The sport of hunting is filled with stereotypes, and cliches. Why wouldn't it be? Life, and everything we do, suffer at the hands of the unimaginative. Just look at the efforts the animal rights/PETA/ anti-hunting crowd go through to smear our image. The image of blood thirsty, half-drunk -on-moonshine redneck may indeed describe someone we've met before. They may even go out and shoot an animal in the woods on occasion, but they are in no way a "hunter". Of course, those who would have us be such, will never openly admit we're not. Within the sportsman community, we too, tend to look upon each other, and presume, with an I-know-something-you-don't-know-attitude, that we've got the other guy figured out. With a glance, the entire story of another hunter can be figured out instantly. We judge your gun, your dog, your footwear, the brand of clothing you wear, your truck, whatever. We stack it all up, using each piece, each clue, to fit you into a shoebox labeled "cliche".
We've all met the "cliche" before. You know what I'm talking about. The just stepped out of Gray's Sporting Journal sportsman. The first thing you'll notice is the matching Orvis label on his hat, and shirt. Next you're drawn to the $80 leather lanyard around his neck, and it's $6 whistle. "I'll bet he's got a pointer", is what you're thinking, but you quickly forget that thought when you see the beautiful 16 gauge he's been missing all those clays with on the skeet field. But wait, isn't that a Barbour jacket, and an Orvis hat hanging on the hook in the hallway. Why yes it is. That and a few other things I've added to my collection are part of what creates a contradiction in my sporting life. While it's easy to chuckle at the uber-urban sportsman make over, we've got to admit that sometimes it's nice to have good stuff, stuff that works. A WalMart hunting vest is great, for a while, but sooner or later our needs change.
Contradictions can be fun, but I'm sure they piss people off too. In many ways I'm probably close to being that well-heeled sporting cliche. Except I'm not well-heeled. Maybe some of my sporting contradictions stem from a bit of insecurity about being "that guy", or maybe they stem from the need, like all sportsman, to have a little one up on the next guy. A quick look and you'll see that I fit the mold in an obvious way. I shoot a 20 gauge double, over an English Setter, at Ruffed Grouse. This alone pays for my club membership, but that I also like fly fishing in the off season too, really seals the deal. Why? It's cliche; This image of the Brahman, blue blood with his double gun, and perfect oil-on-canvas-setter (which, I have).
It's the contradiction, however, that keep things fresh. Confusion begins at the gun rack. Though I do shoot a nice double, I own both single barrel, and stack barrel guns too. I've got a rather pedestrian appreciation for guns, however. The gun rack at grouse camp is in no way of museum quality, but I've a fondness for all the guns I've seen there. Perhaps it's a the memories of the many great camps attached to them, or the many Woodcock appetizers they're responsible for. One such gun is a Browning BPS. This gun is a grouse killing 20 gauge work horse with 24" barrels and a straight stock. I want one, and think the 12 gauge version would make the perfect jump shooting gun. I doubt this gun gets dreamt about much on Wall Street.
When it comes to dogs I've been known to alienate myself too. Not because I train my own dogs, rather than sending them to a trainer, but because I've been rather outspoken about flushing breeds being more suitable for grouse hunting than pointing dogs. And currently I've got a Setter. Pointing dogs are fun to watch, each with their own highlights. A brace of setters coursing through the woods together really is a beautiful sight. Spend enough time shooting grouse though, and eventually you'll end up shooting over a Spaniel or a Lab, and you'll see a different quality to the grouse flush. True, pointers cover more ground, resulting in more finds, but ultimately shooting over a flusher you'll kill more birds. Though many spaniels are capable of maintaining ones state on the social ladder, I seldom see them being walked on Beacon Hill.
It's probably my inhumane fly fishing practice that ticks people off the most. I'm not talking about keeping my fish; I release, but my obsession with nymphing. Often viewed as not really fly fishing, I view the nymph as the spaniels of the river, while I view the dry fly as the setters of the river. To make matters worse, I use a strike indicator too. A fuzzy version of a bobber. What can I say? I told you I wasn't well-heeled.
Setting my contradictions aside, the cookie cutter side of me doesn't always struggle with fitting this mold. Socially, hunting is loosing it's popularity, and many areas in the countryside, where I hunt, are being gentrified. The blaze orange hat doesn't always get you a smile and a wave from the farmer hauling hay. Frequently it brings you a sneer from a Volvo driving soccer mom, who doesn't recognize you, and is a gun control nut. If appearing to be something which makes people more comfortable gets me access to the alder grove running along the back of the pasture, then so be it. Once upon a time gentlemen wore ties while hunting, and in some parts of the country(think Massachusetts), this may have to be the norm again, if only to serve as a distraction. I'm also comfortable knowing that should I ever need the services of an attorney, a stock broker, or a podiatrist, I can no doubt find one who owns a bird dog.