Welcome to the host site for outdoor writer Steve Sorensen’s “Everyday Hunter” columns. For a complete index of all columns, go to EverydayHunter.com.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What To Do at a Sport Show

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, January 19, 2013.)

May’s spring gobbler season is more than three months away, and gobblers are huddled up for the winter. I can’t read their little minds, though many times I’ve tried, but I’m guessing they’re just as anxious as we are for the spring thaw. Why wouldn’t they be? They’re trying to stay warm and find enough to eat, and they don’t even have television to pass the time.

What to do while we wait? It’s the show season. The just-completed Warren Sport Show at the Warren Mall was a good warm-up. Next comes the giant Eastern Sport and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg (February 2-10). If you’ve never been there, spend a day or two – you have nine whole days to see what it’s all about. It’s not just a show; it’s an adventure.

Don't hunker down like a gobbler
in the dead of winter – get going!

Right on Harrisburg’s heels is the Allegheny Sport and Outdoor Show near Pittsburgh at the Monroeville Convention Center (February 13-17). Then, the closest is the Erie Sport and Travel Expo at Erie’s Bayfront Convention Center (March 1-3).

What does a person do at a sport show? There is no denying that one reason they exist is to get you to spend your money. If you don’t want to spend money, then don’t take much. Other benefits are enough to make it worthwhile. Here are five things to do:

(1.)  Cure cabin fever – If it’s too early for yard work, too muddy or snowy to get out into the woods, and too cold for you to enjoy the outdoors, you still need to get out and move around. Do it at a sport show. Gawk at some monster whitetail mounts and other trophies, and put them into your dreams for next season.   

(2.)  Attend seminars – Sport shows always hold seminars presented by some of the most successful hunters and fishermen in the nation. If you find yourself in a rut, there’s no better place to get exposed to new techniques and learn something you can use.

(3.)  Talk to experts – A few “celebrity experts” always roam the shows, but many of the vendor booths are staffed by hunters and fishermen who know just as much, or more. I’ve been on both sides of the booth, and I can tell you the people in the booths will welcome a conversation with you.  

(4.)  See new products – Sport shows often give a first look at the latest products for outdoorsmen. Yes, many of them are gimmicks. True, you don’t really need most of them. But I’ve discovered a few things at sport shows that I’m glad I have. And if you are planning a big purchase, a sport show might be the best place to handle products and make comparisons. Treestands, binoculars, game calls, knives, turkey vests… it’s an “Alice’s Restaurant” of sporting goods – you can get anything you want.

(5.)  Dream – You might not be planning a hunting or fishing trip in the near future, but it never hurts to talk to the people who provide them. A sport show is the place to scope out the guides, grab some of their literature, and start thinking about where and when.  I remember one old-timer telling me about his hunting adventures in Canada, and he asked me if I’d ever been out of state to hunt. At the time I hadn’t. He said, “Well, get going!”

Get going – that’s my advice to you. Don’t hunker down like a gobbler in the dead of winter. While you’re waiting for spring, grab a buddy or two, and have a good time cruising the aisles at a sport show.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Growing Up With Guns

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, January 5, 2013.)

It was a cold December 2, 1963. The snow was thigh-deep and heavy on the trees. Although I was only 11, my fledgling scouting skills throughout the summer and fall indicated lots of deer were living on our 22 acres in Scandia, Pennsylvania, so I pestered Dad until he agreed to include me in the opening day of buck season.

For so, so many – and for me – 
guns were a normal part of growing up.   

I remember Dad letting me hold the rifle while on stand. If that was a violation, it was an innocent one, and we didn’t see a single deer to tempt me.

Looking back fifty years, it would seem out of order to some people that an 11-year-old would be handed a bolt action rifle just 10 days after a bolt action rifle had been used to shoot President Kennedy in Dallas. I remember Mrs. Wall bracing herself and choking back tears as she told our combined fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classroom that the President was dead.

Ten days later Dad and I weren’t thinking about the Kennedy assassination. We were thinking about deer hunting.

For so, so many – and for me – guns were a normal part of growing up. Often I’d step off the school bus and scan the back fields for woodchucks before going into the house. Once in a while, I’d grab a rifle and pop off a shot.

Come October, I’d rub a foot from a dead rabbit on Mitzy’s nose to get her all wound up before turning her loose to chase cottontails. (Mitzy was my beagle.) But I wasn’t a bloodthirsty killer, nor did the rabbit’s foot bring me good luck – I never killed a bunny until I was 15.

To excuse my pathetic shooting skill, I lay blame on the second-rate guns I carried. My .22 rimfire was an ancient single-shot of some unknown brand, in pretty rough shape, with half of a Lincoln head penny fixed to the muzzle for a front sight. Despite its faults, I shot my first woodchuck with that old gun.

My first shotgun was a Model 258A bolt action 20 gauge made by J. Stevens. It had a removable box magazine that wanted to fly to pieces whenever I unloaded it. Miraculously, I once knocked a grouse out of the air with that decrepit shotgun. My buddy, Tom Huber, was amazed at the shot I made. I hid my own astonishment by faking a nonchalant attitude.

As kids, we were gun owners, and we grew up on television shows that were nothing like what kids watch today. We watched Matt Dillon bring law and order to Dodge City, Kansas. We saw a single dad named Ben Cartwright raise Adam, Hoss and Little Joe with consummate parenting skill. We rooted for the Lone Ranger as he fought for justice with Tonto at his side, and left grateful people wondering “who was that masked man anyway?”

Those heroes, and many more, were the good guys, and we loved them. We admired the fact that they never pulled the trigger unless the bad guys shot first. We understood they used guns for self-defense, and self-defense was part of law and order.

In my teenage years we moved to town, and I traded for a Model 37 Ithaca 12 gauge pump at Ted Thelin’s little store on Cobham Park Road. After spending fall days in classrooms at Warren Area High School in Warren, Pennsylvania, I’d drop down over the hill to our house, change my clothes, grab Mitzy and my pumpgun, and head back up the hill to hunt rabbits on school property.

I must have carried that shotgun across the football team’s practice field dozens of times – always waving to Coach Shea – but never once was stopped for questioning. Accountability came the next day when Mr. Shea would ask, “Did you get any rabbits?”

Those were the days when people didn’t assume guns were for killing people. Shouldering a shotgun as I walked across school grounds never needed a second look. In fact, despite often being armed on school grounds, at graduation I received an award for character.

I doubt everyone agreed about my character, but today a kid can’t get away with carrying a gun on school grounds even once, for any reason. And be recognized for character? Not a chance.

Those were the days when kids were always on the side of the good guys, and we aspired to be one of them. Those were the days when the bad guys sometimes learned their lesson, and showed they were redeemable.

Those were the days when Tonto called the Lone Ranger “Ke-mo Sah-bee,” or “trusted friend.” Those two men, from different races, were bound by a moral code. And we were bound to our heroes by that same code – a code that was important to growing up with guns.