NOTE: This originally appeared in the May 2016 print version of Heartland Outdoors. After discussing the article with Larry Reid on his radio show “Outdoors with Larry Reid” I have had multiple requests to also place it online.
I’ve had this feeling for some time now – sort of creeping up on me that the face of the outdoor world is changing. Perhaps it’s due to technology, perhaps it’s due to social media, perhaps it’s due to the fact that the outdoors and all of its associated activities are now an “industry”. Whatever the cause, what I’ve been seeing of late is more than a bit saddening.
Somehow, it seems so many are on a quest to be the next big star, the next big name and will stop at very little to get there. Daily in my news feeds, social media feeds, etc. I see articles and posts that yet another “Name in the industry” or highly thought of competitor in various tournament and competition circuits has been found to be either cheating or outright violating fish and game laws, or both. Often it seems during the filming/recording of some sort of show or advertisement.
During the “big” tournaments and competitions polygraphs are required, marshals, referees, and in general folks who simply are part of the competition are needed to keep a watchful eye over everyone in hopes to keep everyone following the rules and staying legal.
How is it we have devolved into such a group of people that this is required? Money and fame would be the first answer that pops into my head.
When money and the perception of fame enter the equation it seems that ethics have flown out. Anything to get the sponsor, the trophy, the contract, or the footage – however it can be achieved.
BUT – It’s not just those in the competitions and tournaments. In the past six months I have seen more terrible behavior by people in the outdoors than ever. Average Joe folks who exhibit an utter disregard for fish and wildlife laws, utter disregard for any regulations, no trespassing signs, all with the ME, ME, ME , MINE, MINE, MINE, mentality. A sense of entitlement and rudeness that segues into aggressive behavior among users that is absolutely dumbfounding.
Many of these folks are relatively new to outdoor activities. Is it a lack of education that perpetuates this behavior? In some cases, perhaps. But I think the problem runs deeper and this may sadly be a reflection of a larger societal issue in general.
Is it that more people are finding enjoyment in the outdoors? That would be a good thing – but only if they understand the basic ethics and principals of outdoor behavior. It is up to us as veteran ethical sportsmen and women to lead by example and educate new folks. Simply taking them out to explore, hunt, fish etc. is not enough – we must instill in them a love and respect for the outdoors as well as acceptable behavior.
Is it possible that we simply don’t have enough publicly accessible land for everyone to enjoy without issues associated with crowding? Based on the data I could find, Illinois ranks 44th out of the 50 states for public land available for hunting – with a whopping 2% of the state open to public hunting (and that includes federal lands as well).
When talking with others who have spent their entire lifetimes in the outdoors I find the same feelings – the same “What is happening to us” question being asked.
Some feel that social media plays a large part as well as the need to “Be Somebody”. It seems that every outdoor activity is now a competition, thanks to social media. Sportsmen are chasing likes and views and praying their post or tweet goes viral – in hopes that someone will notice them and offer them a giant contract. Alternately, other sportsmen are falling into the name and shame routine in an effort to make themselves appear better, more ethical, or to get a leg up on on their perceived “competition” . Far too often social media feeds are filled with posts that degrade and tear down each other, rather than standing together as sportsmen and women.
It’s all been a bit much for me lately. I have lost respect for those I once looked up to. I find myself tossing aside what once were my favorite outdoor publications because every article has become one long infomercial for the writer and any and all products that were used.
How do we turn this disturbing trend around? While we want to keep introducing people to the outdoors and all the benefits of enjoying the outdoors – we absolutely have to be mindful of how we are doing it, and how we are presenting ourselves to new users.
I’ve been told by readers that I shouldn’t talk about, write about, or offer up any photos of poor behavior because it gives people the perception that all outdoor enthusiasts behave like that. I’ve also been advised to play the internet name and shame game with those who violate fish and game laws, and behave badly. I think the answer falls somewhere in the middle. The more attention we give those behaving badly the more of a star it makes them believe they are. Yet to ignore it completely will not make it go away.
How do we make folks understand that It’s not a giant competition for the biggest trophy animal, the most tournament wins, that time in the outdoors is not a means to the end of becoming a star?
Well, stop the hero worship for thing. Cut back on the viewing of the TV shows, reading the publications that glorify this sort of thing and routinely are nothing more than one long infomercial. When we find out that someone who has broken fish and game laws is sponsored by one of our favorite product manufacturers – take the time to write them and let them know that we can’t support a product that supports that kind of behavior.
Most of all we have to lead by example. WE have to set the tone and show others what is and is not acceptable behavior in the outdoors. WE have to educate newcomers, not just in the rules, but the reasoning behind those regs. WE have to demand from our judges that those found guilty be prosecuted fully. WE have to show the newcomers how to best interact with others on public land, how to be courteous, civil, polite.
The future of the outdoors is at a tipping point, and it’s up to us to keep it from falling over the cliff and shattering into a free for all where it’s everyone for themselves, and the most fame and fortune.