Our Outdoors: There is No Substitute

By Nick Simonson


The sensations experienced and the understanding gained from a hunt or fishing trip are rewards all their own.  Whether the challenge of meeting the rising landscape or braving the heat, cold, wind, rain or snow ends with a punched tag, a missed shot, a landed fish or a lost lunker, there is no substitute – whether in practice or on the page – for the adventure and memories made in the field, forest, streams and lakes open to all of us.


Run and Walk

It doesn’t take much sun in early autumn to heat things up.  Under a long-sleeved t-shirt and field pants in the evaporating dew from the grass in mid-morning the sweat starts to flow.  Each step kicks up another burst of humidity and the gnarled and wet tangle of clover and undergrowth wraps like the clutching tendrils of a nuclear-charged antagonist in some 1960s black-and-white botanical horror movie.  As I leverage my quadriceps against the hillsides in search of grouse, I’m thankful for the thinning grass but challenged by the incline. Upon reaching the top of the rise, I plot a path that will keep me and my dog out of the denser stretches and hit the small buffaloberry bushes with their red payloads that serve as bright beacons in the connect-the-dots loop back to the truck in what will be the final walk of the day cut short by the growing warmth.

After a few years of inconsistency, I’m back to running three days a week now, and as of late have doubled up my leg days to be more in shape for hunting season, as part of a plan which began after the Independence Day holiday and its related food binge and scary number on the bathroom scale upon my return home from vacation. Still, all these exercises are no substitute for being in the field.  The challenges of hunting – even in the rolling hills and lowland vegetation of the open prairie – provide a primal man-versus-nature feeling that suggests only a hint of what native tribes on the prairie dealt with to secure their food, shelter and the materials that would carry them through the cold weather season.  It’s not the Rocky Mountains either, so I don’t kid or count myself among the elite hunter-athletes of the west.  But still, the satisfaction of a long walk through the ups and downs of the hills and the gripping wet tangle grass is ten times the feeling of finishing a hard workout on the whirring black mat of the treadmill any day.

Read and Do
Now that both Field & Stream and Outdoor Life have switched to more limited releases – the former cut to bi-monthly, and the latter now published quarterly – their arrival is an almost Christmaslike experience, hearkening back to my youth when the more regular installments would be rolled up around the letters and bills in the springer spaniel-shaped mailbox at the end of my parents’ driveway. Both periodicals, along with the occasional In-Fisherman picked up from the nearby gas station newsstand fill the time on rainy days, long sits in my second office, or while riding shotgun on a family trip around the region.  The stories in them have waxed more toward the adventure side of things, with tales of fishing trips on wild Russian rivers or hunts for big game in Mexico serving as the cornerstone pieces in each issue.  There remain enough short tales, field tips and gear reviews to fill a few fleeting moments of down time, and combined, the features and fast reads provide insight into adventures I’ll likely never partake in and fancy firearms and $400 fishing reels I’ll never buy, but nevertheless are fun to read about or at least drool over.

However, the printed page and stock photos pale in comparison to the sights seen first hand on stand or while slipping into the calm waters of an autumn lake in the adventures I can make for myself a few miles out my front door.  It’s the whistling of wood ducks in the dawn’s early light, or the surprising, awkward swoosh of a heron lifting from the cattail edge as my first cast splashes down a few feet from it.   It’s the fading stars in the last of night’s inky blackness overhead or the occasional blue streak of an autumn meteor adding some magic to the pre-morning moments. While from time-to-time the plans, lures and suggestions from the pages of these periodicals make their way into my mind to test out during a deer hunt or a walk for pheasants, it’s the trial-and-error of my own ideas in the outdoors that remain with me from season to season.

In the style of learning by doing that has carried me through spelling quizzes, SATs, bar exams and the ultimate test of parenting, I find my self-devised strategies in the wild and their occasional colossal failures, less common super-sized successes, and predominantly middling results so much more rewarding than any I have read and used toward the same ends.  Ultimately, there is no substitute for those outcomes and the experiences that make them come to be, all of which in one form or another, in my predominantly glass-half-full worldview, can be declared a success simply by being seen to completion…in our outdoors.


Featured Photo: You can train all you want, but even the long walks on the prairie have no substitute when pursuing wild game. Simonson Photo. 

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