Scattered

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I have been all over the place the past few months. Scattered, really.
My seemingly insatiable appetite for learning new things took me down a rabbit hole into the world of archery with the grand hope that I’d hunt and harvest my own game. I practiced my socks off, even purchased the necessary tags and doo-dads for calling deer. At some point, however, I realized that no amount of practicing archery would transform me into a hunter. There’s a lot more to hunting than pulling a trigger or releasing an arrow, and reading about it is not the same as developing the skills to be successful. As fall approached, I realized that I hadn’t made the necessary social connections to find a partner/coach/buddy to mentor me. I wasn’t about to walk into the woods and sit for hours not knowing for sure what the hell I was doing, and I certainly wasn’t going to climb into a tree stand by myself. Last but not least, my family was less than enthused about me bringing home wild venison.

I slowly drifted back to the one or two things that have always been there for me: cycling and hiking. I’ve always found peace on the bike or walking in the woods, and neither require any particular skill or additional equipment. I’ve been happiest lately on the mountain and fat bikes, cruising around local and not-so-local trail systems. I still love my road bike, but the proliferation of motorists staring at their cell phones has been discouraging to me to the point that I’d rather avoid automobile traffic.

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Today I explored some new trails in Connecticut. It was good to get off the long island and see new terrain. The trees provided shelter from the cold, biting wind. My 10 plus year old Moots still gets the job done with its 29r wheels rolling effortlessly over obstacles.

And I’ve been hiking. The whole family can join in this activity. We recently visited the High Peaks region of New York, arriving with the first significant snow of the season and nearly freezing our asses off!

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I love being outdoors. I love being outdoors with my family. Nature is a blessing. It always resets me when I’ve allowed myself to become stressed or scattered.

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Making Progress

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In February I wrote about dipping my toes into the archery space with the grandiose plan of using the skills to harvest turkey and deer. I was frustrated with my inability to find a quality lesson. I realize now that offering lessons isn’t really in the business plan for most archery stores; lessons represent lost time compared to selling merchandise to customers. And, for some shops, the goal is to get potential customers shooting well enough to make a purchase knowing that they may never see the customer again.

I hit the jackpot when I found Flying Arrow Sports in Carmel, NY. They spent the time with me to get my shot sequence squared away and instill some much-needed confidence that I could actually “do” archery. I subsequently returned and purchased a Mathews Halon. The selection process was thorough and un-rushed: I shot five or six different bows before settling on the Halon, which literally spoke to me in the smoothness of the draw cycle. I should add that finding a store that keeps 6 different lefty bows in stock is uncommon according to some social media research I conducted, so Lady Luck dealt me a particularly nice hand when I found Flying Arrow.

I’ve been shooting the bow for a little over a month and cannot be happier. When I do my part by adhering to a good shot sequence, it does its part delivering the arrows to the intended spot. Just like sporting clays, the instrument is only as good as the person controlling it. When my process and form are correct, I can achieve results like those pictured above which might translate to several delicious meals. When I’m sloppy or distracted, the arrows go into the ground and burrow out of sight.

I’m fortunate to live within easy driving distance of a commercial indoor range and a public outdoor range. The outdoor range is in a wind corridor near the water and a parkway and, as such, I’m learning a lot about managing wind. Both ranges are close enough that I can scoot to them after work for a short session. The public range does not permit 3D targets (I’m not sure how they feel about 2D targets with animals on them like my Morrell bag pictured above!), so my next goal is to find a 3D range or participate in a 3D shoot to gain that experience in preparation for hunting.

Next up: locating the animals!

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More on Lessons and Learning Styles

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My journey continues. Along the way I keep asking myself, “In this age of the internet, where you can ‘learn’ anything on your own, are lessons even necessary?”

I was determined to get a proper lesson in archery after my first experience, which I wrote about in the last post. I like learning new things, have an interest in turkey and deer hunting and, for where I live, bow hunting represents the easiest access to those animals. I’m not inclined to just grab a bow from the big box store and hit the woods; I want to know that I’m proficient enough to kill not wound my prey. Proficiency requires the development of foundational skills and lots of practice. I know from my sporting clays experience that you can break targets with pure luck and not have good fundamental skills.

As such, I set out for another lesson, this time at a shop a bit further away from my house. I paid a social visit beforehand to scope the place out and get a sense of the personality of the shop. All seemed fine, so I signed up for a group lesson. I’ll mention here that I’m a lefty, so it took some pre-planning to make certain that the shop had a lefty rental bow. This will become important a little later on.

The “lesson,” it turned out, was actually pickup day for people who bought gear at the shop. We were a small group. Three of the other shooters had picked up their bows within the past week and this was their opportunity to get things adjusted and learn how to shoot. A lot of time was spent fiddling with sights, peeps, draw weights and so on. I’m pretty tall, so a fair amount of time was spent getting my peep aligned with the front sight so I could aim. It never got sorted out and I was basically shooting with an obstructed view.

The session was also my introduction to a wrist release. I’d read and watched videos on how to use it, so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. However, it was not adjusted properly on my wrist to allow my index finger to reach the trigger. I asked for help but was told to just wiggle my finger to the trigger. But it wasn’t even close! At some point during practice I just decided to use my middle finger. While fiddling around with my fingers, I accidentally derailed the bow.

I was suitably humiliated, believing that I had somehow dry-fired the bow thereby destroying it. Luckily, derailing is not the same as dry-firing. It turns out that while I was fussing with my trigger fingers, I moved the string out of alignment with the cam and must have let off enough pressure to cause the cam to start moving. While this was all happening, the other customers were getting a few minutes of equipment adjustments and instruction on how to draw and anchor.

The bow, of course, was un-shootable and had to go into the shop to be re-strung. So about a third of my session was spent watching the tech stare at the bow, trying to re-string it. After about 25 minutes, he realized that it was a lefty bow and the cams were in a different orientation than he was accustomed to. While this was happening, another tech was hacking through a customer’s arrow shaft with a dull cut-off wheel. Accusations flew back and forth about who should change the cutting wheel. Total junk show!

This particular shop is widely regarded as “best” in the area by its customers. What I saw that day between the “lesson” and the behavior in the shop would not be characterized as “best.” I left wanting to give up.

I spent some time afterwards reading a bow hunting book and watching videos on YouTube. There’s a lot of crap on Youtube and there’s also some legitimate experts sharing information. I would read the book and then go to the web to watch video that was consistent with the book. If you are interested in archery, I think you’ll find John Dudley’s material to be excellent and, more importantly, correct. It’s one thing to be entertaining and good at presentation and another to actually be an expert at what you are presenting. As far as I can tell, his videos on technique are correct. I’ve used his YouTube videos to develop my basic skills.

I spent a few hours reading reviews of archery shops a little outside my geographic area, trying to find one or two more shops to visit in search of competence and customer service. Watching the bow tech stare at the rental bow while his mate hacked through the arrow made me realize that I’d also need a shop that I can trust with my money if I decided to pursue archery. I even called a bow manufacturer to get a shop referral.

I drove up to Flying Arrow in Carmel as a last-ditch effort to find archery shop nirvana. Carmel is a solid 80 minute drive from my house, but the shop has excellent customer reviews for friendliness and customer service. I visited mid-week and was immediately greeted by a friendly voice that engaged me in an adult conversation about why I was interested in archery. Dave (one of 3 Daves in the shop), asked about my experience level and wondered why I drove so damn far to find an archery shop! I summarized my experiences and we started talking about lessons. Lessons are arranged by appointment, he told me, but he was willing to give me a few tips and a rental since I’d driven so far.

In the course of 15 minutes or so, Dave made sure the rental bow fit me, that the sights were aligned and the trigger extended properly to my finger. It turns out this is not rocket science, it just takes a few minutes and someone who cares about getting it right for the customer. He reviewed some set up and technique matters that were consistent with the Dudley videos I’d been watching. Fifteen minutes of detailed 1:1 instruction was all it took to get me shooting groups like the one pictured above**. I have to say, once you can see through the peep and use the front sight, archery is a lot of fun!!

{** Yes, I was aiming deliberately at that part of the target to see if I could consistently send the arrows to a particular spot}

For my learning style, quality outweighs quantity almost every time. Fifteen minutes alone (and proper set up of the equipment) accomplished more than the two previous lessons where I was either part of a group fiddling with new purchases, or with a youngster who was distracted and wanted to shoot for himself. Quality should be job one if you are in the education business or if your business involves teaching people how to use the things you sell. This is particularly important if the thing you sell is a weapon, like a gun or compound bow. I have a long way to go on my journey, but at least I feel competent to operate a compound bow after spending time at Flying Arrow. I can’t say that I felt that way after visiting the other two shops.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Your learning style will have an impact on your experience during a lesson. I, for example, need 1:1 attention to grasp the fundamentals then lots of practice. Group lessons or lessons where the instructor is distracted don’t work for me
  2. You can benefit from learning from social media and YouTube if you know how to filter out the rubbish and find the legitimate experts. Read a book, then spend some time comparing the book with what is on the internet to  validate the information. Take what you learned from the book and web back to a real human coach!
  3. Some things are not more complex than they seem. I went into this thinking that archery is some black art that requires hours of instruction. That was my preconceived notion based on my shotgun experiences. It’s not necessarily so. My last archery lesson concluded with the instructor saying “You don’t need more lessons, you need to practice and shoot.”
  4. Quality, engagement, customer service will get my money every time. I’ll gladly drive the extra distance to have a good experience

One more thought. There’s varying standards of instruction in the shooting sports world.  I bought a shotgun for sporting clays and no one asked me if I knew how to use it. I went looking for instruction. The same can be done for a bow. I’m terrified of the thought of bumping into someone in the woods who got no instruction, or lackluster instruction, when they bought their gun or bow. And I’m only talking about the mechanical operation of the weapon not taking into consideration the myriad ways you can accidentally kill someone because of poor fieldcraft. Even if you go in search of instruction, the quality and consistency is all over the place. Yes, there are hunter education courses but they do little to insure that you know how to safely operate your particular weapon. More and more I’m thinking that you should not be able to walk out of a shop with a gun or bow without first demonstrating that you can operate it safely.

And finally a last plug for Flying Arrow. The store is huge compared to shops on Long Island and the staff pay attention to the customers. The have a large indoor range and a Techno Hunt range. Yes, it’s a bit of a drive but it’s worth it.

 

 

 

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What Constitutes a Lesson?

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Yes, I’ve gone down another rabbit hole! At least temporarily.

I love learning new things. And I love reflecting on the learning process; in particular, what it takes to develop new skills and apply those skills consistently. I took an archery “lesson” (more on why I put the word in quotes in a moment) this past week as an exploratory step to see what it takes to bow hunt. I did my first bird hunts this year using the shotgun to harvest the quarry. It was fun, challenging and I rather like the idea of harvesting my own game. Oh, the birds are delicious, too.

The bird hunting led me to a variety of books and websites to learn how to prepare game birds for the table. My reading inevitably took me into the subject of bigger game; namely venison. The recipes looked good and I started wondering what it would take to harvest a deer next season. More reading followed, and I realized that big game hunting would be foolish, and unethical, if I didn’t actually like the taste of venison. So last month I found a butcher that stocks venison and I picked up a leg cut, followed an online recipe and made my first venison steaks. They were good….not quite delicious because the marinade was a bit heavy-handed in the soy department. But I liked the meat. It was lean, easy enough to work with, did not have a nasty taste ( I had some bad venison as a youngster) and, most importantly, the other members of the family ate it. There’s no point hunting if your family won’t eat the fruits of your labor.

I read more about big game hunting. I watched lots of videos of hunts, wondering if I could pull the trigger on a bigger animal, would I have the patience to sit quietly, break down the animal etcetera. The answers kept coming up “yes.” The next item to tackle was how to hunt: firearm or bow? I have no particular need for another firearm, and learning how to use a compound bow seemed like a good personal challenge for the year, so I decided to take an archery lesson. My goals were pretty simple: first see if I could even do it and, second, see if I was any good at it. A little Googling revealed three options for lessons in my general area and I chose the one closest to home. I paid a casual visit to the shop/range a couple of weeks ago, and booked the lesson for the middle of the week when it would be quietest and I could get some 1:1 coaching.

Learning a new skill can be fun and challenging at the same time. With most skills, learning the proper form and technique in the beginning will lay the foundation for success later on. That was my experience with sporting clays and bird hunting, and I had every reason to believe it would be the same for archery. I had watched enough YouTube videos (not always the best source of proper technique) to realize that proper posture and form are very important and, as such, I was eager to learn the proper set-up.

Which brings me to the question posed in the title of this post. What constitutes a proper lesson? What are your expectations when you lay down your money to learn something new from someone more experienced than you? Are the expectations different if the instructor is older than you and, by insinuation more experienced, versus one-third your age?

Yes, that last question smacks of ageism.  But I think I’m onto something.

My 90 minute archery lesson commenced with the shop manager telling the young instructor (my guess is he was a high school student), that he had to do the lesson before doing some other activity they were discussing. The lesson started with a 7 minute safety speech reminding me not to run with the arrows in my hand and not to skip on the lanes. Yes, “No Skipping.” Then we went to the lane where he spent about 15 minutes showing me how to stand and where to position my shoulder and elbow. I took a few shots and there was a comment that the sight needed adjustment.

Whereupon another customer came up and asked the instructor to help him with a trigger release. I never saw the instructor again. He walked away to help the other customer and within a few minutes they were both at the other end of the range shooting with each other. I completed the balance of the 90 minutes shooting independently.

Is this a “lesson?”

As a professional educator, I don’t think so. Almost no effort was put into coaching me beyond telling me not to skip down the lane and how to position my elbow. There’s a world of technique (how to properly sight, how to release, follow-through etc) that we did not touch upon. I didn’t have unreasonable hopes of leaving an expert marksman, but I expected more from something billed as a lesson. I expected the instructor to lay a proper foundation and to build enthusiasm in me so I would want to move forward and even spend more money at the place. None of that was done.

I suspect age played a role here. An 18 year old simply doesn’t have the life experience to understand what customers expect and what is required from a safety standpoint when they pay for a “lesson.” Particularly if that lesson involves a lethal instrumentality such as a bow or gun. An 18 year old also has a world of other things going on: school work, girl friends, social interactions with others at the range that inhibit the ability to remain customer focused. Now I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but in my life experience I’ve not had good experiences with youngsters giving “lessons.”

You might be wondering, “Why didn’t you say something to the manager?” Good question. I didn’t have to. She was hanging out with the instructor, fully aware that I was shooting on my own. On a positive note, the 1 hour plus that I had to myself allowed me to experiment and figure some things out on my own, but that’s not the point of a lesson. The point of a lesson is instruction, practice and feedback. I got a tiny bit of instruction and a lot of self-directed practice. For all I know, I practiced incorrectly for over an hour. I’ll never know. Until I take another lesson….somewhere else.

As you can see in the picture, I don’t totally suck. But some of that is beginner’s luck, I’m sure. And I think I was only ten yards away from the target, maybe closer. I’ll almost certainly take another lesson somewhere else, but the experience made me realize that there’s no agreed-upon definition of “lesson” in the world. My definition (instruction-practice-feedback) was definitely not the archery shop’s mental model. Going forward, I know to ask specifically:

What constitutes a lesson?

What do I get in exchange for my money?

Will this be 1:1 and will the instructor stay with me or wander off to check customers out at the cash register?

What should I expect to accomplish by the end of the lesson?

What should I do after the lesson to continue growing in the activity?

These things, by the way, are commonly part of a professional lesson plan in the academic environment. Consumers of “lessons” would be well-served to ask these questions before laying down their money. I know I will from now on.

 

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Upland Bird Hunting

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We proceeded in silence. Silence that was only broken by the sound of a dog’s collar bell and the occasional discharge of a shotgun.

I had my first upland bird hunting experience on the 13th of this month. The chukar partridge pictured above was one of the first birds harvested during that experience.  I harvested seven others like it that day, under the watchful eye of a guide instructor whom I hired to teach me the proper way to hunt birds over dogs. How I got there requires a little explanation, particularly if you are accustomed to reading about my cycling or sporting clays activities.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I took up sporting clays a little over a year ago. Shooting at fast-moving, sometimes small orange and black clays is exciting but I was losing interest in the score-keeping aspect. The truth is, some of the targets are just ridiculous and don’t represent anything that happens in real life. I was getting “up in my head” about scores and not really enjoying the experience. Two things converged over the summer to make me consider a guided hunting experience.

First, I changed my practice habits to focus more on relaxing and shooting more instinctively than worrying about a score. I also practiced not thinking too much about a shot plan; rather shooting “trapper’s choice” where the shooter doesn’t know which trap will be thrown. My scores improved a bit by shooting more instinctively and not dwelling too long on hold points and shot plans.

The second thing that happened was that I started looking into bird hunting opportunities. I had always wanted to hunt birds at least once just to see if I could do it and to experience a true forest to table experience. Yes, I imagine this has its roots in primitive-man programming to catch and eat one’s own food and, since taking up shotgunning, I certainly had the means to do it. And, as such, I started poking around the internet to learn all I could about upland bird hunting.

Why Upland? Reason one: duck hunting involves getting up way before sunrise and sitting in the cold and wet. My work and lifestyle don’t allow for that. You also need a boat or dog to retrieve the downed bird. I have neither. Turkey hunting, as I learned in my hunter education course, is the most dangerous thing you can do in the woods with a gun because a lot of people shoot at things they think are turkeys but are actually other hunters. No thanks. Also, I dont look good in cammo!

My research uncovered a treasure trove of books, magazines, websites and podcasts geared toward helping new upland hunters get started in the field. Project Upland was a tremendous resource, packed with useful articles and gorgeous films. Reading the articles and watching the films, I realized that upland hunting has elements of everything that I enjoy: finding interesting places to visit, spending time in the field and, of course, shotgunning. Somewhere along the way, I found Reid Bryant’s excellent podcast. Reid has been very helpful to me both through the podcast and on the phone in conjunction with the friendly folks at Orvis Sandanona. If you are remotely interested in upland hunting, I cannot recommend Reid’s book enough. I’ve read it cover to cover three times since receiving it; it’s packed with useful advice.

One of the useful bits of advice is to find someone else to hunt with at first. There’s a lot going on during a hunt and being safe with a firearm is only one aspect. As such, it’s an activity that you probably should not undertake without some form of guidance. I do not come from a hunting family and none of the people I socialize or work with hunt, so I had to make some connections to figure this part out. My researching led me to the Ruffed Grouse Society, where the Northeast Regional Director, Tripp Way, suggested I hire a guide and do a controlled preserve hunt before heading afield on my own. And that is how I found myself in fields choked with sticker bushes and dead corn stalks on the 13th.

My guide for the day, Tom Fiumarello, is a hunting and sporting clays instructor based in the Hudson Valley. We talked on the phone a few times prior to the hunt to set expectations and discuss options. We settled on a preserve-style hunt, meaning that we would be hunting in an area where birds had been released into the fields prior to our arrival. This takes some of the guesswork out of a traditional upland hunt, where you can hike for hours and never see a bird. Tom wanted me to see and shoot birds, and learn how to conduct myself in the presence of  his dogs. The birds were free to move around, or even fly off; just because they had been released into the fields did not guarantee I would find them all.

We had a few false starts prior to the 13th due to weather. It was bloody hot in NY during October. The heat isn’t good for dogs and it also makes birds sit tight and conserve their energy.  The morning of the 13th was miserable with rain and scattered snow but the weather cleared just as we got out of our cars. Tom ran through some shooting basics, reviewed safety measures and other helpful advice before we set off into the fields behind one of his Brittanys.

I should note that if there is one thing I learned, it’s that bird hunting is very nearly impossible without a dog! I wouldn’t have found a bird (even if it were sitting on the hood of my car) without the dog. The birds are invisible and their self-preservation instincts cause them to sit still even if you are standing directly over them.

Tom warned me going into the hunt that bird hunting would make sporting clays look boring and he was correct. He also warned that I would be captivated by watching the dogs do their work. He was right about that, too. Within a few minutes his dog Ginger came to point on a bird. We whacked the brush and the bird took flight. I instinctively lifted the gun to my face and felled the bird on the first shot. On command, Ginger brought the bird back to Tom and we inspected it. I waited to see if there would be some sort of bad emotion from inside me in response to killing a living creature. There was none. I felt some vague feeling of honor and respect for the creature, but it certainly did not trouble me. I was concerned about that going into the hunt; that maybe emotionally I wasn’t cut out for the work.

We hunted together with Ginger and Meg, Tom’s other Brit, for about four hours. Other than an occasional question about where to stand in relation to the dogs, or a reminder to swing through the shot, there wasn’t a lot of chit-chat. It wasn’t necessary. Honestly, I could have put down my gun after the third bird and just watched the dogs work, it was that eye-opening and educational.

Back at his truck, Tom showed me how to field dress the birds and gave some recipe suggestions. My promise to myself was that I would cook and eat the birds and–if I did not like the taste of wild birds—never hunt again. I can’t stomach the idea of taking a life and not using the meat. Chukar does not provide a huge amount of meat from the breasts, so I used the medallions to make partridge Marsala over pasta.

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It was darn good! I was skeptical that I could get my family to try it. My kids declined because of some sadness that it was from wild birds (yet they eat chicken three times a week). My wife enjoyed it as did my coworkers who sampled the leftovers.

That day in the field was life-changing. I’d often wondered what it would be like to hunt, prepare and eat one’s own food. Now I know. I wondered if I’d be any good at it. I brought home about 60% of the birds I shot at. Some were boneheaded misses due to hasty gun mounting. One bird hovered directly in front of my face for ten or so wing beats, and I was so mesmerized that I didn’t mount the gun until it flew away!

It was a huge learning experience to say the least. I learned to slow down (something I struggle with on the clays course). You never know where the bird will flush to, so step one is getting your body positioned properly and mounting the gun cleanly. You can’t be hasty with this step in the field because you could fall over. I learned not to wear fleece. My sweater was covered with briar stickers that I had to comb out of the fabric when I got home. I learned that hunting is a quiet activity, even if you are with others.

The hunt also reinforced what I learned in the hunter safety course and from Reid’s book. Namely, wait for the birds to flush into the sky; do not shoot “low” birds because the dogs are down there. And do not shoot outside the 40 degree arc if there is someone standing next to you. You can’t appreciate why these two safety rules are so important until you are out in the field and the birds are flying. It’s easy to get distracted or tempted to violate one of the rules, but safety comes first.

I hate to say “I’m hooked” but I think I’m hooked. The experience was, as Tom predicted, more enjoyable than shooting at clay discs. Walking behind the dogs was reward in itself; taking home tasty bird meat was a bonus. I’m not sure how to continue, since I cannot imagine doing this without a dog. I’ll figure it out I suppose.

Post Script

Not long after my guided lesson, I was invited to join a group of very experienced hunters on the same property. There were eight of us, hunting in two teams with two or three dogs per team. I was the newbie, an outsider to the group, yet the seven men welcomed me and were gracious with their advice. We hunted for the better part of seven hours. I could have done better. I seemed to be always standing in the wrong spot in relation to the flush and the other guns, and I think having others with me caused me to be a bit hasty and sloppy with my mounts (slow down!). But that’s life, it’s a learning curve. We had a very productive day…..

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A mix of chukar, Huns and pheasants. I took my turn field dressing the birds with two other guys, finishing after sunset and thankful we didn’t cut our fingers off in the low light. My freezer is now stocked with bird meat and I cannot wait to do it again.

Thank you to all of the people mentioned above who made these two upland experiences possible.

 

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The Joy of Books

I spend a lot of time reading and listening to content on the internet. I get most of my news and current events from websites, and most of my leisure reading comes from the net or as digital subscriptions to magazines and newsletters. And, of course, there are message boards specific to whatever I’m interested in that month. On top of that, I listen to about ten hours of podcasts weekly, while driving to and from work and doing chores around the house. When I reflect on my total screen time, including time I spend in front of a computer at work……I spend a Lot of time looking at digital content.

Which is why this summer I made a half- hearted promise to myself to read some books. You know, those things made from wood pulp and sold in bookstores. Part of the promise was about getting away from the screen for a few minutes each day, and part was about setting a better example for my kids who are similarly screen addicted and need to understand the value of sitting quietly with a book. I’ve only been partly successful on both accounts.

In a strange way, the books pictured above are the result of my digital consumption. All of them were chosen because I saw or heard them referenced somewhere on the web. The “Old Man” book, for example, was the result of listening to an Orvis podcast reviewing outdoor and hunting books. The description of it appealed to me, so I bought it. As such, I’m allowing my digital consumption to guide my book buying. Maybe that’s how the internet is supposed to work, but I find it curious that my digital consumption is actually driving me away from digital and toward actual books.

….and I’m okay with that!

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Stewardship

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I dipped my toes into sporting clays almost exactly a year ago. I’ve been fortunate to shoot at some amazing venues since then, places where the annual membership quickly approaches the price of a small automobile. I’ve also shot at a number of public venues both privately owned and owned by a local municipality. One of the things I like about sporting clays is that it is done outside, usually in vast wooded spaces or rolling hills far enough away from the rest of civilization that the sounds of gunfire do not become a nuisance. Even on days where my shooting is lackluster, I enjoy being in the environment where shooting takes place.

In Britain, as far as I can tell, shooting and hunting are treated as hallowed activities. There is a respect for the quarry and the land. People dress nicely for the clays course and wear suits for hunting out of reverence for the game. Sportsmanship and stewardship for the land are the rules of the day.

Sadly, I don’t always see that where I shoot. Leaving aside the folks who dress in shorts and wife-beater t-shirts for a moment, there is a horrible disrespect of the land and the landowners in some of the places I visit. The image above was made earlier today at a public course about an hour from my home. That’s one of sixteen stations that were all polluted with shells, boxes and empty water bottles. Not very respectful of the environment or the people who operate the place.

Is it so hard to catch your shells as they eject from your over-under, or bend over and pick up the shells ejected from your semi-auto or pump? Would you want this mess in your backyard?

I believe stewardship of the land in this context consists of two elements: respect for the land and respect for others. We should respect the land because, without it, there’d be no place (nice) to shoot. That garbage will eventually get compressed into the ground and take a million years to decompose. The land will eventually become toxic, meaning we won’t be able to enter onto it to shoot. It’s also unsafe. People can trip and fall on that garbage.

Stewardship also requires us to respect others. Someone eventually has to clean up all that mess. The time and effort to clean up those 16 stations is much greater than the effort to pick up one’s shells at the time they are shot. That time will either be passed onto the consumer in the form of higher prices or….as I think is happening at this course…the owner will just let the shells sit there on the ground until enough people complain or there’s a lull in activity. Do you really want to be in an environment that looks like this?

We could take a page from our British brothers and sisters and respect the land and show some self respect by cleaning up after ourselves.

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