Food For Thought

Declining American Traditions

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

The American traditions of baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet have been replaced by football, pizza, and Toyota. The traditional outdoor activities of hunting and fishing are now facing a similar fate.

Fewer and fewer young adults are choosing to engage in these outdoor activities. Most of the quality time my father spent with me was during hunting and fishing season in the woods and on the streams of Pennsyl­vania. I still have some of his fishing poles and guns that I look at every now and then to remember the good times we had together. 

I was a mischievous student (that’s being kind) in school. On one occasion a teacher removed me from his classroom — desk and all. As the desk was being moved to the furnace room by two friends, the principal asked them where they were taking it. They responded that Mr. Jansantee had “kicked Bonfadini out of class, desk and all.”

The principal found me talking with the janitor and asked if I would join him in his office. He read me the riot act and then said I would be suspended for three days for this action and other offenses. I responded by asking if he would mind delaying the suspension until the following week. “I’m going to take three days off to go deer hunting and that way we can both accommodate each other’s needs.” He chased me out of the office.

In those days, many schools were closed the first day of hunting season. I even carried my guns to school so I could get in a few hours of hunting before going home. Times have surely changed. Taking a firearm near a school today will get you much more than a three-day suspension.

There are some simple reasons why fishing and hunting today are less popular in the general population. Competition from other activities is one. Kids just have far more things to do. Kids still use guns, but most are controlled by joysticks attached to some video game. You can kill people, aliens, animals or anything else the programmers deem appropriate without any actual harm. (I won’t discuss the possible intellectual harm of such activity in this article.) There are also plenty of video fishing games. In addition to the computer, kids just have so many more organized activities such as football, baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, dance, martial arts, beauty pageants, and gymnastics, just to name a few.

A representative of the National Wildlife Federation said, “We’re losing our rural culture ... There are so many distractions and we are not recruiting enough people into hunting and fishing.” The statement, in my view, illustrates part of the problem. Hunting and fishing must be viewed as a part of the American culture, which at times takes place in rural areas. If these activities are to grow, they must include more urban and suburban youth.

My children don’t hunt. I gave it up about 30 years ago. When I first moved to the Manassas area, I could take my gun and dogs and walk out the door to hunt quail. Today I would have to schedule a whole day, then hope I can get though traffic and find some kind farmer who would let me hunt. Farmers are reluctant to open their lands to large numbers of citizens. I don’t blame them. Just look at all the trash in the fishing streams. 

There is a strong correlation between more people plus fewer places to hunt and the decline in hunting. Without more available places to hunt, nearer to home, this decline will continue. Many farmers are deciding to make hunting a business endeavor by leasing their lands to hunt clubs. The more landowners who choose this option, the more difficult it will be for the general population to participate in hunting.

I have a more optimistic view for fishing — I believe it has growth potential in urban and suburban areas. You can use a fishing pole in a park. Firearms require space and can be dangerous to more than just the target. What would happen if I took a shot at the pesky groundhog that runs through my yard? I think “Jail” might be the word.

When I gave up hunting, I put all my efforts into fishing. My computer is full of great photos of the family catching fish. I have over 100 fishing poles. In fact, when I’m finished with this article, my friend Dave Sweda and I are heading to New York to fly-fish for salmon on the Salmon River. Dave is an expert fly-fisherman who taught me how to tie flies and fish them like an expert. I met Dave on Hawksbill Creek in the town of Luray. We have enjoyed fishing together ever since. Many lasting friendships have developed because of fishing. My heart be­gins to race just thinking of the great times my sons and I have had on the beaches of North Carolina fishing for blues and drum.

To really enjoy hunting and fishing, you must have game and fish. As areas become less conducive to natural reproduction, man has stepped in with fish-stocking programs. But these programs won’t work if streams are polluted and if there is no land. Also, there must be sufficient funds to produce the fish and game to stock or feed. As less people engage in these activities, funds from license fees decrease. Fewer funds ultimately mean less fish and game. Fishing is fun, but catching is even more fun. NO catching usually leads to less fishing, especially for kids. In Virginia, the state has tried to expand the stocking program to include more urban centers. A good idea if you have the fish ... my personal observation is we don’t.

Hunters and fisherman have a major responsibility to lead the charge in conserving these natural resources. I’ve become more cognizant of the importance of releasing fish. I can remember the days when fishermen at Hatteras stacked bluefish on the bank like firewood. Today I see a greater willingness to release the fish unharmed. One of the problems with hunting is it’s difficult to release a deer that came in contact with a bullet. But fishing offers the opportunity to use hooks and equipment that allow for safe release of your catch so some other person can enjoy the sport.

There are numerous articles on the Internet that show statistics supporting my personal observations on this subject. The Internet has a large number of fishing sites where you can find new fishing partners and information. My favorite is Tidalfish.com. I met many of my Chesapeake Bay fishing friends on this site. Schedule the time to take your children fishing or hunting. My experience is these are far better activities for producing quality time with your children than many organized sports. They are traditions I hope will continue for my grandchildren to enjoy.

Finally, my high school principal, Fred Christina, took the time to explain my suspension to my dad. His response was, “Fred, when he’s home he follows my rules. When he’s in your house I expect him to follow your rules. Do whatever you need to do to make him understand that.”

I did get to go hunting but received sufficient punishment ... my homeroom became the principal’s office. I think the word today is in-school suspension. To me it was “Jail.”  

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: bsherrod@odec.com, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.

 

 

 

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