A curmudgeon looks at writing

My friend Tony is one of the best outdoor writers in America today. Boy did he nail this one! By Tony Dean For the Argus Leader PUBLISHED: November 29, 2006 Remember Burgess Meredith's line in the motion picture, "Grumpy Old Men." He was lecturing Jack Lemmon about the need to seize the moment because you never know when it'll end. As Burgess put it, "all of a sudden you wake up one day and realize you're not 86 anymore." I don't feel that old, but it's harder to avoid becoming a curmudgeon. Life is a constant learning experience, and, the older you get, the less patience you have for selfishness and stupidity. I began to soak up duck hunting lore as a youngster by reading Gordon McQuarrie's "Stories of Old Duck Hunters and other Drivel," the wonderful pieces in Field & Stream by Corey Ford; especially his tales of the Lower 40, a group of fishing and hunting reprobates who became my heroes. I doubt today most magazines that have become steeped in "how to" and "where to" would even publish a monthly column such as Ford's. But these were the tales that made young boys want to become men and allowed the men of those days to be boys again. Ted Trueblood was another whose work oozed of ethical underpinnings and tradition. And who could forget the legendary Ben East who made Outdoor Life America's conservation watchdog. Or Michael Frome, a writer who managed to get fired by every outdoor magazine in the nation because of his radical notion that sportsmen should know how their elected officials were voting on conservation issues. The truth is, most outdoor magazines these days aren't worth buying or reading - other than perhaps Field & Stream, the only national outdoor publication that features good, meaningful writing. Sports Afield has turned into a caricature of what was once a good outdoor magazine, and Outdoor Life has been a joke for years. But just as the magazines have fallen far below the bar of good outdoor journalism, so too has the craft of outdoor writing. Back in my boyhood, Dad brought home copies of the Big Three monthly, but also magazines like Saga, True and Argosy, all of which featured outdoor stories. Yes, they were usually the classic "Me and Joe" stories most magazines won't buy these days. But what most of today's editors don't realize is that those were the stories kids like me read. The stars of those stories became our heroes and we wanted to emulate them. Thus, those stories turned us into hunters. I've hunted over the years with some Manhattan-based outdoor magazine editors, and to tell the truth, most don't have the foggiest idea of what it's like out there. I remember one who shot his first rooster…on the ground. Another who thought Pennsylvania was a western state. Still another who went through a box of shells on a day when South Dakota pheasants were committing suicide, and he couldn't give them any help. Give these guys a shotgun, turn 'em loose for a week and tell them to fend for themselves, and they'd either wound themselves or get hopelessly lost. Unfortunately, it is editors like these who determine what articles appear in outdoor magazines. Everything today seems aimed at the young hunter who has become more shooter than hunter. He doesn't want to be bothered with the importance of conservation. He wants to know where and how and how many he can kill and he wants it right now. The sad part is, there are companies out there who cater to this nonsense. Even sadder are the publications that masquerade as hunting magazines but have evolved into little more than illustrated marketing catalogs for the purveyors of guns, optics and gimmicks. Outdoor television is worse. Though I've made my living in this field for the past 20 years, I can't stomach most of what I see these days, and I'm reasonably sure very little of it is watched by today's youngsters. And if it is, what kind of message must they be receiving? Baiting is good, preserves are where it's at, big antlers mean everything - even if they get that way because of planting some magic stuff that helps deer grow big horns. The outdoor press has let us down. Some great writers, who played key roles in my generation wouldn't make it today. Who would publish Aldo Leopold essays or Ted Trueblood, Ben East, Corey Ford, Robert Ruark, or the others who gained the attention of young minds with their wonderful stories. These stories and the ethics that underlie hunting aren't there anymore. And good access aside; the lack of ethics and tradition that even many wildlife managers willingly ignore, will ultimately spell an end to it all. Any curmudgeon can see that.