National day will commemorate outdoor sports

Commentary

This Saturday, Sept. 23, is National Hunting and Fishing Day. While looking through my personal notes and journals, I realized that it has been a few years since I have written about this this annual event designed to celebrate and promote the outdoor sports and conservation.

The basic idea of an official day to honor hunting and fishing actually began here in Pennsylvania with the efforts of Ira Joffe, the owner of a gun shop in Upper Darby, Pa. Joffe’s initiative became a reality in 1970 when Governor Raymond Shaffer created the first Outdoor Sportsman’s Day in Pennsylvania.

Motivated by Pennsylvania’s model, the National Shooting Sports Foundation began promoting the concept of a national day devoted to the outdoor sports. That endeavor resulted in joint resolutions being introduced in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to authorize National Hunting and Fishing Day each year on the fourth Saturday in September. Congress passed those bills in early 1972, and on May 2, 1972, President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation establishing the first National Hunting and Fishing Day.

While recognizing the outdoor sports at a national level was a notable achievement in its own right, the value of the day came at the grassroots level. In the early years of National Hunting and Fishing Day, local sportsmen’s clubs and other related organizations used the day to hold special events to introduce the public to all sorts of outdoor activities. I remember shooting my first round of trap on one of the first National Hunting and Fishing Days in the 1970s. In later years, as I became more experienced and involved with outdoor education, I often volunteered for National Hunting and Fishing Day events to teach fly tying, fly casting, general fishing skills or anything else to help the cause.

At the national level, National Hunting and Fishing Day seems to continue to attract the support of influential sponsors and individuals throughout the outdoors industry. Honorary chairs over the years have included George Bush, Tom Seaver, Hank Williams Jr., Arnold Palmer, Terry Bradshaw, George Brett, Robert Urich, Ward Burton, Louise Mandrell, Jeff Foxworthy and other sports and entertainment celebrities. This year’s honorary chair is NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner Richard Childress.

At the grassroots level, however, it seems to me that participation in National Hunting and Fishing Day seems to be waning. I hope I am just out of the loop somehow, but I don’t seem to recall seeing much participation in that many local events related to National Hunting and Fishing Day in recent years. If that is indeed the case, it is regrettable but understandable. Overall numbers of hunters and anglers have declined steadily over the past 25 years in Pennsylvania, which traditionally had been one of the top states in the country for hunting and fishing.

That downturn also adversely affected many local sportsmen’s clubs with fewer members to support those organizations and especially what they have always meant to the shooting sports. How many of us would have a place to shoot if it wasn’t for the facilities at a local sportsmen’s club? Many clubs and organizations also used National Hunting and Fishing Day as an “open house” opportunity to invite the public to see firsthand the facilities and activities they have to offer. Those kind of outreach events had the potential to recruit new club members but also to acquaint folks of all ages with the outdoor sports.

Of course, there is no need to wait for a special day to introduce a friend, relative or young person to hunting, fishing, hiking, kayaking or any other outdoor pursuit. There is something to do outdoors just about every day of the year here in Pennsylvania, so any day is a great day to be an ambassador for the outdoor sports and take someone with you and share the experience. Last week on Yellow Creek in Bedford County, I spent a most enjoyable day on the water trout fishing with my friend Chad Killian of Pittsburgh and his 4-year-old daughter, Laney, and 3-year-old son, Bo.

Chad let me know he wanted the youngsters to have fun and learn as much as possible, which was totally fine with me. I always enjoy spending time with kids, and both of those young folks were a delight to be with. Each of them had a small, fine-meshed net for catching small aquatic critters, something else I also enjoy on the stream. Each time we scooped up a sample of bottom gravel, my young friends hovered over the net with eager anticipation to see what we had captured. Our efforts yielded minnows, crayfish and all sorts of nymphs and larvae. I also opened my fly boxes and showed them imitations of some of the bugs we found.

While both kids were a little young to handle a fly rod on their own, each of them helped their dad reel in several nice trout. What I found most gratifying was their genuine fascination for nature and being along the stream. Even when a small water snake swam across the top of the pool we were fishing, they watched it with wide-eyed amazement rather than fear or loathing. I’m sure both youngsters will long remember a wonderful morning outdoors with their dad and will want to do it again soon.

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