always their experience and not mine. That is journalism, not outdoor literature.

Good outdoor literature is fading fast. It is fading, not because we do not have some excellent scribes. On the contrary, it is fading because we do not have outlets for them to publish. Grey's Sporting Journal, Sporting Classics, and a few others carry the burden for the rest.

But these publications are geared towards the experienced and affluent sportsman. Oh, to have a collection of magazines that would offer an invitation into the outdoors. To have a publication that celebrated the deer camp, or campfire. One that taught young boys and girls what it felt like to bag your first squirrel, crow, or cottontail. How glorious it would be if there could be a publication(s) that centered on stories designed to bring new hunters into the fold. Adventure, instruction and enlightening essays. Stories that focused as much on why we hunt as how we hunt. Stories that would tug at the repressed passion in people and drag them outdoors to seek and to discover.

These publications are there already, they exist, they just need the courage and fortitude to look into the future of hunting and outdoor lifestyles and rekindle the dwindling spark. Perhaps, a nudge from the readership and writers? Alas, as more of these publications have fallen to conglomerate publicly traded companies, the desire for increasing profits supplants the need for quality literature.

Until then, I will do what I can to enlighten, broaden and encourage more participation into the outdoors that I love so passionately.