When A Boomer Sportsman’s Self Confidence Collides with Reality
Back when I was “mobile, agile and hostile” no hill was too steep and no marsh was too deep; but now that I am increasingly “fragile, senile and docile” some days it’s all I can do to flip the TV remote from one cable outdoor show to another.
Sad but true, we slow down. This is hard to accept but, with the hot breath of the big 7-0 on my aching back, it is reality. We camo-clad “Boomers” increasingly must face the passage of time and the faltering of pace.
And, worth note, these graying and balding ranks comprise a significant portion of the anglers and hunters in Texas. I cannot provide an accurate number, but Boomers are out there in legion.
Situations and circumstances vary, but the common thread is this: It’s easier to stumble and harder to recover. If you sprain something or pull something or break something, the down time can be excruciatingly long.
A fine example occurred last September. I was wade fishing for steelhead on the Kispiox River in British Columbia. Steelheads are sea-run rainbow trout, and the rugged, remote Kispiox is famed for producing a strain of exceptionally large fish. The fly angler has a legitimate shot at a world-class fish in the 20-plus pound class.
I shuffled across the rocky thigh-deep flow and flicked out a cast with a seven-weight switch rod. The line surged tight, and a huge buck steelhead came straight out of the water. The scarlet-slashed fish made two broadside jumps, giving me an eyeful—25 pounds!—then swapped ends and raced downstream.
Backing line tore from the reel as I scrambled across the flow in a frantic dash to follow the fish. I charged across a narrow chest-deep side channel, shipping water over the wader bib.
I reached the bank and ran flat-out, stumbling and fumbling over jumbles of boulders as the line curved 100 yards down through a chute of whitewater. Somewhere during the frantic obstacle course I wrenched my right knee and pulled my lower back.
I was wearing a heavy wool sweater and began overheating and hyperventilating. About 400 yards down the river the tired steelhead finally eased into the shallows, where the following guide was able to “tail” it.
The “CPR” (Catch, Photo, Release) image shows me hoisting the largest steelhead I’ll most likely ever catch, but I was the one potentially in need of real CPR. I fell to my knees and pulled off the heavy sweater and truly worried that a stroke might be imminent.
I suppose I won the fight, but the massive steelhead won the war. The fish put me in bed most of the next day— utterly whipped. The knee required three months of physical therapy and I still have recurring bouts with the back muscles.
But sometimes outdoors, where timeouts do not exist, you do what you have to do and hope nothing blows.
All things else aside, the loss of flexibility is a frequent result of the ever-turning calendar. A reminder of this occurred during last fall’s dove season. I dropped a mourner on the far side of a four-strand barbed-wire fence and, with no dog handy, had no choice but to retrieve the bird myself. No big deal, I thought, recalling my celebrated “cat-like reflexes.”
I placed the Model 12 on the ground and approached the fence alongside one of the posts. A firm hand gripped the post and a confident boot stepped on the first taut wire. The fence creaked and swayed, somehow becoming very unstable. Shaky balance teetered as “oxen-like reflexes” faltered on the top strand.
I got over the fence without falling or dangling upside down, but the barbed wire cut my wrist and tore the crotch of a perfectly good pair of Carhartt hunting pants. Fortunately, that’s all that was sliced. I was so unnerved by the lack of coordination in the clutch that I walked 100 yards to a cattle guard to cross back into the grain field.
Waterfowl hunting can be brutal even during prime years. The so-called “golden years” are fraught with fatigue and ripe for disaster. This especially is true in the goo-pie muck of the coastal marshes. I used to joke that if I had not spent my formative years slogging to the back potholes in the deep marsh of the Barrow’s Hunting Preserve, I would be six-foot-six and with a full head of hair.
There may be a smidgen of truth to that observation. Well, not really—but it was a miserable drill. After ramrod Joe Lagow’s pre-dawn check-in at the ranch gate, you drove the long cattle levee and parked by the windmill cattle guard. You shouldered your gear and gun and started humping through the graying Anahuac marsh.
And, of course, several hours later you had to stagger back out the same way.
We did it often during school years, using young legs and deep lungs to push as far as we could before tossing short sacks of decoys and hoping ducks routed from nearby prairies would filter in to roost. The Barrow Marsh truly was “no country for old men.”
I was reminded of that grim and mud-caked program this past waterfowl season when I knocked down a gadwall from a marsh pit blind in Louisiana. The bird fell crippled and began swimming across the open water of the big pond. No dog was readily available so I climbed out and started trudging through the knee-deep water.
No problem, I thought, conjuring the long-ago gladiatorial charges beyond Lagow’s gate.
The bottom was soft and each determined step bogged and lurched. The duck kept swimming and I shot twice, three times, but failed to anchor it (unless you hit the tiny head, a swimming duck at 60 or 70 yards is hard to anchor, even with three-inch No. 4 Black Clouds).
I pressed harder, huffing and puffing, and could not close the distance. Each flagging step sank to a knee in the sucking bottom. The effort increasingly was taxing, even dangerous, and I was forced to quit. I cursed, soaked in sweat and splattered in mud, only to realize there was no option but to retrace the 100-yard ordeal across the pond.
The miserable episode was a cruel reminder. I felt terrible about the duck but was grateful to finally collapse in the blind.
These are three incidents of slowing down that those of you who remember when “Bonanza” was on prime-time Sunday nights might appreciate. The common denominator is “Jeez, I’m just not as tough as I used to be.”
It goes without saying that several of the primary senses begin eroding about the time your hair starts graying and thinning. I am clinically half-deaf (do the math: 60 percent loss in one ear, 40 in the other), and I look good alongside several of my longtime Boomer friends. Incidentally, “Boomer” might be taken literally, as with the repeated discharges of shotguns and rifles. Back in 1960’s and 1970’s, few shooters paid much attention to hearing protection.
A high-dollar hearing aid makes total sense, but I continue to rebel against the hassle of wearing such a contraption. This, of course, is a stupid stance because impaired hearing can hamper your outdoor program; for example, failing to decipher a hushed voice might be an issue. When faced with a 28-yard Cape buffalo in Zimbabwe’s thick mopani scrub about 10 years ago, I did not promptly heed the Professional Hunter’s whispered directive.
“Eh?” I replied. “What?”
Poor hearing certainly can make detecting the approach of nearby wildlife a challenge. This maybe isn’t so important if we’re talking about a chattering squirrel, or maybe a strutting gobbler, but missing a point-blank 800-pound Alaskan brown bear is a different issue.
On several occasions, I’ve had fellow anglers shriek warnings as a lumbering bear pushed and crackled through streamside brush and alders. I mean, sly Mr. Big was right there, maybe 15 or 20 yards away while I concentrated on a cast, oblivious to the noise and nearness behind me.
But these are extreme examples. All things considered, I believe I’m in decent physical condition. Everything seems to work and the routine aches and pains are manageable. A regular workout and stretching program has helped.
On that note, the Boomer might consider getting checked out by a doctor and starting a sensible exercise plan. This takes commitment but the results can help keep you upright. The goal is to have some sort of a reasonable fitness base, so you don’t start virtually on empty during a potential overload “out there.”
Common situations that come to mind are a prolonged wade over soft bottom or a long hike amid rough and irregular terrain. Either exercise under hot sun only adds to the burnout factor.
Remember, it can be easy to start pushing things beyond comfortable limits when you get caught up in the drama of the experience. And, I don’t care if your mother was Wonder Woman and your father was Tarzan, it becomes harder to cast or shoot with an AARP card in one hand and a Medicare card in the other.
—story by Joe Dodggett