Robert Frost wrote in a poem, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Wandering through the woods last week in pursuit of grouse, this poem came to mind and I wondered how we choose the roads we take. Hunting and angling are just a couple of the myriad of skills that require a combination of desire, muscle and soul to master while providing insight into the meaning of life.
Even though the poem by Robert Frost uses the word “I,” most first steps down any less traveled road are inspired by someone else. I was lucky enough to have a father who hunted and fished. While dad was never great at either of these endeavors, he did recognize skipping school to pursue deer or walleye was a pardonable sin. Much of the rest of his advice on how I should live was hit or miss, but he lovingly supported the first couple steps down my path. This led to university degrees and a career built on understanding fish, wildlife and their habitat.
As I have parented my kids, it is clear that my path is not theirs. I hope I have helped them find their own road – well traveled or otherwise – that will lead them to happiness. As a proxy for my children, I’ve had the opportunity to share my passion with hundreds of university students, many of which have followed their own spur roads into the field of conservation.
Becoming proficient at hunting, fishing or other activities such as sports and music, is about committing to a road. There is a simplification that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. How long it takes each individual is dependent in part on hours spent, but also aptitude, effort, and passion.
It is now simpler to get a jump start on proficiency with the internet. A great example is the rapid improvement in fly tying that can be gained by watching a 20-minute video of an expert. This can provide insights on how to better tie flies that might have taken years to develop on your own. Thinking that watching a few videos is all it takes, however, is a mirage. The skills and equipment of a good angler of the past can now be found in the hands of a neophyte. That does not make them a good angler under today’s more competitive circumstances.
There are many experiences associated with hunting and fishing. We go places — like the tundra of Alaska — few people visit. We seek out local places few people find, as they’re the unmapped spaces between roads and trails. Hunters and anglers watch more sunrises and sunsets in the woods than almost any other group. On the other side of the ledger there is the need to reconcile the paradox of taking the lives of animals you respect, the need to deal with the passing of dogs who are just slightly less important than your children, and accepting the loss of places to hunt and fish either to no trespassing signs or development.
A somewhat unique aspect of hunting and fishing is your skill is dependent on understanding the changes of the seasons. All experts require practice but great musicians or baseball players are not required to understand how the length of the day will affect their success.
Like many other sports, we greatly respect our opponent but also are smitten with the arena and the time of year we play. To predict when it might be better to go to the field and streams, local hunters and anglers often use indicators of the season such as the amount of flow in the Logan River, the disappearance of the last visible snow below Logan Peak, or when ice disappears from the reservoirs. This multidimensional playing field is what keeps so many individuals challenged and learning.
Watching the seasons come and go for over 30 years in Logan has taught me there is no better time to be outdoors in this region than September. Over the next few weeks, aspen leaves will turn and the morning chill will require a heavier sweatshirt. While I will not venture to guess your specific path, I do know it is easier to start or continue down a road less traveled, whether as a hunter, angler, mountain biker, hiker or a driver of an all-terrain vehicle, when the weather’s nice.