Between political arguments, questionable media interpretations of events, which hunting brands are the best, and if it is really bad to wear white after Labor Day, it can be hard to keep a firm grasp on who we are anymore. With all of the hype about change and adapting to this “new” world we live in, I think it is important that each of us hold tight to where our hearts and minds are rooted. We as sportsmen, more specifically Iowa sportsmen, are some of the most versatile, persistent, creative, and innovative people in our modern society, and I think we can all agree that a day spent in the woods is a better escape from the worldly madness than a puppy video on social media. Our passion carries us to the wilderness during the wee hours of the morning in sub-zero temps to get a few hours of bliss before returning to the never ending drone of our day to day routine. Being a sportsman is truly a gift from God, and these are 10 characteristics that truly make up the sportsman spirit.
1. A Sportsman knows their limits. Taking the time to understand the limitations of mind, body, and gear before any sort of outing is what separates the sportsman from the enthusiast. It is not only ethical to our game and our safety, but to the sport itself. There are many styles of hunting and fishing, each with their own limitations. A sportsman believes, “Know limits, or no adventure.”
I often brag to my buddies around the campfire that I have successfully taken two deer with my dad’s Mossberg 500 at 195 and 210 yards with open sights. There are several factors that go into this type of phenomenon including the target being stationary, the shots were both in wide open pasture and crop field, there were absolutely no hunters beyond the target, and I know through years of practice what that shotgun and ammo combination are capable of. I also understand that the chances of making a clean kill greatly decrease beyond that distance. I understand my gear, my accuracy, and my ability to make that kind of shot.
2. A Sportsman respects their boundaries. Remember momma always telling you, “respect other people’s space”? Well nothing has changed when it comes to hunting ground. Nothing chaps my rear more than heading afield for the season opener, only to find that some jack wagon trespasser left a t-shirt in my tree stand, scent bottles on the ground, and stole my rope.
I am sure most can agree that the industrialization of trophy hunting has put a damper on gaining permission to hunt our great state. The frustration can be a little overwhelming as each year the amount of land we “good ol’ boys” have to hunt becomes less and less, however it does not give us the right to disrespect the boundaries of other people’s property. Money may cause us to lose a few acres here and there, but the one thing that will guarantee you lose everything is trespassing. A Sportsman cherishes the land they have, and does not covet the land on the other side of the fence. The grass may be greener but the harvest of a legal animal is worth more to the sportsman than a guilt trip and hefty fine.
3. A Sportsman is a steward of the land. As mentioned above, there are some people who could care less whether or not they trash the property they hunt. It doesn’t matter if the land is public or private, it is the sportsman’s responsibility to ensure the land is better than when they found it.
This could be something as simple as taking a weekend to clean out an old ravine on a southern Iowa tract that your family shotgun hunts, or picking up that old shot shell you’ve walked past for years as you go to your tree stand. I can tell you that a landowner will never be more happy to have you come back, than if you take the time to visit with them on your way out and you are carrying a bag of old trash you cleaned off the property.
4. A Sportsman plays by the rules. The Iowa DNR takes time to ensure that all hunters have the best chance to harvest the best quality fish and wildlife that our state has to offer. This comes at a price whether it be increased license fees, decreased bag limits, or even seasons being cut short or closed completely due to population sizes.
It may not always seem fair, but a good sportsman plays by the rules no matter how ridiculous they may seem. The long term goals of a sportsman and wildlife regulatory agencies is to ensure the traditions are alive and well for generations to come. Not to mention the price tag for not following the rules could cost you the ability to hunt for a lifetime.
5. The Sportsman’s tradition is their legacy. For those of you who have children, I am sure that you look forward to them following you into the woods and carrying on your family’s sportsman lifestyle. For those of you that don’t, the same may hold true for your friends and family that you love sharing your game, stories, and passion for the outdoors with.
Sportsmen have a time honored tradition to uphold of passing along our passion to the next generation. As we grow older, our bodies may limit our ability to carry out the sportsman lifestyle, however we can pass down the sportsman ethos to our loved ones who will carry it on for generations to come.
6. A true Sportsman perseveres until their goals are a reality. Whether you have been hunting a monster buck for three years, or this is your first time in the stand, the sportsman knows that the game of “Man vs. Nature” is a game of willpower. The hunt is rarely easy, though it seems the harder the work load, the more memorable the experience.
My first ever turkey hunt took a total of two and a half hours from set up to tear down. I was hooked and had no idea how spoiled I was. The next three birds each taught me lessons on hard work, patience, frustration, and a bit of humility. Without perseverance keeping me coming back for more, I would not have three beautiful fans to hang in the guest bedroom.
Some years the first deer that walks by is a shooter buck and the season ends early. Other times, it takes five outings and 300 casts before the first keeper catfish is hauled over the muddy sandbar and attached to your stringer. No matter how hard the season, a sportsman who perseveres through the worst of it will come out on top.
7. A Sportsman supports their local businesses and organizations. I was lucky enough to grow up in the small town of Earlham, Iowa. Although it didn’t seem too glamourous then, I now understand the greater picture of what it means to be a local sportsman. I loved my days working at the local hardware store, especially when the local hunters all crowded the counter after work to buy their hunting and fishing licenses. The whole place buzzed with excited youngsters, seasoned vets, and old timers who just stopped by to share their stories of younger years when their knees would allow them to hunt more than they do now.
There was only one restaurant that could keep its doors open for more than a few months, John Horton’s Master Griller. You could always bet on the morning of any season opener that the early risers would stop in for some coffee, comradery, and the best damn biscuits and gravy this side of the Missouri river. Sportsmen understand the importance of community, and the small Iowa communities rely heavily on their local hunters to keep their doors open.
8. A Sportsman shares. Sportsmen understand that all good things are made better when they are shared with others. No matter if that means harvesting the Thanksgiving turkey that will be served to our loved ones, the bags of jerky we share around the breakroom table with our co-workers, or simply the time we share with our loved ones in the field.
The sportsman lifestyle is not a lifestyle of solitude, but a lifestyle of fellowship, community, and comradery.
9. A Sportsman is resilient. A true sportsman understands that time spent trumps rough conditions. What do I mean? Each time we hunt, we encounter a new set of circumstances. Sometimes they play into our favor but more often than not they play into the fins, paws, hooves, or webbed toes of our quarry.
We do not conquer our goals by going home when the going gets tough, rather we make up our minds to push forward in the harshest of conditions that this life throws our way. When we are beat, we regroup, push forward, and try again until we have what we seek. A sportsman is resilient in all aspects of their life because the years spent afield prove to us time and time again that we have what it takes to achieve anything we set our mind to.
10. A Sportsman lets the little ones walk. We all love to joke about how small our first deer was. A hunter goes through stages, and eventually we graduate to the sportsman stage. The sportsman understands that there is more to a hunt than the size of a rack, as well as the ecology of what we are doing as hunters to our ecosystems.
One tradition our group of first season shotgun hunters had was letting the future hunters walk with their dad for a season to ensure that they knew the ropes and limits before getting to carry a gun. I will never forget my first season walking the hills, plum thickets, ravines, and drainages of Southern Iowa alongside my dad. I was working on my second year of hunting, and he was getting out to the field for the first time in years. I watched as lines of deer cruised by our post. He burnt through his fair share of shells, and we came home with a couple clumps of hair from a deer he grazed as I was cheering him on. By letting me walk, he ensured that a fire inside me was inextinguishable. By letting me walk, his pride may have been a little bruised but his son was never more proud of him and his effort.
We find enjoyment in letting the smaller animals grow, and find pride in the overall maturity of the animal we harvest. The dreaded “tag sandwich” becomes less of a burden as we understand the contribution that tag made to the support of the sportsman lifestyle. The sportsman is proud of his harvest no matter the size. The sportsman understands that the contribution to their soul, society, and the land is what leads to the greatest harvest of all: The Sportsman Legacy.