Fred Eichler respects the game.
Some 40 years ago, when I first attempted to launch my career as an outdoor writer, I was making little money and looking for ways to supplement my income. At the time, I lived to hunt ducks. It was my passion.
So why not guide duck hunters? I could fuel my passion every day, share it with others -- and make some money doing it. The perfect scenario.
To get some guiding experience before signing up high-paying clients, I guided a couple of old family friends. They wanted to hunt, but in their old age they didn't want to do the work. That's where I came in. Thus, I had my first two clients.
And my last. Once in the marsh, they wanted to shoot at every duck in sight, regardless of range. They tried sluicing ducks that landed in the decoys. They laughed when they winged and lost birds. When they failed to kill their limits, they commanded me to fill out their limits for them -- and got furious when I refused. They cared nothing about the traditions, ethics, and laws of duck hunting. They had neither respect for the birds nor passion for things of the field. They cared only about hearing their guns go bang and piling up dead ducks. They had no respect for the game.
IN THE GAME OF GOLF, Tiger Woods commands great respect, partly, of course, because he's the best golfer in the world, but also -- as I understand from reading and watching TV -- because he respects the game of golf. He knows and honors the history, the traditions, the players, and the rules. He respects the game.
Participants in all pursuits should show similar respect -- including hunters in the game of hunting. After taking those two fellows duck hunting, I never guided again. I decided I'd rather be broke than to watch guys defile my passion day after day. Guiding people who had no respect for the game of hunting would ruin hunting for me.
Since those days, my interests have switched from duck hunting to bowhunting, but my passion remains just as hot. That's why it grieves me today when people show no respect for the game of bowhunting.
Rules and mores, both written and implied, form the foundation for all games -- whether football, golf, or hunting. People who flout the laws -- fill tags for other hunters, ignore shooting hours, trespass illegally -- do not understand the basis for their sport. They have no respect for the game.
One irony of hunting is that we who participate love and revere the very animals we kill. Many nonhunters do not understand that, but we hunters know it makes perfect sense. That's why we revolt when others trample that principle. Some years ago, a man bragged to me that he'd "stuck" a deer. He did not recover the deer, but, man, was he ever proud to see blood on the ground. At least he'd scored a hit. He did not care about the deer, only about drawing blood. He had no respect for the game.
An unwritten law of hunting says hunters will respect the territories of others. My friend Cameron Hanes told me of a situation in which he shared his favorite spot with an invited guest. Because he had personally pioneered the area, Cam desired to maintain the pristine quality there and, to that end, asked the guest to adhere to a couple of simple rules. The guest ignored that request. He had no regard for his host. He will not be invited back. He did not respect the game.
Outdoor videos and TV shows run the gamut of respect and disrespect. Fred Eichler, host of Easton Bowhunting TV, might be a bit crazy, but he is not phony. What you see on the screen is for real. Fred's heart is in bowhunting. Fred respects the game.
Sadly, some TV personalities do not. On recent TV programs, guys carrying bows have shot elk, deer, and other game on high-fenced ranches. Now, if they want to hunt behind high fences and show it for what it is, that's up to them. At least it's honest. But when they lead the audience to believe they're hunting free-range animals and that they're slaving their rear ends off and applying vast years of knowledge to bag trophy animals, they're deceiving viewers -- and themselves. They're liars. They have no respect for the game.
We can't all be great bowhunters, big winners, the Tiger Woods of bowhunting. But we can all emulate his respect and reverence for the game. We can learn the rich history of bowhunting; know and adhere to the laws, rules, and ethics that govern bowhunting; respect the animals we hunt -- alive and dead; respect the rights of other hunters; and hunt honestly and fairly. Success in the field is admirable, but respect for the game marks a far greater achievement.