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Evolution of the outdoor writer

Headin' Outdoors with Scott Staats


Many people seem to enjoy reading about the outdoors.

This, of course, can’t be done without something known as the outdoor writer. There’s been quite an evolution in the world of outdoor writers that dates back to early man.

The first outdoor stories were simply pictographs and petroglyphs painted and etched on cave walls.

A stick figure with a spear or bow and arrow with a mammoth or deer nearby could translate to mean the hunter is out after his quarry. Of course it doesn’t tell if the hunter was successful, but neither do many modern-day outdoor stories.

For the illiterate Neanderthals of the time, who couldn’t read or write on cave walls, there was sign language. Thag would stand in front of the clan pointing to himself and fellow hunter Thog, then point to the spears making a throwing motion, then point to the dead mammoth.

This would clearly mean to everyone watching that these two humans of the Pleistocene Epoch successfully killed their quarry.

With the invention of fire came the age of smoke signals, for anyone who wanted to look to the sky for their outdoor stories. With the invention of the pen and paper, the typewriter and finally the computer, outdoor stories began appearing everywhere.

Most editors can attest to the fact that the style of outdoor writing has also evolved. Take for example how this simple sentence has evolved over the years:

1) Me and Joe goes huntin’ and we gits our deers.

2) Me and Joe went huntin’ and got our deers.

3) Me and Joe went hunting and got deer.

4) Joe and I went hunting, and we each got our deer.

The last of which is most likely a lie.

Anyone who has followed outdoor stories realizes that most outdoor writers have a boilerplate style of writing. They often seem to have boilerplate names as well such as J.R., J.D., J.L., J.P., Buck, Nub, Cub, Tub, Pub, Bud, Tug (or Bud Tuggly).

They begin a story by setting the reader up with a quaint little scene.

“The dappling light of morning massaged the distant hills. The dimpled lake surface sent out indistinct rings from trout sampling the latest menu of hatches. I startled two spotted fawns that watched me playfully. Woodpeckers drumming in the distance broke the silence. It felt great to be alive. A coyote howled somewhere off in the distance.” (A coyote always howls somewhere off in the distance.)

Then they go right in for the kill, only after perhaps giving a quick description of a beautiful animal reflecting the early morning rays from its magnificent hide or antlers.

“Then I spotted the monster buck stepping out into the clearcut. The cold steel of the rifle felt reassuring in my hands. I raised the gun to my shoulder, took aim on my quarry, squeezed the trigger, felt the tug of the gun. The great, beautiful brown beast dropped dead in its tracks. I would have meat in my freezer this winter. Venison — it’s what’s for dinner.”

What he really means is, “This trophy rack on my wall is meant to impress my friends and inflate my ego even more.”

A similar introduction could be used when writing up a fishing trip as the writer describes the fly used, the backcast, the tug on the line, the fight and finally the catch and release of the injured trout — and being one with nature.

I’ve read stories of some outdoor writers whose ethics don’t even register on the radar screen.

Many simply like to brag about their last hunting or fishing trip with their kids or buddies, while others like to drop names of famous outdoor people and make like they are best friends.

Now why would I care that they went out with so-and-so and shot a trophy buck? If you want to hear a really interesting story, just the other day I went out with my good friend, and famous outdoor writer, Pat McManus and we caught some really nice trout.

Some outdoor writers know a little about the outdoors, but don’t know much about writing and vice versa. Here are some tips on becoming a successful outdoor writer:

Never ask for directions or read instructions. Although this makes you more independent and self-reliable, it often backfires and leaves you lost out in the boondocks with a piece of gear you don’t know how to use. Never come back to camp before dark, even if you have to take a nap against a tree 100 yards from the tent. The secret is to come walking into camp at dark without turning on your light. This way the group will think you’re a top-rated mountain man.

Outdoor writers must also be prepared to answer any type of outdoor question posed to them, since people think you know what you’re talking about. A sarcastic answer will only add to your fame or notoriety.

For example, if asked if you ever go huntin’ bear, the best answer is, “No, I usually wear clothes.” If asked where you stand on cougars, answer something like, “As far back as possible so they don’t swat you off.”

Many outdoor writers are aware of “the power of the pen,” which gives them the last word. I recall a fishing trip with a guide who put me through some endless ribbing all day when he outfished me 9-2. When my story came out, I wrote that “we caught 11.” Not a lie.

We outdoor writers are often accused of being cheapskates. We like to refer to ourselves as do-it-yourselfers.

We may wear the same camo outfit for the last 25 years but the air spaces, aka holes, are just part of the natural environment and help us to better blend in while out in the woods.

We are often in no big hurry and may be seen using a trolling motor to cross a large lake in order to save money on gas.

The roll of duct tape is never very far away when fixing any outdoor gear or wrapping a buddy’s gift. We often make our own game calls and other gear. I once made my own ice-fishing rod by taking the end of an old rod, then taping a lightweight reel to it with duct tape.

When we try to fix one problem, we usually create 10 more but this usually keeps us busy through the long winters repairing things, freeing us from boredom and getting some fodder for future humor stories.

Well, I better git goin’. Me and Joe gots a little light left as the salmon-colored sun is fading over the horizon, casting dappled light on the distant hills.

And somewhere in the distance, I hear a coyote howling.



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