By Nick Simonson
The ball had dropped, the calendar had turned. 2020 was officially in the rear-view mirror. As I made my way through the field-side tree rows and up the winding draws, however, the year did not seem over until I returned to the truck on the final day of the upland hunting season. In tow were a pair of rooster pheasants that held tight in the brush, with the unseasonably warm southerly gales giving the auditory cover for my dog and I to get close enough for the final shots of the season. It was a memorable trip, and unlike most other adventures with the shotgun in hand this season, a fairly accurate outing. The setting sun signaled the official completion of the previous hunting year, even if its terminus was a few days later than the end of the calendar year. Whether they were my last birds of the fall of 2020 or my first birds of 2021 really didn’t matter, though. They served as a reminder on the importance of just being outside.
This year, more people than in recent memory availed themselves of the outdoors. From early discussions, it’s likely that numbers from many agencies across the nation will show upticks from five to 25 percent or more across all pursuits in terms of license sales. With all that was going on – the stress, the quarantine time, or perhaps the sudden surge of hours away from work, which left a gaping hole in many people’s schedules and likely their psyches – it was easy to understand why. While my passion requires me to be out there, I too felt those pressures and again turned to the outdoors in 2020 to find respite from a world which seemed to have run amok. From the orange vests that dotted the countryside in the fall to the bundled-up anglers along the just-opening shores of spring waterways, I saw thousands of others who did as well.
Additionally, those people brought people with them. Older family members, young children, friends from within their personal bubble and likely those from outside of it. As difficult as the previous year was for many reasons, it was important to the future of the outdoors and the pastimes and passions of hunting and fishing. It served to not only highlight the need for increased conservation which preserves clean waters and strong habitat for fish and game, but also to stress the requirement of access to those resources for the people seeking them, including those whose love of the outdoors was ignited for the first time or rekindled due to the circumstances.
Where the future of hunting and fishing goes from here depends on where those people go. Life will undoubtedly return to normal or at least something similar to it in the coming months and all those things from the time before 2020 will likely come back, calling for our attention. It’s up to us as the sporting public to continue to foster use and enjoyment of the outdoors and to keep inviting – and more importantly, taking – new and returning hunters and anglers into the field and on the water. Through these actions we build on what was likely the best aspect of what many have dubbed the worst year in several generations.
Whether the calendar turned for you on January 1, ended with the final retrieve of a brightly colored bird, or you plan on keeping the outdoors year rolling on the ice fishing perch and walleyes or in the brush jumping rabbits and squirrels, take someone with you. Spread out as needed, drive separately, and shout across the snowbanks as required. While the challenges from the previous year remain, the opportunities do as well. Let 2021 be the year we all build on what we’ve learned, what we’ve overcome and what we’ve deemed necessary for a full and healthy life, coming after a good long look at ourselves, our habits and how important it is just being…in our outdoors.
Featured Photo: The sun sets on the hunting season. Many important things came to light in the past year as challenging conditions sent many to the outdoors for solace. During this time we’ve learned what’s important, and it’s even more important to continue appreciating all we have. Simonson Photo.