Each morning, one of the first things I do is read through the daily email sent out by the New York Times. It fills me in on most of the major news stories, sometimes interesting, and sometimes not. Some get dragged out to the point that I lose all interest. One such topic for me was Brexit, so a few months ago, I was happy to see the typical Brexit update replaced by a more intriguing headline, “China Identifies New Virus Causing Pneumonialike Illness.”
Obviously, these days the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is nearly universally known and discussed. With our current situation, it’s almost comical to look back on the subtext of that headline. It read, “The new coronavirus doesn’t appear to be readily spread by humans, but researchers caution that more study is needed.” This disease, which was thought to not be particularly contagious, has engulfed the world and become the first major pandemic since the 2009 H1N1 virus.
As a population, we have collectively learned many things so far about how we handle a modern pandemic. We’ve learned that we enjoy getting outside (I’ve seen a dramatic increase in dog-walkers since being told walks are a viable quarantine activity), we’ve learned that the first thing to go during a panic is toilet paper, and we’ve learned that it’s enjoyable to virtually connect with friends and family we don’t get to see often, since right now, that’s one of the only ways we can connect with anyone at all.
I’ve also learned some things personally. These include the fact that, apparently, we eat a lot of beans. When I did my weekly store run to grab ingredients for our planned meals, I was caught off guard by the fact that we couldn’t actually get all the ingredients for four of our planned dinners, solely because they were out of beans. I’ve also learned that working from home suits me.
But perhaps the best thing I’ve learned so far from this pandemic is that hunters and anglers are uniquely equipped to handle such an event in stride.
While I was, admittedly, quite annoyed that I could not get the beans I wanted at the store, I have at no point worried that I would run out of food, or even have to eat undesirable meals.
We currently have a freezer full of last year’s game. Most outdoorsmen are likely in the same boat, with several months, if not years, of frozen meat and fish tucked safely away.
There is something very satisfying about being in this situation. It’s not just the simple peace of mind that comes with knowing you’re stocked with food. There is also a satisfaction in knowing the food was self-obtained, that you procured it yourself for this very occasion. Granted, most people probably aren’t thinking about a pandemic specifically when stocking the freezer, but I bet the idea of an emergency situation has crossed the minds of many outdoorsmen.
There’s also a lasting satisfaction that comes from possessing a skill that, for many, is completely foreign or outdated. Historically, it would be standard to have the ability to procure one’s own food, either by hunting, gathering, or gardening, at least in a pinch. Today, it’s relatively rare. In his essay “Dealing with Death,” M. R. James expresses this in one of the most revered quotes within the hunting and fishing community:
Despite our ever-changing, ever-indignant world with its growing ignorance of and indifference to the ways of the wild, I remain a predator, pitying those who revel in artificiality and synthetic success while regarding me and my kind as relics of a time and place no longer valued or understood. I stalk a real world of dark wood and tall grass stirred by a restless wind blowing across sunlit water and beneath star-strewn sky. And on those occasions when I choose to kill, to claim some small part of nature’s bounty for my own, I do so by choice, quickly, with the learned efficiency of a skilled hunter. Further, in my heart and mind, I know the truth and make no apology for my actions or my place in time. Others around me may opt to eat only plants, nuts, and fruits. Still others may employ faceless strangers to procure their meats, their leathers, their feathers, and all those niceties and necessities of life. Such is their right, of course, and I wish them well. All I ask in return is that no one begrudge me — and all of us who may answer the primordial stirrings within our hunter’s souls — my right to do some of these things for myself.
This skill goes beyond the food we currently have. Though it is bountiful, it will eventually run out. But then, we have the skill to obtain more. Although hunting seasons are rather limited, we have the ability, on any given day, to fill our bags with fish and make a dinner many would pay serious money for.
Even outside the worlds of hunting and fishing, there are ways for the self-sufficient to obtain food. Foraging and gardening, activities that may suit both vegetarians and meateaters alike, provide both fresh and freezable edibles.
Being an outdoorsman during a pandemic goes beyond food, though. One of the only places left to recreate legally is outside. While bars, restaurants, theaters, and shops are closed, the trails, rivers, ridges, and peaks remain open and welcoming.
I heard a neighbor of mine recently lament that they had watched through everything they could find on Netflix, and were left with nothing to do. I remember the phrase “bored out of my mind.” For those of us who opt to spend most of our time hunting, fishing, hiking, and biking outside, nearly nothing has changed. Boredom is a rare concept, reserved for doctors’ waiting rooms and the DMV.
When Saturday brunch usually consists of turkey sandwiches and cold beers on top of a mountain, or a granola bar in the middle of a river, life goes on as usual.
So what is it like being an outdoorsman during a pandemic? Pretty much the same as it is any other time: fulfilling.