“Ladies first.” “Don’t take things that don’t belong to you.” “Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.” “Respect your elders.” “Pick up after yourself.” “Mind your manners.”
These sage words, and a thousand besides, were the maxims for living a respectful and sensible life for generations of Americans. The finer points of life, of being a decent human being, were passed down from father to son and mother to daughter. Moreover, grandparents helped to play a big role in the nurturing of children in proper living and respect for their fellowman.
Alas, those were the good ol’ days, it seems. With each passing generation it appears that we move further and further from decency and respect for others and their property. Travel to a city near you and you will see the forward and crass behavior of folks, whether its how people cut you off in traffic or treat you at the shopping mall, it is painfully obvious that people care little about anyone more than themselves and their agendas. Perhaps it’s the break-down of the basic family unit. Maybe it’s the final end result of all the Darwinism we’ve been taught through the years that only the strong survive. Or maybe its just plain old-fashioned greed. Whatever its cause, most people these days just don’t have a very high ethical standard anymore, and that’s an undeniable fact. Civility is definitely on a precipitous decline in America.
This fact can be seen abroad in our hunting and fishing cultures as well. For example: my 10 year old son and I were once fishing a stream in Pennsylvania on a slightly overcast day. We had the stream pretty much to ourselves as we took our time fishing this gorgeous stretch of pocket-water, in hopes of catching a few trout. My son Stephen was still learning how to fish, so I was trying to put him in the best pockets and holes to get a hook up with some of PA’s fine trout. We came up to a beautiful hole, complete with overhanging hemlocks and undercut banks. This sweet-looking spot was sure to hold some dandies! As we approached the hole carefully, we saw at least a half-dozen trout feeding freely on the surface. We crept around to get a good casting position downstream from the fish so as not to scare them. I wanted my son to have the best chance possible to enjoy success on this, one of his first fishing adventures. Regrettably, it was not to be. It seems that there was a young man, probably in his mid-twenties, that had been fishing about 200 yards behind us. He had seen this nice spot as well. While we got into position, he bounced right up to the far end of the hole and chucked a large spinner down to the end where we were getting ready to cast. His cast landed only a few feet in front of us! He caught a trout, and then made successive casts which promptly put down all the rest of the fish in the hole. Satisfied that he had caught all the trout worth catching in the hole, he then turned and left. No ‘excuse me, are you fishing here?’ or ‘may I take a shot at this spot?’….nothing! This fellow trapes up and destroys this hole without so much as a nod of recognition, or a ‘hello’ or anything. Only because I didn’t want to make a scene in front of my young son did I not peel up one side of that fella and down the other. He ruined the hole and didn’t give a hoot who else wanted to fish. Sure, my son and I could’ve hung out for another half-hour or so for the fish to settle down. Sure. But what an example of a total lack of sporting etiquette and respect! That dude was acting like only he mattered.
That’s a fishing story. But there are plenty of examples of instances in the sport of hunting that reflect on this annoying and disturbing trend of selfishness and carelessness. I’m sure every reader of this fine magazine can recount story after story of times they have been treated to arrogant, rude, and crass behavior of so-called ‘sportsmen.’ It seems that the same disrespect that people so easily mete out in our urban jungles has crept into our sports afield. Like the hunting buddy of mine that went out on the opening day of deer season to take up a watchful position in his favorite deer stand…only to find an unknown hunter squatting in it already!
Whatever happened to good sporting etiquette? I think we all know the answer: as our society as a whole continues to decline morally, ethics will decline in commensurate fashion. As ethics decline in people, those same people will bring their ‘in-your-face’ and ‘me-first’ attitude with them to the woods and streams near you. Thus, the rapid decline of sporting etiquette.
I speak about people in general—I’m painting with broad strokes here. As they say, if the shoe fits, where it. There are many, many good people that do not fall in this ‘category of the surly.’ Thankfully so. Thankfully there are many good sportsmen that know exactly what I’m talking about and exercise kind and polite sporting etiquette.
But we would do well to ask this question of ourselves, and of our buddies. More so, we need to take the time to live out a proper example of sporting etiquette and then teach that to others around us, especially the youngsters that are following in our footsteps. For example, on the day that my son and I were so rudely treated astream, I could have very easily sunk to that fellow’s level and berated him. Surely, he deserved it for his disrespect. Instead, I took the time to instruct my young and impressionable son on how the actions of that person were wrong, and the proper thing to do in that situation was to either ask permission to fish the spot, or go around and fish downstream. That stream was for all of us to share together. Furthermore, I reinforced what I taught with a word of caution—if I ever saw him do something like that to another sportsman, he’d feel my wrath and displeasure in no uncertain terms! Thankfully, my son has learned from the lesson and no additional ‘instruction’ has ever been needed in this area.
As I was growing up in Pennsylvania, I enjoyed hunting in some of the Keystone State’s finest farmlands and woods, seeking out quarry ranging from small game to white-tailed deer. Sadly, we watched our hunting privileges be restricted year after year as more and more property owners posted their lands. When we would ask why, the landowner would relay things similar to the following: “Someone cut my fence with wire cutters.” “We found three dead deer on the lower field last year….shot and left lying because they didn’t want them.” “Someone went driving out through my fields in their 4X4.” And the list goes on and on. Fact is, most posted land is off-limits to 98% of the good sportsmen because of the 2% of those ‘sportsmen’ that don’t have any scruples or ethics. Unfortunately, good sportsmen are lumped in with these inconsiderate rudelings.
What can we do about it? How can we bring about a sound and meaningful sporting etiquette in the midst of a ‘me-first’ society? First of all, it starts with us—you and me—to set the standard high. We need to abide by the laws of the land, and be respectful of other sportsmen and landowners. Some folks only feel they need to obey the law when the game warden may be afoot. A hunting license is not a permit to do as you please! It doesn’t matter what ‘Joe Meathead-the-meathunter’ does when he is in the woods or on the stream…we have to hold ourselves (and those we hunt with) to a higher standard, a more lofty code of conduct by which we operate by when we ourselves are afield, irregardless of the actions and attitudes of others.
Secondly, being polite to everyone you meet, or see, while you are out in God’s country will carry big dividends. If you see a person in a stand or watching over an opening in the woods, give him wide passage. Do your best not to ruin his spot. If you are on the stream or lake, swing out away from where he is, giving him wide berth in which to enjoy his spot. Do your dead-level best not to spook his quarry. If you can’t avoid the contact with another sportsman, be kind and courteous when you do meet him. Who knows, you might just make a friend for life. Why make more enemies? As the old saying goes—friends come and go, but enemies accumulate! Remember this unchanging law of the universe: you reap what you sow. Sow in kindness and courtesy to other sportsmen, and the favor will be returned back to you.
Finally, if you are hunting or fishing as a guest on someone’s property, be sure to go overboard with courtesy and kindness. Here again, simply asking permission of a landowner, abiding by his rules, treating his property with respect, and sharing some of the game with him at the end of the season will go a long, long way to cementing a solid relationship and guaranteeing good hunting grounds for many seasons to come.
In summary, the best way to bring back a healthy sporting etiquette is simply to put the Golden Rule into practice—“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” You will never ever go wrong when you treat people how you yourself want to be treated. You’ll find your time afield will be more rewarding and enjoyable. And you may just make some new friends along the way.
May God bless you with happy hunting and tight lines!
Mark D. Houseknecht