Before I was married I didn’t know there was a wrong way to put dishes in the dishwasher. Before I owned a house in a “nice” neighborhood with an HOA I didn’t know that there was a wrong way to weed my garden or to put away my trash. I recently checked the mail and received a vaguely official looking letter with my homeowner’s association logo on it. I’d assumed that with the turn of the year somehow my auto-payments had dropped out with some sketchy home brewed software they were using. In fact the issue at hand was that my roll away trashcans were displayed prominently in front of my single garage door. Mostly the issue at hand was that my garage was full of dog kennels, a couple of kayaks, workbenches, and an old Jeep awaiting fairer weather. I was being told to put away my eyesore trash cans largely by retirees who would much rather be on the golf course or categorizing the birds landing on their feeders this winter.
In 1729 Jonathan Swift published a Modest Proposal, in which he suggested that the Irish who were deeply impoverished at the time sell their children as food to both remove their economic burden and to help feed the British aristocracy. While I’m not suggesting that we eat the homeowner’s association board, my guess is not even sous vide technology could save how stringy they’d become and that they would not make much of a ragout — Swift’s preferred preparation of the poor. I am suggesting that there may be a more valuable, and in my eyes beneficial use of their time to the community — or at least my interests.
As hunters age out of the woods, generally by their late 60’s and early 70’s they quit for various reasons, generally mobility-related but it’s not just that, sometimes the kids and grandkids aren’t interested in hunting. It’s no surprise with the increasing urbanization of the population of the United States. From there they flock to the golf courses, watching endless talking head television, and yes — even running boards of homeowner’s associations. Surely there must be a way to
keep them busy keep them engaged with the community they’ve loved for so many years. What if there was a way to keep hearing new hunting stories, keep meeting new folks, and continue contributing to the greater community now that you were an elder statesmen of hunting, a Woolrich Warrior?
The world needs volunteers and mentors. We have a generation of folks growing up finding themselves wanting to go hunting having not grown up in a hunting family or people returning to the sport after school, military deployment, or some other long hiatus. Mentors can come in many forms, hunter safety instructors, volunteers for Pheasants Forever or Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, judging field trials, or just filling a rocking chair at a hunting camp. This is the reactivation piece of the Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation trifecta known as R3.
People long to be part of a tribe, and it’s one of the things that makes hunting so appealing. It’s a tribe built on the most ancient form of obtaining food for yourself, the original fast food. In those tribes when the elders could no longer hunt, the young hunters would take up the mantel and bring back game for the tribe. Nowadays the elders might settle for a good story over a couple fingers of Famous Grouse.
We tried for years to try and get some of the older folks in our dog club in Maryland to write or even talk about their years of experience in the field so that we might record it for posterity. They thought that no one would listen, why would someone listen to some old fogey in tattered chaps tottering around a bird field? We hungered for the information … the average age of our club members was in their late fifties with some of the senior members skewing the average way up. How could the whippersnappers like my wife and I carry on the torch if all we learned about handling occurred from the few events a year we could actually make not scheduled during hunting season?
One of the best things to come out of the many conservation groups I follow and belong to is the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Storytellers sessions. Both from the national rendezvous as well as the local pint nights. We need people to get up and tell their stories both young and old, to share experiences and inspire the next generation of hunters. We need people who are just getting into the sport to tell their stories as much as those who have long since hung up their vests. The community benefits from the body of knowledge, the solved problems, and the trials and tribulations of the collective. It inspires humor, adds to the collective knowledge, and helps everyone be better at their chosen hobby.
All across the United States and Canada there are chapters for organizations like the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Pheasants Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society, and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation just to name a few. Each of these organizations not only host banquets (or rendezvous) but also conduct field work, show up to public hearings, and educate the public. I can think of no better place for some of our elder sportsmen than these groups. Regardless of ability these groups need help in ways that aren’t monetary, they need organizational help, they need the help of someone who’s done this type of thing before. Weird. Seems almost the same as a homeowners association, but instead of choosing what color mailbox looks best, you’re choosing what type of conifer makes the best windscreen in a winter habitat. There’s definitely life before and beyond the golf course. My wife and I are becoming more active in our local chapters of “save the critter foundations” each year, even though we’re still on team whippersnapper, the dirty millennials that we are, this is a place we see ourselves contributing long term.
You don’t need to be a mentor in an official capacity, sometimes just being there helps. If there’s a bunk at the hunting camp that remains unfilled, maybe someone manning the radio, scanning the weather, camp cook, storyteller, or card dealer.
While this may seem like a veiled attempt to get someone to stop citing me for not shoveling every time it snows (It’s not, Greg, I promise), there are ways that reactivation of hunters that think they’re too old for the field. If it’s simply lack of family desire to go, the friendships built at a banquet, storytelling event, film festival, or other venue will surely provide you the network you need to get out there again enjoying the oldest way of obtaining food.