I was invited to join a group of dove hunters the afternoon of opening day. The hunt master scattered us around a recently cut corn field, and he offered to put me in an exceptionally likely location. Unfortunately, the spot he suggested was in the sun. Since I knew my post heat stroke body was going to have a tough time coping with the 90-degree heat, I picked a spot in the shade near a gap in a hedge row at the west edge of the field.
By the time 5:30 (finally) rolled around, I still had all but two of the shells I’d started with and the need to get back home as early as possible had overwhelmed any temptation to stick it out. On the way back to my SUV, I paused to talk to two hunters who were set up near the field’s exit to the road. One of them wondered if I was “the biologist.” When I told him I was an outdoor writer, he rather dourly asked, “How’s that profession treating you?”
To my way of thinking that was a rather impertinent question to ask a complete stranger, and I was more than slightly taken aback. I doubt that my answer satisfied him, and I know it didn’t satisfy me. But after pondering his question on the long drive home, I decided that being an outdoor writer has treated me very well in a number of different ways.
I love telling my friends that I get paid to hunt and fish, and I do try to get in as much “field research” time as possible. That said, I actually spend the vast majority of my time interviewing people and doing other types of research. Only then do I combine what I just learned with what I already knew in order to create a written document that’s both entertaining and educational enough to convince an editor that reading it in his or her publication will be worth your time.
Sometimes that process is exciting, sometimes it’s a job like any other and sometimes it’s such drudgery I almost wish I did have a “real job.” But whether the process brings pleasure or pain, professional writers, like painters, sculptors and composers, are blessed by the unique affirmation brought by being paid for something they created. When the check for the first magazine article I sold arrived, Amber and I literally jumped up and down in our driveway and shouted for joy.
There have been a lot of checks cashed since that first one, but while they’re still welcome, I must admit I don’t get as excited about any one of them as I probably should. That is anything but the case with the affirmation I receive from you, my loyal readers. The thrill I get every time someone takes the time to tell me he or she “never misses” this column or likes one of my magazine articles hasn’t diminished one iota from the thrill I felt when somebody commented on that first article. Thank you all so very much.
But as much as I appreciate the editors who have published my work and the readers who have supported both it and me, the number one reason being an outdoor writer has treated me very well is the friends my profession has allowed me to cultivate. The following is anything but an all inclusive list.
Glenn Titus was my first mentor, and there’s no way to adequately describe what he’s met to my career and to me personally. Writing in any genre is a tough business to break into, because there are far too many words competing for far too little space. Glenn, who was the editor of a now long defunct magazine called “Fins and Feathers” reserved some of that precious space for many of my early articles and, later, for a monthly column. I give his sage advice a lot of credit for the success I’ve enjoyed since we first met.
I met Tony Knight at a media deer hunt held on his property in Putnam County. At the time, I didn’t know he was the man who, after studying 18th century technology, had reinvented inline muzzleloader ignition systems. Almost before I knew it, Tony turned me into a black powder enthusiast. We kept in close professional touch but also found time to enjoy several hunts together both in Missouri and in Wyoming.
And then there’s Wayne Grzadieleski. Wayne and I did not meet under the best circumstances. He lived on the banks of the Red River in Drayton, North Dakota, and was hosting a post conference promotional trip in connection with a writers conference I was attending in Bismarck. It was well after 2:00 a.m. when I got to bed the night before making the long drive to Drayton. Meanwhile, Wayne was worried that his efforts were doomed to failure, because despite the fact that it was the Fourth of July weekend, the temperature in Drayton was barely 50 degrees and it was raining.
Sometimes things just click. Not the fishing, it was awful. Wayne and I were friends in ten minutes, and very good friends by the time I left Drayton to head back home. Now both of us have copies of a picture of us standing by his boat on our office walls. The caption reads, “Some men are born brothers; others earn it.”
Gerald Scott can be reached at [email protected]