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Competition doesn't have to involve bragging rights

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A friend and I were chatting about fishing a few days ago when an interesting topic came up.

I was reminiscing about a long-ago day of fishing, and in doing so I mentioned that my fishing partner that day caught several more fish than I did.

"I'll bet that bothered you," the friend said.

"No, as a matter of fact, it didn't," I replied. "When I go fishing, I compete with the fish, not with other fishermen."

The exchange got me thinking, though.

I'm a competitive guy. From the time I was old enough to play marbles, I've enjoyed pitting my hand-eye coordination, endurance, speed, nerve - you name it - against those of other people.

Interestingly, though, I've never thought of fishing, hunting or shooting as competitions, at least not against other people.

From the very first time I threaded a worm onto a hook and tossed it into the waters of Logan County's Spruce Fork, I had but one goal - to catch fish.

From the very first time I tossed a handful of shells into a jacket pocket, slung a shotgun over my shoulder and headed into the woods, I had but one goal - to kill squirrels.

And from the very first time I drew a bead on a bull's-eye or a clay bird, I had but one goal - to shoot the highest score my skills would allow.

If I caught more fish, killed more squirrels or shot a higher score than my companions, fine. If I didn't, that was equally fine. As long as I caught fish, killed squirrels or hit my share of targets, I was happy as the proverbial clam.

Consequently, the idea of "bragging rights" never had much appeal.

That's partly why I prefer to hunt antlerless deer instead of antlered bucks. People place far too much attention to rack size and the number of antler points, as if those somehow measure a hunter's prowess.

When I head afield, what matters to me is my ability to anticipate my quarry's movements, keep the critter from seeing, hearing or smelling me, and placing my shot so that it dies as quickly and humanely as possible. If I do those things, I've had a successful hunt.

It shouldn't surprise anyone, then, that I don't have a single hunting trophy in my house, and only one fishing trophy - an actual-sized oil painting of a 5-pound brown trout I caught, photographed and released 35 years ago.

I didn't have the painting made to say "look what I caught" to people who visit my home. The canvas has always been displayed in parts of the house rarely seen by anyone other than my wife, my son and me. It's there to serve as a reminder of an eventful September day long past, and nothing more.

Lots of guys, and an increasing number of women, like to accumulate hunting and fishing trophies. More power to them. Hunting and fishing are recreation, and recreation should be enjoyable. If having trophies on the wall enhances the experience, people should collect as many trophies as the law and their bank accounts will allow.

Likewise if folks want to enter big-buck contests and fishing tournaments, I encourage them to go for it.

They won't find themselves competing against me, though.

I'll satisfy my competitive urges by catching a nice bass on a day when fishing conditions are especially difficult, or by downing a grouse in that last split-second before it disappears behind a tree.

My competition will be with the critters, and with no one else.


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