While I had a conventional introduction to hunting and fishing in my younger years, it wasn’t until the last three or four years that my interest, involvement, and identification with hunting really took shape. I’ve also learned that this relationship with the outdoors will always be evolving and adapting and that an individual’s hunting or fishing “ethos” is perhaps one of the most personal things; built and shaped by one’s experiences, mixed with opinions and localized social norms, and perhaps more contentious than even politics.
To me, this ethos is most defined by one’s feelings towards the experience and their desired inputs and outcomes. I’ve also found it increasingly difficult to spend time afield or a stream with people whose ethos is very different than mine, perhaps a component of my own ethos in itself – the type of person I want to be a part of my outdoor endeavors. Some other particularly touchy examples that often contribute are baiting, shooting ducks on the water, hunting private vs public land, guides and outfitters, non-toxic shot, archery hunting, catch and release fishing, the exhaustive list of opinions on bird dogs and their training, meat hunting, trophy hunting, predator hunting, and the list goes on. Some aspects may influence one’s hunting ethos more subtly than others, and as I mentioned, I think for me anyways, it’s something that’s always evolving.
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But one of the things I think as hunters and anglers, we could all do a lot of improving on is identifying when someone’s ethos is different than ours, and then accepting it as such. As long as their philosophy’s are legal and respectful to fish and wildlife, I’ve tried to be more open-minded about the fluidity of ethics. I have become more aware of the societal norms that shape one’s views and have no doubt influenced some of my own opinions in the past and today. It’s okay that they want something different than I do, and this diversity of beliefs and desired outcomes will play a big role in our ability to recruit more people to hunting, fishing, and the outdoors.
A timely example? Cat fishing. Ask me even a year ago if I would have given up not one, but two of my coveted Saturdays this seemingly crazy, busy summer for cat fishing and I would have looked at you the same way most North Dakotans do when you tell them you’re cat fishing. Cats are not as prestigious as walleye, the pinnacle game species of the Midwest fishing culture. They’re ugly, scary, gross, and a host of other things worth sticking your nose up about. At least that’s what much of the fishing community up here thinks.
The thing is my ethos has always revolved around just being out there in the pursuit as much as possible, preferably in good company, whether human or canine. So, when my husband and I got an invite from a fellow North Dakota transplant and his bird dogs to join him for a day of fishing, the species we were after hardly mattered. What could be better than a beautiful Saturday on the boat with a friend and three dogs?
A dozen or so drifts into the day, a few cats already in the livewell, I finally started to figure out this whole spinner rigging in the river thing and boated my first feisty cat. A fun fight with a one-ounce weight and a hefty current. The dogs were eager to celebrate with me by busting by to get some licks in. In all, we went home with 14 cats, only one dog overboard rescue, and lots of laughs from the chaos of a good day on the water.
Now I’m not writing this to tell you to change your philosophy on hunting and fishing. I’m just saying, we could all do a better job of being more open-minded and accepting of each other’s differences because we’re all on the same side of the eternal fight to keep hunting, fishing, and wildlife conservation relevant. But if you do get the chance to firsthand experience a differing norm of yours, it might be worth its weight in fillets.