It’s true that there are technically more anglers in the United States than hunters. But when compared to hunters, many of the angling ranks are much more casual in their interest, while the core of hunters tends to be more dedicated to their sport. At least, in the circles I travel that is certainly the case. While I know plenty of men and women who hunt, fish or do both, there are few of the latter who would pick fishing over hunting if given a choice. But why this is true varies greatly from person to person. To get to the bottom of this near universal reality, I went to my global network of sportsmen and asked them why they identify more with hunting than fishing. Listed below are some of the best reasons I heard, along with a few that personally move me in that tendency as well.
Reason 10: It’s hard to target one fish. Whether they are pursuing a huge elk, a hard-to-find longbeard or a one-of-a-kind whitetail buck, hunters who pursue big game are able to engage in what is probably the highest challenge in the sporting world: matching wits with a single animal, and hunting it and it alone. Try to do that with a fish! Unless you’re Captain Ahab in “Moby Dick” or Quint in “Jaws,” the opportunity to seek out one trophy fish just doesn’t exist. The closest you can get is to toss a lure into the ripples where a big bass just jumped from the water, and even that rarely works.
Reason 9: Hunting can be less of a hassle. Depending on how or what you’re after, hitting the woods for a day of hunting can be as simple as grabbing your gun or bow, strolling into the woods and sitting down. Unless you live on the water, to do fishing justice, you really need to haul a boat to the ramp, drop it in the water and motor (or row, if so inspired) on expensive gas to various fishing spots. When you’re done fishing, you usually have to trailer the boat, haul it home and clean it up. As a teen, I frequently went out with my dad onto the Chesapeake Bay to fish in his 17-foot Seacraft. As I recall, it seemed like we worked on that boat more than we actually fished from it. A realization evolved from that time in my life that the best boat can actually be the one owned by your friend, not yourself.
Reason 8: Hunting better prepares you for the coming zombie apocalypse. Oh yeah, it’s coming. Or at least, you would think it is. From books about how to survive a zombie attack to organized shooting events where competitors move through a zombie-target strewn course, zombies might even be hotter than vampires right now. As former-NRA staffer Britt Ford reminded me, few things better prepare you for defending humanity against legions of the undead than the steady aim and tactical skills learned in hunting. Try whipping a spinner bait around with your Zebco rod to beat back the zombie hordes, and you’ll find out just how quickly your brains can become an appetizer for the organ-starved living dead.
Reason 7: Hunting skills help benefit future soldiers in our armed forces. OK, I understand most of you aren’t really that concerned about zombies, but how about this very real concern? From Davy Crockett to World War I’s Alvin York—who used his shooting skills developed from hitting turkeys in the head with a rifle to wipe out a German machine gun nest—to a number of today’s military men and women, hunting teaches critical skills that will serve soldiers in the field. Understanding how to stay concealed, move stealthily, navigate rugged terrain, shoot and perhaps most importantly, the serious relationship and cost of real life and death, hunting builds the type of character that our nation’s military has benefited from since its earliest days.
Reason 6: Few things are as beautiful and God-affirming as experiencing the woods wake up during a hunt. From watching the first beams of daylight filter through the trees to the chirp of birds, the gobble of turkeys, the rushing wings of ducks overhead and the rustling of footfalls from creatures on the move, dawn in the hunting woods is one of the most soul-stirring events many hunters cite as a top reason for loving to hunt more than anything.
Reason 5: Hunting can be exciting even when you don’t tag anything. A fishing trip where no fish are caught is, well, just plain boring. From close calls of working a gobbler almost into range, to the chance of glimpsing a huge buck chasing a doe across a field, even when you don’t connect on the game you’re hunting, the woods and fields are usually so full of other exciting encounters that few folks go home feeling they wasted the day. Anglers will argue they often come away with the same feeling, though I’m a little skeptical. When I go hunting, I don’t always expect to tag an animal. When I go fishing, I always expect to catch something—even if it isn’t what I came for.
Reason 4: Fishing provides little food. Unless you’re hauling in a 200-plus pound tuna, the majority of fishing is really for relatively little meat—panfish, bass, crappie, flounder, spot, trout, etc. Double that with the overriding catch-and-release mentality of many modern anglers, and after a day on the water, the best many fishermen can hope for is a dinner of fish sticks courtesy of Mrs. Paul’s. Unless you’re an exclusive quail or dove hunter, most hunters, fortunately, are able to fill the freezer with considerably more meat. Elk, moose, hog and, of course—the pinnacle of wild game—deer, means that even if you crush a Florida doe, you are apt to walk away with at least 30 or more pounds of meat after deboning. That payoff can yield big dividends during your next wild-game feast or family cook-out, while the freshwater angler’s feast will most likely need to be supplanted by some sort of seafood farmed and flown in.
Reason 3: In hunting, there is no catch-and-release. Now don’t get me wrong here, I applaud the conservation ethic of our nation’s anglers to properly manage the resource and do their part to avoid overfishing our nation’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters. In fact, more often than not, I release virtually all of what I catch when fishing. But man, sometimes I just want to build a nice stringer of fish without feeling guilty about it. No worries on the hunting side there. When hunting, the ethical mandate is to eat what you kill in nearly all circumstances. In fact, it would be considered harassment and rather cruel, unless for biological study purposes, to capture animals for fun just to release them and try to catch them again. And of course, try throwing a mule deer back into the wild to run free after taking a hit from a .300 Win. Mag. Unless you’re Jeff Bridges in “Starman,” it ain’t gonna happen. So, if you don’t plan on eating it, hold your shot and snap a photo. That’s fine. But if you’re serious, then be responsible, tag and report your trophy and let’s fire up the grill.
Reason 2: Hunting can be much more peaceful. Even diehard anglers will have to agree with this one—in most hunting situations, even on public land, the only people in the area are hunters. But when fishing a lake or bay, the water is almost always public, which means sharing the area with water skiers, tubers, wake boarders and the Hells Angels of the water world: Waverunners. While every angler seeks a little peace and quiet to enjoy his or her pastime, few, unless on a private pond, are ever guaranteed that. On the beach the other day, I watched as one surfcaster excitedly began to reel in what he thought was a monster catch, only to realize his line was merely tangled in the flailing legs of some kid who had tumbled from his Boogie Board into the breakers.
Reason 1: You get to shoot guns. Let’s face it, the smell of gunpowder in the morning smells like…well, victory. Whether it’s the buck from the gun against your shoulder, the smell of the powder or simply the whole practiced act of placing a skilled shot downrange, shooting guns is, pardon the pun, a real blast. Even lamestream media people who I have introduced to shooting walk away from the experience with a huge smile on their face after realizing what many of us have come to know naturally, shooting is a fantastic activity. In fishing, the only time a gun gets to be used is to stave off a Somali pirate attack, and fortunately, that isn’t apt to play out on the Santee Cooper.